It’s not that often a car manufacturer opens its factory floor to outsiders. Even less likely to happen is getting an opportunity to take a peek at where the real research and development goes on. Surprisingly, Maserati recently did just that by allowing journalists in to take a look around its Innovation Lab. And, to be honest, it was bigger than we were expecting with a total footprint of 33,744 square metres. With 1100 or so employees divvied up across a huge low-rise workspace in via Emilia Ovest, Modena it’s an impressive facility for sure.
However, even though there were a fair number of journalists present, the usual house rules still existed. We had to stick with the guides, were warned not to wander off and hand in our phones prior to the tour for the cameras to be covered over with stickers. Stickers, incidentally that you can never properly get off again. Nevertheless, a gummed up smartphone was a small price to pay for the insight we got during our tour.
Oddly enough though, on the day Gizmodo UK got to pay a visit the facility was seemingly more preoccupied with sailing than cars, with the legendary sailor Giovanni Soldini enjoying star of the show status. Soldini is skipper of the Maserati-sponsored Multi 70 trimaran and is a character that doesn't sport quite the same chiselled looks as most sporting superstars. He looks a bit, well, lived-in. That’s hardly surprising when you look at what he’s done, his achievements and his bonkers racing schedule for 2020. He’s a bona fide legend.
Soldini sports a similarly rough-round-the-edges tattoo on the side of his right forearm. The shaky-looking outline is of a sperm whale after he hit one with his boat once. He explains that it serves as a timely reminder that the world’s oceans, and the creatures in it, need to be treated with the utmost respect. But the reason Soldini’s here is to highlight the connection that Maserati has developed between its high-end luxury performance cars and high-performance yachts.
This so-called technology transfer approach goes hand-in-hand with Maserati’s sponsorship of the Multi 70 trimaran; a craft that flies as much above the water as it goes through the waves at up to and often over 40 knots. And, central to the sharing of ideas is aerodynamics. That’s something the people working inside the Maserati Innovation Lab know all about, as we were soon to find out after a cup or two of fine Italian coffee.
The facility is broken down into three core areas: the Static Simulator, the Dynamic Simulator that features DiM (Driver-in-Motion) technology and User eXperience development labs. It’s the first one, the Static Simulator that gets the ball rolling in terms of research and development, whilst also being the most simplistic. The system is comprised of a cockpit and three projectors. Oh, and rather a lot of computing power, which lets the Maserati engineers create all manner of lifelike scenarios using Hardware in the Loop (or HiL) methodology. The result is an ability to produce just about any kind of driving situation while recreating precise steering and braking simulations along with many other development variables.
However, it’s the Dynamic Simulator that takes things to the next level. Maserati says its kit is the most modern and advanced in Europe currently. The Driver-in-Motion technology that we got to see certainly looked pretty mindblowing. Of course, the best thing for Maserati is that it allows the research and development to be faster and much more efficient. Complex and real-word scenarios can be recreated inside the lab that removes the need for countless hours of testing in the outside world.
Engineers also pointed out just how much difference it makes to them. The number of prototypes that now need to be produced, for example, is much less than it used to be – 40% less in fact. Looking at the creation being tested when we were there was a bit like watching a life-sized computer game going on, with a real racing driver behind the wheel and all manner of different race tracks and driving situations being made available to the team. It was a hugely technical set-up and one that must have cost many thousands – nobody would say quite how much.
The User Experience Lab
It’s obviously been money well spent though as Maserati officials reckoned that the facility and these new processes has resulted in a 50% reduction in time-to-market for new cars. Indeed, 90% of all development can now be done using the simulator.
Adding the final dimension to this futuristic digital development world is the User eXperience development labs. This is another area where Maserati’s investment is paying dividends. Engineers can create just about any kind of scenario where they can test future innovations, such as those relating to connectivity, driver-assist features and, crucially, electrification. Just like everyone else it seems; electric vehicles are very much on the agenda for Maserati, starting in 2020.
Earlier, at the press conference, it was hard to imagine the ever-cheerful Soldini grinning much at the end of his relentless race schedule for 2020. That kicks off with a Cape Town to Rio race in January and culminates with the Rolex Middle Sea Race in the Med during October. Sandwiched in between are numerous other crazy races, plus an attempt to beat the English Channel sailing speed record, from Cowes to Dinard. But, in terms of speed, be it in a car or on board a yacht, Soldini was certainly in the right place. Maserati’s Innovation Lab moves fast.