Lamiera shows an industry in fine form, despite European economicsWritten by Rob Colman June, 08 2012
Demonstrate that you can innovate, and you will succeed. That seemed to be the message during the 16th edition of metal forming exhibition Lamiera, in Bologna, Italy, May 9-12th. MP&P was there as part of a press delegation arranged by Machines Italia, a project of the Italian Trade Commission and their partners FEDERMACCHINE.
During a morning press conference, the extent of the success of Italian machine tool and metal forming companies during the past couple of years was laid out for us by Luigi Galdabini, VP of UCIMU – Sistemi per produrre, the trade association of Italian manufacturers of machine tools, robots, automation and auxiliary technologies.
“During 2011, all the figures showed a double digit increase in all indicators for volume, exports, and so one,” Galdabini explains. “Our production of machine tools rose in value to 4.8 billion Euros, which was an increase of 13.5 percent compared to the previous year. Exports saw an increase of 25 per cent, reaching approximately 3.3 billion Euros in value. This demonstrates that our industry is strongly oriented to exports, which accounts for almost 70 percent of our total production.”
Galdabini went on to say that the industry expects 2012 to continue to be a healthy growth year. In the first quarter thus far, the order books of manufacturers have shown a 15-20 per cent increase in the domestic market, and a 25 per cent hike in export orders compared with the same period in 2011.
As Galdabini notes, the metal forming sector performed even better than the general machine tool industry during 2011, experiencing a rise in exports of 26 percent.
The numbers are interesting to observe, with large increases in exports during 2011 to the U.S., Brazil and Mexico for machine tools in general. On the metal forming side, large gains were seen in exports to the U.S., Germany and Brazil, but a slight decline was seen in exports to China, although it continued to be the industry’s second-largest client (after Germany). Also interesting to observe is that, as its largest client, Germany still only accounted for 10 per cent of metal forming exports among the top 10 countries to which these companies export, which demonstrates a remarkably balanced trade profile.
Lamiera was a relatively healthy show, with 40,000 square metres of trade show exhibits and 451 companies taking part. A total of 18,192 visits were officially recorded, of which 787 were from abroad. So although Italy’s domestic market is experiencing difficult times, a thirst for new ideas and industry connections remain. Giancarlo Losma, President of UCIMU – Sistemi per produrre, noted that the numbers were a noteworthy increase compared to the last show, held in 2010.
The Italian distinction – making a case for service, specialization
Asked why Italian metal forming and machine tool companies continue to be so successful, Galdabini points directly at customized machine building for clients.
“Currently, China is growing (its machine building capabilities) for volume machining, but what level of technology are they working with?” he notes. “It’s not just a question of will, it’s a question of capability. Italian companies are capable of creating innovative, unique solutions for clients.”
The biggest challenge for Galdabini’s clients, and others in the industry, is finding flexible solutions – machines that can do more than one job, such that they can switch from one part to another rapidly, without extra set-ups. “Companies are often looking to integrate a second or third function in the machine,” Galdabini says.
Galdabini’s own company specializes in material testing instruments to analyze mechanical properties of various materials and components, and is a leader in precision straightening machines for shafts, profiles, rings and bars. He finds he gets many requests for integrated solutions to improve productivity and allow short runs of parts.
The other challenge is that customers want smarter machines – automated solutions that make operation of the machine easier.
“We have high turnover in the manufacturing industry right now, so we want to have the brain in the machine, instead of having all the knowledge with the operator.”
Galdabini points out that, although the balance sheets of Italian companies rarely explicitly outline R&D spending, a lot is invested in the country in this process.
“Sometimes, in economic studies, they say that there is little spent in R&D, and this is true as it is written – we don’t have two or three people in a room just studying for the future. But we do have a lot of research based on our work with customers. We make applied solutions. Customers push us to find them solutions.”
Although this sounds like a seat-of-your-pants approach to growth, Galdabini believes it works, and that it isn’t as devil-may-care as it sounds. He points out that, at his company, at the beginning of a project they always try to estimate the economic risk, the technological risk, and the relationship risks. Also, the overall cost and timing of it is considered.
Much of this is driven by clients, but as Galdabini notes, some customized solutions are developed in anticipation of client needs – knowing that doing a particular job for a company is going to get you ahead of your competition.
In Galdabini’s case, he notes that his company is known as a higher-end solution company, and he never compromises on this to get new business. Basically, if you want something done cheaply, he lets you know that his company isn’t for you. Quality is of the utmost importance, “because you will always be beat by those who can be cheaper,” he says. “But to develop great technology, you need training.”
Ultimately, he says that his company looks for the best customers. “Who is the leader in a certain industry? That’s the customer we want – Ford, GM, Chrysler. NASA. That is the level of client we want. I think many Italian companies have a similar approach. This pays in the long run.”
In a global market in which it is difficult to differentiate yourself, it is interesting to observe a country like Italy, where in the metal forming industry they have this strong identity with quality and specialization – a route that makes sense for parts suppliers and manufacturers here in Canada also.
Several companies at Lamiera were focused on the energy efficiency of their machines – how new technologies are allowing energy savings while maintaining or improving products. Click on the following links to see videos of representatives from Prima Power and Gasparini discussing their company’s technological improvements in this area. Also, see a video introduction of Omera, a new press brake from Salvagnini, and Orazio Davi, president of Davi, discussing innovation and training support for his customers.
For more information, visit machinesitalia.org, www.federmacchine.it and www.ucimu.it.
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