Flexibility, Technology and Service: the Strenghts of Italian Machine Tools

The segment’s performances, technological trends, digitization, investments… We discussed these topics with Massimo Carboniero, President of UCIMU, the Association which represents Italian manufacturers of machine tools, robots and automation.

by Silvia Crespi and Fabrizio Dalle Nogare

Which are the peculiarities characterizing machine tools made in Italy?
Flexibility, sky-high technological standards, strong customization, an attention for service which leads to after-sales assistance and continuous and constant dialogue with clients: these are the characteristics which distinguish products made in Italy in a segment which, even thanks to the important Industry 4.0 and Enterprise 4.0 plans, now more than ever can ensure an increase in quality and competitiveness of the users who purchase Italian machines.

The Italian production system is characterized by the presence of many SMEs, do you think this is still an asset?
The SME model is still a winner since it ensures the flexibility which larger dimensions cannot guarantee.
This does not mean that there are no negative aspects linked to a small or medium size. The issue of growth and the need to grow is a theme, and a necessity which we manufacturers are aware of but we also know well that it does not only concern size. What companies in the industry are doing and will have to do in the near future, is to understand how to grow without losing the characteristics and properties which enable the Italian model to stand out. If it is true that, in order to ensure the increase of competitiveness of our industry, it is necessary to go beyond limits and to be ready for agreements, alliances and acquisitions, it is just as true that we Italian entrepreneurs, proud of our way of creating enterprises and networks, should not aim at excessive dimensions – following the German model – because our strength lies in flexibility and decision-making speed which only the strong presence of an entrepreneur at the helm of the company can guarantee.

The Italian machine tool segment is beginning to slow down to some extent… even at a European level the first rain clouds are visible on the horizon…
2018 was a record year for the Italian machine tool, robot and automation manufacturing industry which showed double digit increases for all economic indicators. As shown by the preliminary figures processed by the Enterprise Culture and Studies Centre of UCIMU – PRODUCTION SYSTEMS, in 2018 production grew to reach 6,900 million euros, showing a 13.4% increase with respect to the previous year. This is the first consecutive growth year and, in absolute terms, sets a new record for the segment’s Italian industry.
The result was determined both by the excellent performance of deliveries by Italian manufacturers to the domestic market, which went up by 21.1% reaching 3,270 million euro, and by the positive trend of exports (7.2%)which reached 3,630 million euro. On account of these increases Italy strengthened its role on the international scene, where it stood out not just because of the competence shown by the segment’s industries, measured using production and export data, but also because of the lively demand, supported and stimulated by such provisions for competitiveness as super and hyper amortization included in the Industry/Enterprise 4.0 programs. Evidence of the effectiveness of competitiveness provisions is the datum regarding the consumption of machine tools, robots and automation in Italy which, in 2018, increased by 25.9% reaching 5,620 million euros. 2019 will be characterized by an overall stability. We expect to come very close to the levels reached in 2018; the situation beyond the border will be better, but even the domestic market, even though it went through a deceleration, is still receptive. This is also shown by the increase in registrations for LAMIERA, the trade show dedicated to the sheet metal machining and deformation world, scheduled from May 15th to May 18th at the Rho trade fair grounds near Milan; an extra hall will b used for this edition. The context is definitely more unstable compared to the years which just went by.

Trends in the machine tool segment prominently feature digitization and networking. Industry 4.0 is based on a vision of the factory focused on the exchange of data and on automation. Where do Italian companies stand?
In 2018, the value of the consumption of machine tools in Italy turned out to be more than double the amount recorded in 2014, when investments in new production technologies were already going through an upswing. This datum is definitely due to the super and hyper amortization provisions which supported and drove the demand of Italian users at a time when the market was receptive. This having been said, there is still a lot to be done. The Italian manufacturing industry must carry on with the plant renewal process and the changeover of its factories from a 4.0 standpoint.
The survey carried out by the UCIMU Foundation and EUMETRA last June focused on “The use of super and hyper amortization provisions by Italian companies” shows that only 46.5% of Italian metal-mechanical companies made use of the incentives. This is too little for a country which would like to keep on playing a leading role on the international scenario. Technological updating and digital transformation should be distributed as uniformly as possible in the Italian manufacturing world. From this standpoint the confirmation of hyper amortization for the whole of 2019 is excellent news while the cancellation of super amortization is definitely inappropriate.

Many technologies are taking root, from laser to Additive Manufacturing. Do you think the latter is destined to have an important effect and, if so, in which cases?
Upper bracket numeric control machines, multi-axis systems, technologies able to ensure high speed, precision, interconnection, integration, additive manufacturing systems, development in the use of sensors, remote control systems, robotics for industries and services, cobots, lasers for cutting sheet metal, plasma and fiber lasers, lasers for pipe machining are the technologies where innovation is progressing with the greatest determination and effectiveness. Lamiera, from this standpoint, will be an excellent showcase to see all the innovations linked to sheet metal cutting and machining regarding different metals.
Besides the laser cutting world, there will be a broad range of technologies for the welding and treatment of surfaces, a wide range of presses, moulds, machines and utensils, metal carpentry tools and fastening systems. The exhibition will be completed by the Industry 4.0 solutions for the digital factory and for the world of robotics and integrators, whose presence in factories where aluminium is machined is increasingly widespread. This goes to show that even metal-mechanical plants are changing their aspect. Regarding Additive Manufacturing, this is one of the technologies which are based on the principle of digitization and is definitely in full development. We consider it the third type of machine tools besides chip removal machines and deformation machines. We believe these technologies will be increasingly integrated in the production process and in mechanical machining. Even now their use is complementary to that of some machine tools. They are already working very well in the aerospace and energy sectors for the production of very sophisticated small parts and they use upper bracket materials. They are well introduced into this segment. On the long run this will increasingly be the case as segments making use of these technologies are destined to grow and to make investments grow.

Regarding components for motion transmission and control for machine tools, is being made in Italy still a success factor on the market? Is it a quality guarantee?
Definitely. Italian transmission and control systems and components have a quality and reliability content which increases their value exponentially with respect to the proposals of foreign competitors. Among assets of our production there is the possibility of counting on value chains entirely controlled by Italian companies so that the finished product contains the highest percentage of elements made in Italy. For this reason we as manufacturers all support the growth and development of the industry’s companies, which will strengthen the country’s production.