Cleveland, Ohio and Milan, Italy – Early in December I participated in a weeklong trip to Italy, sponsored by the Italian Trade Agency. It was a busy schedule including visits to machine tool and automation companies headquartered in Italy, and included a few days observing an international group of students selected to participate in a 2-day Lean Factory Lab workshop at LIUC University.
First, a little background on the educational event.
Winners of the sixth Italian Machine Tool Technology Award (IMTTA) earned the one-week educational trip to Italy. There were six U.S. students selected for the trip, joined by students from Russia, Mexico, Brazil, and Iran – all of whom met for the first time when they arrived in Italy for the start of the two-day educational program at the Università Carlo Cattaneo – LIUC. The focus was discussing innovations and best practices in machinery and technology sectors.
ITA-Chicago sponsors IMTTA in collaboration with UCIMU-SISTEMI PER PRODURRE (Association of Italian Manufacturers of machine tools, robots, automation systems, & ancillary products). The Italian Trade Agency is the Italian government agency entrusted with the promotion of trade, business opportunities, and industrial co-operation between Italian and foreign companies.
The objective of UCIMU-SISTEMI PER PRODURRE has always been to promote the interests of the industry and the growth and spread of an entrepreneurial culture through the supply of services that are constantly updated to meet the requirements of the companies operating in this particular sector.
On the first night in Milano, Matteo Picariello, the Italian trade commissioner in Chicago, welcomed the group of journalists. Then, starting on Monday, our group of journalists travelled by train and bus to the quaint town of Varese – where the Lean Factory Lab was bustling with students competing on teams for the best quality and quantity of assembled Go Karts. The program provided academic growth and practical experience in international collaboration. On the third day of the trip, the students and professors from this year’s award programs were acknowledged at a ceremony hosted at Varese’s Centro Congressi Ville Ponti.
After the ceremony, the students and journalists were grouped by industry so that the remainder of the trip pertained to our areas of study. As I joined the manufacturing/machine tool group, I was able to enjoy the company of three students and a professor from Russia and the U.S. winners – Dan Nix and Jena Kreuzer, both from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Matt Goelz from Indiana State University, and David Kriesberg from the University of Maryland. Also accompanying us was Dr. Duane Abata from South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.
While on the topic of the students on the trip, the future for manufacturing looks bright if this is any indication of what the industry has headed their way.
The group of students were engaging, entertaining, and most important, sharp. All four of the U.S. students are engineering students that are already highly sought after by companies to intern for them or come to work for them upon graduation. Kreuzer has held a range part time positions and internships within the mining and agriculture industries while Goelz has worked part time in motor vehicle facilities. Kriesberg, an undergraduate research assistant at the University Maryland mechanical engineering program heard about the school’s machine tool lab needing some help and today he runs the lab and is hands-on with the machine tools at the university. Nix is conducting work on autonomous wheelchairs, researching what technology can replace the joystick control that makes it difficult from many individuals with progressive diseases to navigate.
In addition, keep an eye out for an upcoming #WhyMFG piece (www.WhyMFG.com) featuring David Kriesberg. #WhyMFG focuses on promoting manufacturing to the next generation but, if the group travelling with us is any indication, there’s no need to worry, these kids are ready.
Machine tool overview, tube-processing 101
Our first meeting was with UCIMU, where we learned a little more in-depth about the Italian machine tool sector.
As the third largest economy in the Eurozone, Italy more than 300 companies producing manufacturing technology – machine tools, robotics, automation equipment, etc. – exporting more than 70% of that equipment. According to the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of Census, the U.S. imported $57.8 billion worth of machinery in 2014, up from $54.2 billion in 2012 and $55.1 billion in 2012. The United States imported $3.5 billion from Italy, up from $3.3 billion in 2014 and $3.1 billion in 2012. This puts the U.S. second on the list of countries importing Italian machine technology, which is led by China as the number one purchaser of equipment, followed by Germany, Russia, and Mexico (3rd through 5th, respectively).
Following the UCIMU event, our group headed on a visit to BLM S.p.A – BLM Group, located in the Cantù – with U.S. operations in Wixom, Michigan. BLM encompasses the full sector of tube processing, from laser cutting to cold saw, bending, end forming, and measurement. BLM Group ranks as a leader in the tube processing technology, and offers a range of tube machining processes as well as the ability to integrate them into complex manufacturing systems.
Greeting our group for the plant tour was Giovanni Zacco, market development manager at BLM Group. Before having live tube-processing demonstrations, Zacco noted the company’s dedication to delivering the highest-quality equipment stems from its annual R&D investment, which is slightly more than 7% of its annual turnover (revenue).
Bend, punch, laser, automation
The following day we started with a visit to Prima Power, located in Collegno. Domenico Appendino, executive vice president, joint ventures and business development, along with Adriano Gallea, manager, human resources, Italy, met our group to explain the rapid growth of the company. As specialists in processing flat sheet metal, Prima additionally offers machines combining various processes for efficient manufacturing.
Started in 1977, Prima introduced the company’s first 3D laser machine in 1979.
Today, through various acquisitions – Laserwork AG, Convergent Energy, and Laserdyne, followed by the Finn-Power Group in 2008 – Prima is a key international supplier of manufacturing technology.
Boasting eight manufacturing facilities around the world, with U.S. locations being Prima Power North America based outside Chicago, Illinois, and Prima Power Laserdyne just outside Minneapolis, Minnesota, the company offers technology for sheet metal working, covering all applications by offering technology in laser processing, punching, shearing, bending, and automation.
Cosberg S.p.A. was the last facility we visited on the trip. Located in Bergamo, the company develops custom high-speed automation systems that handle a range of sizes – the smallest we saw being what some would refer to as gemstone dust – almost invisible to the naked eye.
Monica Teli, sales and marketing for the company, headed our tour and explained that while the company appears to be an integrator – because the use products from other companies within their systems – that’s not how they like to be known. While it’s true that they integrate systems for manufacturing and assembly, the company’s success stems from the various patents they hold for the overall processes. Whether it’s assembly in medical, automotive, furniture, jewelry, or powered hand tools, Cosberg offers circular vibratory systems, pick & place configurations, and more to its customer base.
Not all business
While the basis of the trip was to see manufacturing technology up close, there was time to sightsee through Milano; a little time to shop in Torino; and even a visit to the Museo Dell’Auotomobile and the Politecnico di Milano. The visit to the university left our group intrigued with the projects they have happening – from waterjet and machining test and research to wind tunnel testing and analysis.
Nothing was left to chance with this trip. The students and professors who attended this trip were given ample time to learn about manufacturing companies in Italy.
Since Italy just wrapped up hosting EMO Milano in October 2015, it was quite apparent of the country’s vast offerings to manufacturing – seeing that the technology offered by Italian companies finds use in everything from medical devices, aerospace and ceramics to automobiles, yachts, and jewelry.
Grazie mille for the tour of the Italian machine tool industry and the introduction to the future generation of those entering the sector. ~Elizabeth