Innovation applied to enamels
Colorobbia Italia, a company that leads the field in colour, also works with vitreous enamels. Research and innovation are among the strong points of the company presented by Marco Bitossi.
Anyone who is heading for Sovigliana Vinci, in the countryside around Florence, and just happens to pass through Montelupo, one of the venerable old homes of artistic pottery in Italy, will be following in the physical footsteps of the Gruppo Colorobbia, whose majority shareholding is owned by the Bitossi family. This is a family whose presence and ceramics tradition in Montelupo is well documented back to the seventeenth century, featuring kilns in the area of Camaioni. It is a type of activity that has developed so assiduously in this area that the leading colour manufacturers were established and have grown up in this vicinity.
Part of the population of Vinci, the birthplace of the genius Leonardo, lives in Sovigliana. Even though Sovigliana is now a modern, industrial settlement that has developed along a network of busy roads, the Colorobbia-Bitossi works can still look out to the rear over a soft valley with a classical Tuscan landscape: rolling green hills covered with the serried rows of vineyards, framed by cypresses, olive trees and Mediterranean pines. Most of the old farmhouses have been bought up by Germans in search of softer climes.
Marco Bitossi was born in Montelupo Fiorentino in 1952 to a family and in an environment with a tradition of generations spent cultivating an industrial and entrepreneurial culture in the ceramics and pottery tradition that has always been a feature of the area. After focusing his further education on the sciences in general and the chemicals and engineering sectors in particular, he joined the company’s management in 1975. He then completed his training inside the Gruppo Colorobbia, occupying a variety of administrative and management positions. Since the eighties, he has been President and Managing Director of Colorobbia Italia and a member of the Board of Directors in the group’s holding.
As Marco Bitossi, the company’s president, is happy to declare, Colorobbia Italia“ comprises three divisions:
ceramics, enamels for metal and glass; we produce frits, fluxes, enamels, pigments for vitreous enamels and for ceramics and also red lead and paints based on precious metals (gold, lustres and platinum) for glass and ceramics”.
With production facilities in Sovigliana Vinci, Fiorano Modenese and Montelupo, the company is part of the Gruppo Colorobbia, has 240 employees and last year generated a turnover of US$ 103 million, 30% of which came from exports. The company has a total production capacity of 120,000 tonnes of ceramic colours, vitreous enamels and red lead, 10,000 tonnes of which is accounted for by vitreous enamels, which therefore constitute 7% of production at Colorobbia Italia.
Continues Marco Bitossi: “To stay in the enamels sector, our Italian facilities are constantly being updated, so that we have all the potential necessary to win new production and market shares.
Our products include a complete range for steel and a more than satisfactory one for the cast iron that is used for stoves and bathtubs. Our products comply with international standards and cater for the demand on the Italian market, which is one of the most demanding and important in the world.
“There is no point to pretending that consumption of enamels is not stagnating at world level. In the area of whitegoods, this is primarily because of the increasing popularity of models made of stainless steel and designed to be built in, while in the refrigeration department the preferred coating is epoxy resin powders or plastics. Where we do find some growth is in the area of boilers, where vitreous enamel can offer a more favourable quality to price ratio than galvanising or painting with epoxy products. Several other factors should also be remembered: the vitreous enamel market is not an enormous one in terms of quantity, competition is merciless and whitegoods manufacturers simply cannot afford to increase their prices.
“As for Colorobbia, although the world market is rather stagnant, as I said, we believe that we have what it takes to increase our market shares: as we were the last to arrive on the scene, we have plenty of scope for growth in terms of both quality and service.”
Q: Let’s now take a look at some other factors that could determine how things develop in future: temperature, colour, innovation…
“Flexibility is an obvious characteristic for every firm that wants to stay alive in an increasingly frenetic market, one that always needs fast responses. It is our policy to adapt in double-quick time to our customers’ requirements. Colour changes are related to the increasingly fragmented market and are necessary to complete and update product ranges, especially in the European market. The firing temperatures used in Italy are already lower than customary in other countries, but there is a technical limit below which it is impossible to go without losing the ability to guarantee the end product’s technical characteristics.
“As far as we know, Colorobbia is among the frit manufactures that do more research. An advanced research that takes place in well-equipped laboratories, where for example we have prepared a variant for synthesising new materials based on titanium oxide, which have some very interesting antibacterial properties. Some even more interesting progress may now also be set to emerge from research into nanomaterials and nantotechnologies applied to cleanability of enamels.”
Q: I am sure that our readers would also like to know your appraisal of the market, products and prices…
“The European market is stagnating, while the leading manufacturing groups are tending to relocate part of their production to Eastern Europe and the Far East, so as to cut their costs and at the same time increase their presence in growing new markets. The continuous rise and rise of raw material prices, the high value of the Euro and market globalisation are forcing everyone to relocate production to more suitable areas: we have facilities in Spain, Mexico, Brazil and China and have plans to invest in other countries as well. As for our products, our research and innovation strategy is based on improving their chemical and physical properties, respecting the environment and safeguarding health in the workplace.”
Q: What sort of relationships do you have with plant manufacturers?
“When users make a specific point of requesting it, we undertake to study and solve their problems, involving our laboratories which, as I already said, are some of the best equipped for research. When those requests also imply technological evolution, the cooperation of plant manufacturers is of crucial importance.”
Q: And what about your relationships with CISP?
“CISP is one of the most important sectorial organisations of its kind in the world. In Italy, it is the leading landmark for entrepreneurs, as its activities and working groups enable us to study and deal with problems of common interest, such as the laws and regulations that govern the standardisation of product characteristics, environmental problems and so on.”
The Tuscans are renowned for being determined and creative. So it should come as no surprise to anyone that it was only a few kilometres from Sovigliana that the genius of the great Leonardo was born and grew up, his impressions and intuitions maturing as he observed this same landscape of vineyards, olive groves and cypress trees.
In the modest opinion of your contemporary columnist, gleaned from a visit to Colorobbia in Sovigliana Vinci, they are also very alert to what is going on around them, learning from it and producing more and more innovative goods as a result. The people at Colorobbia say they are the latest to have arrived on the scene of vitreous enamel, but they are paving their way: they know they have plenty of space to grow and they intend to make use of it. We can expect to hear a lot more talk – good talk – about them in the vitreous enamel community.
It is fair to say that the Gruppo Colorobbia goes back to when the first pottery works, founded by the Bitossi family in Montelupo Fiorentino in the sixteenth century, was converted into a colour works. Nowadays, the group, whose majority shareholder is still the Bitossi family, has a stable presence in all the world’s leading markets, where it continues investing in new facilities and in advanced technology and research.
The Gruppo Colorobbia comprises three divisions: Colours, Metals and Hobby Colorobbia a ceramic colour company division for ceramic art world. Colorobbia Italia has facilities in Sovigliana Vinci, Montelupo Fiorentino and Fiorano Modenese, where it produces frits, enamels and colorants for ceramics; vitreous enamels, powders and pigments for metal, and lead oxide and raw materials for glass. The company’s 240 employees generate a turnover of 103 million Euros, 30% of which is generated by exports (7% for vitreous enamels). The company produces 120,000 tonnes per annum of ceramic colours, vitreous enamels and red lead and has an installed production capacity of 10,000 tonnes per annum of vitreous enamel.
The Gruppo Colorobbia also has facilities in Spain, Brazil, Portugal, Turkey, Peru and Mexico. The group’s holdings also include the companies Eurit, Caolino d’Italia, Colorobbia Taiwan, Colorobbia Thailand, Colorobbia USA, Industrie Bitossi Italia (two facilities), Industrie Bitossi USA, and Flavia (which produces artistic pottery and furnishing accessories).