Golden times for enamelled pipes
Excellent performance on the part of stoves is driving the entire sector. In recent years, production and exports of enamelled 1.2 mm pipes and pellet stovepipes have increased dramatically. Vittorio Dalle Carbonare tells the successful tale of SAVE Fumisteria of Chiuppano, a specialist in enamelled pipes based in the rich province of Vicenza.
You have to go right up to the exit at Piovene Rocchette, where the A31 Valdastico motorway link comes to an end, then continue to nearby Chiuppano, a village in the province of Vicenza at 250 metres above sea level, at about the point where the great north Italian plain runs up against the foot of the bulky Asiago plateau, before you can at last find anyone who does not moan about how badly business is going and is also not in the least afraid of competition from China.
They would be crocodile tears anyway, as any moaning around Chiuppano would hardly be substantiated by observable reality.
“The whole stove production industry is enjoying a magical period. Nobody can complain. A record number of visitors (+100%) attended the ‘Progetto Fuoco’ (held in the Verona fairgrounds last March). The entire industry was truly shot through with incredible euphoria”.
The speaker is Vittorio Dalle Carbonare of SAVE Fumisteria, which is based in Chiuppano. He is the firm’s joint proprietor (with his father and his cousin Gianbattista Savegnago) and commercial manager, but admits “I do a bit of everything, because around here you get nothing at all done unless you know every detail of production, how the raw product is made and enamelled”. Which is why his 23 year-old son Andrea is now learning the ropes, doing a bit of everything, so that, when the time comes, he will be able to stand alongside his father and cousin in the company’s management. Exactly as Vittorio himself once did with his own father, Giovanni. It was Giovanni who, after learning the trade at the nearby Vicentine enamelling works, teamed up here with his brother-in-law Bortolo Savegnago in 1967 to establish a little business to enamel floor and wall cupboards made of sheet metal, which were first flanked and then replaced by pipes.
At the time, there were sixteen stovepipe manufacturers in the Veneto region and 30 in Italy as a whole. Nowadays, there are only three pipe enamelling firms left.
Dr. Vittorio Dalle Carbonare
Vittorio Dalle Carbonare is 48 years old and married with one son. A graduate in business studies, he is co-proprietor with his father (the founder) and his cousin Gianbattista Savegnago of SAVE Fumisteria, where his particular responsibility is as commercial manager, although, as he says, “I do a bit of everything, because in a firm like ours it is vital that you know every technical aspect of production, from how the pieces are formed to the enamelling”. His son Andrea, now 23, is now learning the ropes in this school of hands-on training.
Natural selection and lively niche competition have led to a very high degree of process and product specialisation. That is what enabled the few Italian manufacturers who stayed the course to be better prepared than others, in Europe and elsewhere, when the time was ripe to cash in on the golden age that dawned towards the end of the nineties.
“Things in the stovepipe sector were absolutely flat and uneventful for several decades: not a single innovative product, nothing but traditional clamped pipes enamelled brown or white. Then came the vigorous revival of stoves for heating at the end of the nineties, which turned the concept of the stove on its head, sweeping away the heater unit that was made to be hidden or tucked away in a cupboard and replacing it with a piece of furniture that is designed to be seen. That means that all its components have to be attractive, including the stovepipe. This profound change has also been strengthened by the dramatic increase in the price of oil and concerns about the certainty of methane supplies.
“Imports of 2 mm thick painted pipes from northern Europe stimulated their production in Italy”, continues Vittorio Dalle Carbonare, “and we also started. But we remembered that SAVE is primarily an enamelling business, so in 2001 we perfected a method for enamelling 1.2 mm thick pipes with a side weld, in matt black and grey. We were the first in this area of production and have always been very satisfied with the resulting economic performance. Our product is attractive, of course, but above all it is functional: unlike painted pipes, our enamelled pipes are also finished on the inside, which makes them last longer and means they do not change colour as the temperature increases, do not scratch or mark, are not ruined beyond repair by condensation and can be cleaned with any simple detergent. This pipe is what enabled us to strike out abroad, with quite significant market shares: we now export 30% of our turnover.
“Another decisive factor behind the escalation of stoves, so also of pipes, is the successful début of pellets, a product that was invented in Canada about fifteen years ago. Pellets are little cylinders made of compressed sawdust that are used as fuel in stoves that can burn independently for more than a whole day at a time. As pellet stoves have forced smoke expulsion for safety reasons, they require pipes with a different shape, so that the smoke will be expelled without any leaks or unpleasant smells, plus a housing for a special seal at all the joints between elements.
“Our production of pellet stovepipes has passed from zero to 200,000 pieces per annum in just three years” adds Dalle Carbonare. “In the first quarter of 2006, we had 250% more orders than in the same period in 2005. We work all hours to ensure that we hold to our delivery deadlines. Our work is basically seasonal: the high season lasts from September to December. In 2005, we prepared twice as much store reserve as in 2004: by mid-October it had all gone.”
Because they are thicker, slower to produce and require more handling, enamelled pellet stovepipes cost three times as much as other pipes. SAVE is working hard to improve automation and cut down on the amount of manual labour required.
The pellet stovepipe has not eroded the market for more conventional pipes very much, because export demand for them has increased in Eastern Europe.
Explains Vittorio Dalle Carbonare: “those countries have dismantled the systems that used to provide centralised heating at prices that were often kept artificially low for political reasons, so people are now looking for cheap alternatives and stoves are doing much better than in the past”.
“We round our product range off with flexible aluminium pipes, a product that is still important for us, as it accounts for 18% of our turnover. With today’s new regulations, they are not used as chimneys for smoke so much as for suction vents, air ducting, kitchen hoods and flues.
“30% of our current exports go to France, Spain, Germany and Ireland, but we also export to Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Eastern Europe.
“The excellent trends enjoyed by the sector at present are of course attracting competition. But we have not caught a glimpse of the Chinese yet and we hope that they will not start working on 2 mm pipes, which Eastern European manufacturers, with their competitive edge, already have in their sights. Steel pipe manufacturers are also aiming at the pellet sector. As a result, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels, but have to keep on improving our plants, creating new machinery, developing quality products and shaving off excess outlay every day to keep our costs competitive.
“Enamel is the most important thing for us”, states Dalle Carbonare decisively.
“Enamelled pipes account for 70% of our production, while the rest is shared between painted and flexible aluminium pipes. We are very attached to enamel, not just because we like it, but because it is a far better finish than paintwork or steel, which both darken and change colour variously in individual pieces. Even when the temperature is high, enamel performs excellently, but with painted pipes some complaint is always bound to arrive. With enamelled pipes, the problems are literally zero: you can sell it and then forget it! If we could only make it a little less fragile, it could then be used everywhere… It could certainly be used more in chimneys inside homes, where it would once again perform with a longer working life and better compliance with the EC mark.
“And while we are on the subject of Europe”, concludes SAVE’s co-proprietor, “I would like to thank C.I.S.P. for the great help it gave us in the Italian working group, when we were drawing up balanced standards for presentation to Brussels and the steelmakers brought out the big guns of their sheer numbers…”
Vittorio Dalle Carbonare puts his case calmly but precisely, paying due attention to everything. Before saying goodbye to us, he tells us a little about the area, which was purely agricultural at the end of the war, nothing but poverty and misery, a land of emigration, while it is now an endless array of housing and factories.
The textiles trade has tailed off, but there is plenty of new mechanical industry, agriculture is practised at weekends and by pensioners and concrete has changed the face of the Seven Communes up on the Asiago plateau. The rich province of Vicenza, whose exports are worth 12 billion Euros every year, tops the list in Italy for the ratio of exports to GNP. And SAVE is a fine example, exporting 30% of what it produces in a sector that was a dead end until just recently.
As things are going well and our interviewee is in the mood, we can crack a joke and close on a light note for once.
We agree that a place run by a family called Dalle Carbonare (the charcoal burners) had no other option but to make a lot of smoke… but there’s no cause for worry, as SAVE enamelled stovepipes generate a first-class draught, a really serious one whose effect can be felt on all markets…
In 1967, Giovanni Dalle Carbonare and his brotherin- law Bortolo Savegnago teamed up in Chiuppano, in the province of Vicenza, to establish SAVE, a company that started by producing floor and wall cupboards made of enamelled sheeting,
which were then flanked and later replaced by pipes for the wood-burning stoves that were very common in those days. It was not long before SAVE had achieved a leading position, in terms both of market share and of quality, in the area of stovepipes, of smoke ducts and of chimneys.
SAVE now covers an area of 20,000 square metres, 12,000 of which are occupied by its stores alone.
In 2005, the firm’s 25 employees generated a turnover of 5 million Euros.
Exports have risen rapidly in recent years, now accounting for nearly 30% of total turnover.
Its specialisation and the high production quality it has achieved have enabled SAVE to spearhead benefiting from the boom that has hit the market since 2000 as a result of the exceptional performance of the heating stove sector,
due in turn to the increase in oil and natural gas prices, as well as the evolution of the good looks and décor potential of stoves and thus also of their pipes, in particular pipes for the pellet stoves that now dominate the market.
SAVE produces thick pipes (1.2 mm and 2 mm) for discharging the smoke generated by wood and pellet burning stoves; lighter,
cheaper pipes in steel sheeting coated with vitreous enamel to make them resistant to condensation and high temperatures, and flexible aluminium pipes that eliminate the problems of elbow joints and are easy to install and lengthen, for conduits, suction systems and cooker hoods.