Laminazione Sottile may make ultra-thin sheets, but it does so with substance…
Based on the outskirts of Caserta, this firm is a vanguard operator in the sector of thin and ultra-thin aluminium sheets, whose products include discs for enamelled and Teflon-coated saucepans. This is how the company’s President, Guido Moschini, sees the past and the near future of his sector.
If you are one of those whose world is built on simplistic stereotypes, you may have difficulty believing that one of Europe’s most advanced, capacious aluminium rolling mills is located just outside the southern Italian town of Caserta: its name is Laminazione Sottile SpA. What’s more, this group is neither a publicly-funded venture, nor an offshoot of a multinational (the usualbusiness models in that region), but a private, family-run business.
How and when did this story start, a story that sounds as though it has come about in the wrong place? Here to tell us is Guido Moschini, class of 1921, the mechanical engineer who created Laminazione Sottile and is now its President.
“After setting up a Snia Viscosa plant to make synthetic fibres, my father Augusto struck out on his own. As he was entranced by aluminium, he set up a plant in Naples in 1923 to produce capsules for closing flasks and wine, spirits and milk bottles. Remember that 1923 was only twelve years after the industrial process for extracting this “super-new” metal from bauxite had been developed, a process that still has unexploited potential and whose patent is still being disputed by France and Canada to this day. After I had taken over from my father in 1953, I built a new hot rolling mill in 1964 in an area by the name of San Marco Evangelista, located on the outskirts of Caserta, that had been earmarked for intensive industrial development, together with a semi-continuous casting foundry for sheet plaques weighing Kg 500, to replace the ones weighing Kg 100 that were being produced in the little plant in Naples.”
The industrial district that everyone hoped would grow up around Laminazione Sottile with the fallout effect of aluminium processing failed to materialise; the big firms migrated and the focus around Caserta these days is commercial rather than industrial. But the team at Laminazione Sottile stuck to their guns: in 1980, Guido Moschini was joined in running the business by his sons Massimo, Luca and Pietro, who had all worked their way up practically from the shop floor. The family’s fourth generation is also geared up to start working in the business soon, as it is to be joined by Massimo’s son Andrea,who is now taking his degree in engineering.
In 1992, with an alert eye on the downstream production flow, the firm set up Contital Srl to produce aluminium containers for foodstuffs, rolls of household foil and containers made of PET. In 1994, the group was joined by Italcoat Srl, which does continuous roll painting. The list of end products made using the Laminazione Sottile group’s output is so long that it is better to refer to the company description at the end of this article.
Guido Moschini was born in 1921 and graduated in mechanical engineering from the University of Naples in 1948, after the interruptions and upheavals caused by the Second World War.
In 1953, he took over management of the small business founded by his father in Naples thirty years earlier. In the 1960s, he was the first entrepreneur in southern Italy to launch an industrial development programme for the production of thin and ultra-thin aluminium sheets. A convinced southern Italian patriot, he believes that the possibility to work and suitable staff training will help make his firm – and not only his firm – grow and flourish.
Since 1980, he has been flanked by his sons Massimo, Luca and Pietro, with whom he manages the work done in all the firm’s departments. They are soon to be joined by his grandson Andrea, Massimo’s son, who is now taking his degree in engineering and will mark the fourth generation’s entry into Laminazione Sottile.
What does it mean to be an entrepreneur in southern Italy?” asks Moschini, as though he is reading our thoughts. “It means having to cope withinadequate infrastructures every day: there are practically no underground railways and not enough bus services or connections in general… But we shall continue growing here, investing in training our staff and in creating state-ofthe-art facilities, so as to ensure our products are always better quality andcapable of competing at world level. Though it is far from easy.”
“You can think of the aluminium market as divided into two sectors”, explains Moschini: “there is themetallurgical side of production and the sector of transformation into sheets andextrusions for all sorts of different applications. The production sector is all controlled by seven to eight bigmultinationals, which manage the price of aluminium upstream and on the Stock Exchange. They can afford to push the price up to the moon, as it makes them earn billions of dollars. The other sector, the area of transformation, which is where we operate, has to buy the metal at the speculative prices set on the Stock Exchange and then sell its products in a market that is drugged, i.e. kept down by the interests of the big boys from the production sector. That is the game played by the multinationals, which makes life far easier for those who produce aluminium than for those who transform it independently, like us. “For now, market volumes are still quite significant, though. But standard products are at the mercy of emerging markets. The Chinese and the Indians are our most dangerous competitors, because they are very intelligent and may well also achieve high qualitythemselves. We have to make some strategic decisions, moving away from easier types of production and focusing on more specialised areas that are calibrated to respond to our customers’ interests. We can defend ourselves by being flexible, by providing a just-in-time service and by losing no time in catering for our customers’ requirements, exploiting the fact that we are located in their back yard.
“There is still room for consumption togrow and the problem that firms will have to face will be one of selection. These days, you need four basic tenets: quality, innovation, price and service. To win and to last, you have to be first in at least three of these areas: one on its own is not enough any more.”
The Laminazione Sottile product range also includes discs for saucepans, which are made using equipment that enables the company to produce discs whose metal has a thin, homogeneous structure, discs that are perfectly flat, separated from each other and totally free of cracked oil stains.
““We have many Italian and foreign saucepan manufacturers among our customers who have had the opportunity to appreciate the quality of our sheared products”, adds the Laminazione Sottile President. “At a time when things are getting delicate for kitchenware manufacturers, as Asian competitors start absorbing market shares that have traditionally always been Italian, the only way to win out here is to aim for quality – and the only way to achieve that quality is by improving the resistance of the coatings and investing in the creativity of shapes and colours.
Unfortunately, the market for discs is also being spoiled by a suicidal war that is being fought out on the terrain not of quality, but purely of price, which is not being analysed in global terms at all,thus giving the impression that quality does not pay. When orders start shrinking, that makes it increasingly difficult to invest in developing cutting edge facilities. We ourselves have been forced to abandon a very promising project to improve our disc cleaning, for example.
“We have embarked on a fine working relationship with CISP (Italian VitreousEnamel Association). We sincerely hope that enamelled aluminium will be appreciated – and used – more, also in such public works as lining motorway tunnels or facing railways stations and airports, as the alliance between aluminium’s light weight and enamel’s resistance guarantees durability, hygiene and good looks. Unfortunately, especially here in Italy, the choice of materials used for street furnishings is not always based on a dispassionate evaluation of their beneficial effects in terms of easy installation, a long working life, easy cleaning management and a tasteful appearance: the entire process is sometimes derailed by policy factors that orient choices towards products that may look cheaper at first sight, but that sacrifice many of the characteristics I have just listed.
“As a result, we are committed to working with frit producers and appliers in CISP, in an attempt to keep on improving the degree of resistance offered by products made of enamelled aluminium.
“One closing thought: the combination of aluminium and enamel has never enjoyed the attention it deserves from the area of everyday objects and the production of costume jewellery.”
So the interview comes to an end by sketching out additional trails – some of them already blazed, others waiting to be opened – that could lead to a more widespread application of enamels. As we have been saying for some time that this is one way of enabling the industry to recover from its current and coming difficulties, we believe it is worth thinking about it for a moment. Not least because the suggestion comes from a man who has demonstrated – in practice and operating in a far from favourable business environment – that he has the passion of a true entrepreneur and an eye that looks to the future.
Laminazione Sottile Spa
Was established in Naples in 1923 by Augusto Moschini to produce aluminium caps and packaging for milk bottles, tubes and containers of various shapes and sizes.
In the sixties, Augusto’s son Guido moved the firm to the industrial estate at San Marco Evangelista, on the outskirts of Caserta, where the parent company still occupies buildings measuring 95,000 square metres in a plot measuring 150,000, producing sheets of aluminium and its alloys, starting from plaque casts.
Production has increased steadily, year by year, reaching an annual rate of 65,000 tonnes in 2005.
The firm is not a member of one of the big aluminium manufacturing groups, but is a private, independent player. It has ISO 9001 certification and conducts a constant research activity aimed at creating products with a high degree of technology content.
In 1992, the firm decided to go for downstream development by setting up Contital Srl, which produces aluminium containers for foodstuffs, rolls of household foil and containers made of PET.
In 1994, the group was joined by Italcoat Srl, a firm that specialises in using the coil coating technology (continuous roll painting) to produce painted sheets.
The sheets produced by the Laminazione Sottile group are earmarked for the foodstuffs, pharmaceutical and cosmetics packaging sectors, for the production of heat exchangers for automobiles, for airconditioners, for industrial evaporators, condensers, refrigerator installationsand the cryogenics industry.
The group also produces discs for saucepans enamelled on the outside, as well as laminates for the construction industry, for the furniture industry and for the general engineering industry.
In 2005, the group achieved a total turnover of 198 million Euros, about 60% of which was generated by exports to countries all over the world.
At present, the group employs a staff of about 430, but it expects to increase this to 500 in the near future.
Continuously expanding, the group invests in product quality controls and in cutting edge research, which is conducted in partnership with universities and international research centres.
The group’s production plants are highly automated.
The largest in Italy and one of the largest in Europe, its hot rolling facility is set to achieve an annual turnout of 150,000 tonnes in the next few years.