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MATERIAL HANDLING IN ITALY STANDS OUT FOR ITS CUSTOMIZATION
The material handling market in Italy, which deals in the design, creation and export world-wide of goods handling and logistics solutions, stands out for a good reason: its diversification and specialization. Francesco Chinaglia, President of the AISEM trade association, explained: “The manufacturing sector in Italy, seen close up, offers a product range so vast as to surely appeal to anyone who wishes to successfully market long-lasting, profitable products for the handling of goods.” Another winning reason however is its competitive edge, as Chinaglia then emphasized. “With regard to the West European market, Italy not only accounts for many of the companies in the sector but also offers among the most competitive labour costs.”
Nearly all the material handling firms in Italy are small or medium-sized and family-run, managed by extremely active and able entrepreneurs. As a result it is not uncommon to find several of these firms – even the smaller ones – at the main world fairs on the market. Many of these firms outsource their specialist work, although there are still those that do most of their work in-house, demonstrating their very own, personal know-how. Chinaglia explained: “Some of these small and medium-sized firms are specialized in special and custom-made niche products and have become genuinely competitive.” In this universe of small companies, however, several leading players stand out such as Om (with Chinaglia as its commercial head) and Cesab, which the President of Aisem went on to describe: “Its organization is much more complex and is supported by the organizational facilities of the respective groups worldwide.” Small and big players alike contribute towards the overall turnover of the market of providing goods handling and logistics solutions which, in 2008, stood at more than a billion Euros: 1,122 million (up 1.4% on 2007), with a 49.6% export share worth 557 million (up 3.2% per annum), bettering the 48.8% in 2007.
Italian companies have, regardless of size, achieved a strong edge on the competition in the field of electrical battery-powered products, especially trucks intended for in-house use, i.e. in the warehouse. Chinaglia emphasized: “The Asian competitors on Italy’s traditional outlet markets lack this standard of excellence.” This benefit allows Italian companies to implement two possible business strategies: to face countries in the Far East by offering cutting edge solutions on those markets and, at the same time, form partnerships with Asian manufacturers of diesel and gas-powered endothermic forklift trucks the cost-effectiveness of which cannot be matched by the Italian companies.
Essentially, the situation of the material handling industry is similar to that of many other segments of Italian mechanics: the companies are suffering due to the competition of those who can manufacture goods at lower prices. This is a deciding, albeit not an especially innovative factor for the industry. The President of Aisem stressed: “Important progress has been made over the years, however, in terms of quality and safety. Italy is proud to be at the forefront in this regard, thanks also to the controls carried out by our local authorities. This means our products are in a strong position in many countries in Europe and world-wide.”
Another salient feature is product specialization and customization. In Italy, forklift trucks are manufactured for specific sectors such as those of fruit and vegetables, potentially explosive environments, highly corrosive environments and printing. Chinaglia concluded: “We shouldn’t forget of course those products that are custom made. Many firms take orders for specific products intended for extremely specific applications. I have for instance seen a 20-ton platform truck for reels. As it happened, it was designed and created by an Italian company.”