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A LONG TRADITION ABROAD FOR ITALIAN ASSEMBLY COMPANIES
Italian companies can boast an acknowledged tradition, both home and abroad, in providing solutions for the erection of industrial plants in construction sites. Companies in this sector were already established by the second post-war period, when they started out working with iron. Workshops were transformed into assemblers, and labour gradually industrialised. Soon after, international markets began to open their doors. "Italian firms - recalls Aimone Vaccari, the UAMI (Industrial plant erection and maintenance contractors’ associations) trade union secretary – often worked abroad, exporting skilled labour and helping to consolidate our industry’s image in the eyes of the rest of the world. By the beginning of the Nineties, the top three industry players alone had six thousand employees." And that’s not all. It was the businesses that won contracts abroad that brought about subcontracting, favouring Italian general contractors who availed themselves of the experience of assemblers in their homeland. "And this - emphasises the UAMI secretary - was an Italian quality that became much-appreciated all over the world.”
However, a sudden crisis in the procurement system turned this industry - globally recognised for its degree of specialisation and its ability to resolve difficulties emerging mid-operation - on its head. "Fochi - one of the three industry giants I mentioned earlier - erected the majority of Europe's nuclear facilities and is a prime example of our expertise," explains Vaccari. In recent years, the scenario has changed but Italian firms continue to be successful outside of Italy. It has not been an easy ride, however. "The economic crisis of the Nineties, which devastated the industry like a tsunami, caused huge problems for big businesses, causing them to collapse one after the other. Italy disappeared from the world market just as quickly, leaving a whole heritage of skills in its wake," explains the UAMI secretary.
The assembly business has gone through some tough times, but recovery came from small-scale enterprises, those that weren't in the UAMI when the trade union was counting the biggest names in Italian export among its members. In recent years, the sharp increase in demand from the oil industry has created many business opportunities and now over 50% of the sector's revenue (estimated at 2,000 - 2,500 million Euros) is made abroad. “In just a few years - explains Vaccari - small companies have regained ground, becoming mid-large enterprises and bouncing back to win important contracts all over the world. Take, for example, the Sicilian firm Irem, recently awarded a contract from Total to build a refinery in the United Kingdom."
At the beginning of 2008, the Italian iron construction industry, represented by UAMI, together with ANIMP (National Association of Industrial Plant Engineering) and OICE (Association of Engineering, Architectural and Technical-Economic Consulting Organisations), established Federprogetti: a federation of associations that includes over 2000 companies, 110,000 employees and a turnover of 42 billion Euros, 80% of which has been made in foreign markets. Federprogetti's goal - explains Vaccari - is to protect and represent all the interests of what we refer to as the "Made in Italy" plant design industry, which is what we want to be recognised as: an industry that makes quality its defining feature." Obviously Federprogetti's numbers are not comparable to UAMI’s, which represents roughly 20% of the Italian market and links around 15 companies with 3,000 to 4,000 employees in total. "But in UAMI there is the excellence of Italian engineering technologies that are needed throughout the world," concludes Vaccari.
In 2006, Irem Group was awarded a contract, in partnership with Technip Italy (a branch of the French engineering giant, Technip), to construct the world's largest ethylene production plant, with an annual output of 1.4 million tonnes. This serves as an example of what Italian firms in the industry are capable of. The plant, situated in Yambu, Saudi Arabia, employed 14 thousand tonnes of pipes and required 8 million hours of labour. The project was completed in a very short time (just over a year and a half) and shows just how much added value Italian companies can bring to the job. The joint venture between Technip Italy and Irem proved to be a winning strategy: thanks to the project's integrated commercial and operational management, they were able to capitalise on the French group’s experience in the field of engineering and the famous Italian firm’s know-how and expertise.