Home > Focus On
EVEN IN ENGINE-GENERATORS THE MADE IN ITALY STYLE IS UNMISTAKABLE
The “Italian approach” to building generating sets has a tendency towards customisation. The producers have developed this specialisation over the years, and have exported it all over the world. However, according to engineer Giovanni Maria Maffi, member of Cogrel, the Committee of Italian Generating Set Builders, part of Italmot, the Association of Internal Combustion Engine Manufacturers, there is more to it than just this.
“Most of the operators in the industry,” he explains, "recognise that Italians have a special, even unique, capacity for creating relationships and contacts. Even the global giants admit that Italy is an important hub for forming relationships with the international market. Basically, whoever wants to create contacts in the engine-generator business cannot ignore the wealth of experience of the Italian companies. Made in Italy, moreover, stands out thanks to one unmistakable characteristic: attention to style.”
“It may seem paradoxical," admits Maffi, "to speak of style or design in reference to machines such as generator sets, and yet the Italian companies are the best at ‘dressing’ such machinery, refining it with ‘casings’ which improve its aesthetic appearance. But it’s not just a question of covering. Also in the electronic control panels, the accessories and even in the shape, the colour and the materials chosen for encasing the generator sets, the Italian look is very much admired. »“And if it’s true,” continues Maffi, “that this added value can seem unnecessary for industrial applications, the same cannot be said for the category of smaller generator sets used, for example, on boats.
If the added value of Made in Italy clearly stands out in the design, the same must also be said for the wealth of technology the products contain. But here, effectively, the producers cannot do so much. “With generator sets,” explains Maffi, “there's not much to discover; the characteristics of the products depend on the capacities of the assemblers and builders to select components. In this sense, the motor is the principle component and usually, but not always, it is produced by third parties. The Italian builders and assemblers of generator sets are divided into two categories: those who supply the market with standard machines and those, instead, who provide made-to-measure solutions. “In general," explains Giovanni Maria Maffi, who works for Compagnia Tecnica Motori, a medium-size industry operator, “the large groups, such as Iveco, Visa, Genst, Mosa, Mase, Bruno and Ausonia prefer standardisation. There are, however, companies that specialise in customisation. Obviously this second category has lowers sales volumes and therefore is smaller in scale.”
The large groups just mentioned are part of the restricted circle of ten or twelve principle industry operators. “They are,” Maffi continues, “the only ones capable of doing everything alone.” The category widens considerably if we also include the companies who buy all the components and limit themselves to assembling them, or even those who market products made by third parties.” If the dozen leading companies have an income of 400-500 million, the turnover of the assemblers and retailers, a sector which employs at least 2,000 people, reaches around 800–1,000 million Euros. A large portion of this one billion Euro turnover is made abroad: “The export quota of the main operators,” Maffi points out, “is more than 50%.”
Italian companies are present all over the world, but in recent years the flow of export has changed: “Europe remains the main outlet, but China,” Maffi underlines, "from being an importer, has become an exporter, entering into competition with western producers with its standard but low quality products.” Other important markets are Russia and some countries of the African continent, both across North Africa and in South Africa and the neighbouring southern African countries.
Obviously the level of a market’s complexity also influences demand. “In mature markets, standard products are sold, while in developing economies a larger number of special generating sets are needed for emergency solutions in domestic, health care and infrastructure settings. Africa, in this sense, represents an opportunity for Italian producers to sell highly customised solutions.
The oil and gas industries, for which Italy is able to provide tailor-made solutions, also merit attention. “In oil and gas fields, which are often in remote locations with no connection to the electric grid, generating sets are indispensable, as they also are in extraction sites,” observes Maffi.
In fact, the ‘special’ uses of Italian generating sets are many: Italian uninterrupted power supplies are used to protect the data centres of banks and insurance and telecommunications companies, or to guarantee a continuous power supply to hospitals and production sites. “We don’t have one main application: from food conservation to unusual means of transport, such as ski lifts, Italian generating sets offer dependability and safety.”
Finally, let’s not forget the whole business of energy production for auto-consumption, integration of electricity transported from the grid, or alternative supplies in the absence of a connection to the grid, as in the case of cogeneration devices. “There are no limits to the capacity: there are generators of a few kiloWatts up to 15-20 megaWatts, with perhaps several machines in series. You don’t go beyond this,” Maffi explains, “because past certain limits, it is more convenient to use turbines to produce electricity". A last, but interesting area is that of generators for transforming vegetable, i.e. renewable, raw material into energy. “In the last few years,” concludes Maffi, “increasing numbers of generating sets are being built that are fuelled by raw materials of vegetable origin. It is an interesting business niche, which is growing, partly due to public incentive policies which encourage the use of bio-combustibles.