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LARGE ENGINES FOR BOATS, AN ALL-ITALIAN TRADITION
There are not many “giants” among the Italian companies that make internal combustion engines for the vehicle, industrial, agricultural, construction and power generation industries, as well as for marine applications. There are few large enterprises and many small-to-medium ones, but their range is very wide, with today’s producers able to provide engines from 3 to more than 22,000 kw. “The division,” explains Gelsomino Sirabella, president of the Italmot trade association , “is made up of small-to-medium size firms, with the exception of Wartsila, the only player that makes engines of a certain dimension.” Right behind them are some medium-size players, such as Iveco-Aifo, who have now merged with a company of the Fiat Group that combines all their activities for the production of power units, Isotta Fraschini and Lombardini. “Some of them,” explains Sirabella “also produce engines for the automotive sector, but for uses in applications for agricultural machinery.”
Some producers are also able, with their "nauticalised" products, to motorise pleasure craft, as well as vessels for specific uses of the Finance Police, Coast Guards and other armed forces. The largest companies operate particularly in the large shipbuilding markets (up to six large-dimension engines can be installed on cruise liners) and in that of power generation plants. This is a supply area that suits the characteristics of the Italian selection, which is recognised as one of the leading global industries in the highest power ranges. “If it is true,” continues Sirabella, “that many players cover the range from 0.5kw to 1 mw, in the higher power ranges the Italians are among the leaders in marine application products. Here we are talking of 4-stroke engines, which require sophisticated technology. And even if there is a noticeable continual pressure by non-European producers to gain knowledge in this field, the know-how is still under European control.” There are a large number of applications: cruise liners, ferries, off-shore structures for various types of extraction, small merchant ships, military ships, and also special ships (ice breakers, tugs, and ships for ocean research).
At the end of 2008, the preliminary turnover for the division was around over 1,300 million Euros, with an estimated export quota of around 50%. The Italians do business in every part of the world, particularly in the American continent, the Far East, and Europe (especially the north of Europe), but also in parts of India, the Middle East and Africa. Over the decades, Made in Italy has established a solid reputation in the sector. This is due, in part, to the fact that the Italian internal combustion engine industry goes back to the very start of world motoring history.
Fundamentally, it was the role played by Italian companies in the evolution of the product that has allowed them to make valid contributions to its continual improvement. This has often proved decisive for the development of productions at the global level, and for the development of products for ‘special’ solutions.
We could mention, for example, some power generating systems for “green" power stations that burn combustible oils of vegetable extraction. Also, in the naval sector, Italian engines are considered a must and are often chosen by the major Italian and international ship owners.
Basically, this division is concerned with everything involving propulsion systems. “Italian companies are able to make huge engines, up to 15 metres in length and 8-10 metres high," explains Sirabella. In its factory in Trieste, for example, Wartsila Italia produces engines from ½ to 22 mw of power, whose main applications are in the marine and industrial sectors. The case of Wartsila Italia shows how, even in the presence of a foreign buy-out, Made in Italy know-how does not go to loss. The current company, which is controlled by the Finnish group Wartsila, was born between the 1960’s and 1970’s through the merger between the largest Italian realities producing diesel engines at that time. "We are talking,” Sirabella explains, “of brands like Fiat, Andaldo and the “Cantieri Riuniti dell’Adriatico”. The company, established in Trieste in 1972, was renamed Grandi Motori Trieste.” At the beginning, it produced large diesel engines under the Fiat trademark. It then became a division of the Fincantieri group, which, in 2007, conceded its engine production to Wartsila. “But still today the connections acquired over decades of planning in Grandi Motori Trieste have remained Italian and a close collaboration continues between the Italian technical offices and those in Finland,” Sirabella stresses, adding, “in our company, the management is Italian, and so are the personnel.”
That particular know-how that Sirabella refers to is the result of decades of experience, in which engines that ran on various fuels were developed in Italy, with the goal of increasing power, reducing consumption and creating cleaner solutions. But there was another skill that was traditionally associated with Italy: excellence in military supplies. “For a long period,” continues Sirabella, “Trieste was a centre of excellence for navies, both Italian and foreign. Engines made in Trieste were fitted on ships of the Italian, the Venezuelan, the British and the Australian navies, to name only a few examples.”
There is no other place with such a concentration of internal combustion engine producers. The former Iveco has factories with the Fiat group in various parts of Italy, Isotta Fraschini is in Puglia, Lombardini and VM in Emilia-Romagna, and there are other companies of smaller dimensions in the Rome area. There are also other small and very small producers and distributors all over Italy, who are able to enhance standard products with emergency generators.
As for the distribution channels, the big companies use their own networks, which consist of sales offices in Italy and in the main world markets. The small and medium enterprises tend, however, to rely on distributors, dealers and/or agents. Trade fairs in the sector are very important, but they catalyse different interests: the smaller producers look particularly at national events, because their main market is the domestic one. The larger groups, however, try never to miss the large international fairs, especially those devoted to the marine sector and energy technologies.