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Sassuolo, the tile valley
Rome - (Adnkronos Multimedia) - For decades it has been considered as the most extraordinary phenomenon of Italian industrialisation: with its traditions rooted in agriculture, leading to the development of the first artisan firms and the growth of an integrated productive system, leading to a conglomeration of very dynamic firms and the birth of truly multinational enterprises. All this in less than fifty years, dating from the Second World War right up to the 90s. Summarised very briefly, this is the history of the industrial district of Sassuolo, situated in the hilly area between the provinces of Modena and Reggio in Emilia, where 80 percent of Italian tiles are manufactured and from where almost three-quarters of production is exported to world markets. The firms active today number 144, with more than 21 thousand employees and overall sales of more than 4 billion euro.
Because of its performance, the process of industrialisation in this area has been the subject of innumerable studies and research, leading to the identification of a number of favourable and determining factors. The traditional qualities of motivation and industriousness of the Emilian people take first place, but there is also the factor of the imagination and the ability of artisans who have been able to make the change to an industrial system, combining creativity with serial production. Deposits of Appenine clay in the neighbourhood have constituted one of the factors which has benefited in a major way the localisation and focusing of the ceramic industry in the area. The strong territorial density of firms and the high mobility of technicians, specialised workers and salesmen have created a ceramics "culture" which has, in its turn, led to an acceleration in the process of imitation. The development of small-medium mechanical industries has benefited at the beginning from the consistent stream of skilled workers available, the greater part of which were trained right from the very beginnings inside the large firms. The presence of this competent workforce and the possibility to continue experiments in the field have thus created conditions for technological development.
A fundamental prerequisite for the development of the ceramic industry and induced activities was the renewal of the construction industry in Italy in the 50s and 60s. But the most important period for the sector was in the 80s, when, in addition to the innovative technology of roller ovens used for the first firing - leading to energy savings, together with an increase in productivity and flexibility - there was also a strong change in the demand for floor tiling from those produced with two firings to those with a single firing. This was achieved also through a general re-design of layouts and of logistics in factories (automation of the handling cycle, stocks, pressings, drying, the choice and packing of materials).
In 1986 a product innovation also took place - glazed stoneware - and in the 90s the Italian ceramic industry found itself having to face new market challenges, still succeeding, however, in holding on to its world leadership. Even today, although in the presence of an ever greater competition on all markets, the industry represents the established reference point for the sector at world level, not only under the profile of product quality, but also under what is often forgotten: the interaction between productive and territorial productivity. Sassuolo, the industrial district for ceramics is, in fact, the only one in Europe to have been awarded an Environmental Management Systems certificate, territorially integrated on the basis of the European EMAS regulations. A system, therefore, attesting Sassuolo ceramics to be of an incomparable quality, also from an environmental point of view.
Area: Province of Modena and Reggio Emilia
Specialised production: tiles and ceramics
Number of towns: 10
Surface area: 182 km2
Population: 114,000 inhabitants
Number of firms: 144
Export quota of sales: 70 percent