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TOP AUTOMAZIONI, BUILDERS OF AUTOMATIC BAR LOADERS FOR LATHES IDEAL FOR SMALL BUSINESSES
Bar loaders for lathes have existed for about 30 years. The success of Italian firm Top Automazioni , founded in 2000 and capable of achieving a turnover of 10 million Euro in its first ten years, can be measured by its capacity to invent completely automatic bar loaders for lathes. These machines offer a significant advantage, allowing metal bars of different diameters to be worked on without changing the machine’s setup, and thereby causing costly breaks in production. As the firm’s founder, Bruno Bargellini, explains: “Our bar loaders can move straight from working a 70mm bar to a 20mm bar in only ninety seconds, while traditional machines can require up to several hours to complete the same procedure”. This characteristic makes the Italian firm, based in Poggi Bonsi, province of Rimini, the ideal supplier for automatised factories, including small businesses, which carry out relatively “short” production series, of between 100 and 2,000 pieces. Mostly small and medium size firms, therefore, although Top Automazioni can also count big names such as Swedish Skf or firms in the Fiat Group and Manuli Group among its clients.
An additional feature of Top Automazioni products is the computerisation of the machines, thanks to their efforts in research and development carried out entirely inhouse by a pool of four engineers working in constant contact with clients, in order to adapt and test product innovations. “Ever since our first year in business – emphasizes Bargellini – a large part of the firm’s profits have been reinvested in innovation and participation in trade fairs in Italy and abroad. Thanks to the efforts we have made in research, over the years we have developed loaders which simply require the operator to select the diameter of the bar: the computer running the machine does the rest”. In this way the diameter of the bars can be changed as often as necessary, perfectly suited to small and medium business which manage even small projects, and may need to change diameter up to two or three times a day.
Flexibility therefore is the keyword for Top Automazioni loaders. The firm, in fact, has not suffered from the crisis involving the mechanics industry and continues to export its products to Germany, France and Austria, while it is beginning to break into the Spanish market, thanks to an agreement with a local dealer. Bargellini explains: “In Europe we have opened sales branches in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. The mechanism is set up as a joint venture with local distributors: in some cases we hold majority shares in the companies, while in others our share is of less than 50%”. Outside Europe, they also have a branch in the United States. “The American market, however – the firm’s founder complains – hasn’t given us much joy over the last year. The unfavourable exchange rates have resulted in a fall from 2007’s excellent performance. I could say that we have lost what we had previously earned in terms of contracts and market share in the USA”. These problems have not however reduced the importance of exports on overall profits. Quite the opposite – increased difficulties in the more mature home market have made the role of foreign markets ever more important. In the 2007 financial period, exports were responsible for 38% of the year’s net profit of 10 million Euros (+47% yearly). “This year – Bargellini predicts – we expect a result on the same level of 2007 with regard to profits, but with a higher level of exportation, up to 50% or more of turnover”. In general, profits should increase towards the end of 2008 by 1.5-2% yearly, although Bargellini does not rule out “making 5%”.
Exchange rate problems were not the only difficulties that Top Automazioni encountered in the American market. There are also problems associated with the rigidity of demand in the USA. “Americans – Bargellini explains – are unusual clients. They are not as interested in innovation as Europeans, and they focus almost entirely on the price factor”. Almost paradoxical situations are created: for example, Top Automazioni provides a free online assistance service which allows malfunctions and breakdowns to be dealt with in real time directly from Italy, in whatever part of the world. “This service – Bargellini explains – has an impact on the final price of the machine, but the savings made by not having to stop production for hours or days when a breakdown occurs more than compensate for the extra expense for the purchaser. But in the United States this service is not seen as an added advantage to our products. We can’t manage to get clients, who in America are mostly looking only for greater cost efficiency, to understand the final advantage”.
While Europe is a consolidated market, and the United States, despite the strong Euro, represents a huge opportunity, the East is still an incognito for Top Automazioni. “We have been sounding out the Japanese market, but without any concrete results so far”, Bargellini comments, adding: “We are not yet present in India or China, and I don’t believe we will be in the near future: there is fierce competition on those markets and our prices, which are six or seven times higher than average Eastern manufacturers, put us right out of the market. Our products, which allow a reduction in down time, both in order to change diameters and in the case of breakdowns, are ideal for markets where labour is a major production cost”. This last factor makes Russia an interesting possibility, rather than India or China. “In Russia – Bargellini explains – labour costs are beginning to rise. In fact just over the last couple of days we have concluded a contract with a local dealer in Russia for ten loaders, which the Russian distributor will then distribute to another three clients”.