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Interview with Roberto Ariotti – President of Italian Assofond
Roberto Ariotti is a profound expert on the global foundry industry and an expert on the concerns of Italian foundries. He is a greatly appreciated innovative thought leader.
Roberto, Italy is a leading producer in Europe, with over 2 million tons of cast iron and non-ferrous production. What is the current situation in the industry and market? What is happening with iron, steel, and non-ferrous casting in Italy?
The Italian foundry industry boasts over 1,000 businesses employing almost 30,000 workers and generating revenue of around 7 billion euro. It is the second producer in Europe and the ninth in the world.
In 2018, the performance of Italian foundries was positive overall (+1.2% and a production volume of 2,262,949 tonnes), but decidedly slower in comparison with 2017, when the growth rate was higher than +7%.
More specifically, the statistics indicate that there was a discontinuous economic trend over the year not only for the different fields of specialisation, but also within the same sector.
Some market segments, such as cast iron and non-ferrous metal castings, experienced a good start in 2018 thanks to a positive trend continuing from the previous year that was, however, destined to gradually weaken; and, over the months, the annual growth estimates had to be revalued downwards.
In the case of cast steel, instead, the beginning of the year was still strongly conditioned by the economic weakness of the sector over the previous three years, but the negative trend then gradually reversed to follow a path of recovery.
Leaving aside the situation of the steel foundries, the economic cycle of which can often be more volatile than that of other market segments, the end of 2018 was extremely negative for cast iron and non-ferrous metal foundries, which suffered a real economic collapse in Italy as well as in Germany and France. The decline in production activity recorded by these sectors left a negative statistical legacy for the first months of the current year, which did not begin with particularly thrilling prospects.
In the world markets, there are political and economic uncertainties and huge upheavals in the industry. Digitalization, additive manufacturing, new drive technologies, and climate change are just a few keywords that require new thinking and new strategies. How far is the Italian foundry industry in adapting to these issues?
These are 4 dramatic changes for our industry and all economic environment, Foundry is as ready as it can be, to be punctual:
1. quite ahead with regards to digitalization as we are in course with a real 4.0 revolution that has generated a tremendous improvement in operations;
2. additive has not had a deep impact up to now, our industry has always been fast in adapting to new challenges, some companies will integrate this solution in our process, but not to a high share of production, I believe that this technology will not hurt us
3. e-mobility is currently viewed as an opportunity of double engines, but some concerns are spread among colleagues. We will address the issue in an international technical congress called MeMo (“Metals for road Mobilty”), that will be held in Bergamo the 21st and 22nd November.
4. Climate change in my view is the key driver of the current revolution: it affects any aspect of our life. In Italian foundries we pursue the maximal energy efficiency and we monitor our environmental footprint. We believe we are among the world's top performers.
International financial experts worry about Italy's national debt. What are the consequences for your foundry companies?
It is a concern for all Italian industrial sectors, we are pushing hard our Government to adopt politics compliant with European Rules. Our foundry may suffer from higher cost of capital so integrated as we are in the European supply chain.
What do Italian foundries expect from the Italian government? And from the European Union?
In the past years the past Governments introduced important measures for the industry, such as the so-called “super depreciation” and “hyper depreciation”. These measures give the possibility to depreciate the new capital goods that Italian companies buy, especially regarding high-tech purchases i.e. those capital goods that are part of the industry 4.0 such as nanotechnologies, big data, robotics and smart materials. Thanks to this regulation, we had the opportunity to renew our plants and to be more efficient and sustainable. Moreover, they introduced a reduced rate for energy-intensive enterprises that helped our foundries to be competitive in the international market. So first, it would be crucial to maintain these measures. Second, our Government must confirm our European membership, because only in the European market and with a strong currency like Euro we will survive to this difficult economic trend. Regarding the European Union, I hope that the dialogue between the Institutions and the industries on crucial topics like for example climate change will be more and more open and frank.
How can Italy maintain a leading role in the global industry?
As I told before, we need to be stronger in Europe, we need to confirm our European membership and our role as one of the leading European economies. Italian companies already demonstrated their capacity to achieve important goals in the international markets: the 70% of the turnover of the Italian foundries comes from export. But to maintain this leading role we must believe in Europe: our Government must do it and our companies must do it. This is why as President of the Italian Foundry Association I strongly promote a deeper cooperation among the other European associations within the CAEF.
How important is the GIFA to you, and where do you see the Italian foundry industry in 5 years?
The GIFA is the most important fair for the foundry industry, and since it comes only every 4 years it is a great opportunity to see the latest technological advancements, to meet our suppliers and to strengthen our relationships with them. The whole world foundry industry is here in these days, and this is a wonderful opportunity for networking. The Italian foundry industry today is facing new challenges, such as the revolution in the automotive industry and the issues related to climate change. We are working hard to maintain and strengthen our position among the Top-10 Foundry Industries in the world and I believe that in 5 years the Italian foundries will be even more competitive and sustainable than today.
Thank you for the insightful conversation and we wish you a successful GIFA.