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In the heart of the Cluster

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In the heart of the Cluster

Emilia-Romagna’s advanced mechanics and industrial automation cluster has gradually built up a specialist network of suppliers that serve it adequately: thanks to knowledge management and the conservation of skills in this broad network of subcontractors, the cluster has the ability to customize automation according to the demands of end-users all over the world (the proportion of exports by these enterprises is in fact very high). A cluster that deserves to be valued even more for its various types of excellence. 

If we only consider the province of Bologna, there were 134 companies active in the field of automatic machines during that period, with a total turnover of approximately 2.3 billion euro and 11,000 employees. Bologna’s business community is also proud of its Aldini Valeriani School, a prestigious industrial technical institute that trained most of the technicians employed in this sector, as well as the Industrial Heritage Museum, which traces the history of production processes, technologies, products and forms of innovation in Bolognese industry from the XVI to the XX century. 

Packaging Valley’s success is due to this great tradition of mechanical engineering, high technology and extreme flexibility of automatic machine manufacturers, who can count on a wide network of highly specialized suppliers, all involved in a continuous exchange of know-how.  

According to UCIMA (Unione Costruttori Italiani Macchine Automatiche per il Confezionamento e l’Imballaggio –, Emilia-Romagna generates 62.9% of the national turnover in this sector, representing approximately 3.9 billion euros in 2014, 54.6% of employees and 36.3% of companies.  

In this context, to remain competitive the priority is the ability to create innovation. This innovation comes above all from research, but also from close cooperation with the end-users, according to a philosophy of co-makership, in order to respond to very diverse needs, including the need to offer the consumer a high degree of safety and machines that are more and more ergonomic and easy to use.

Research and development are considered core activities, so for the most part they are still carried out internally.

However, some design work of components and, above all, of electrical circuit boards and software, may be outsourced, especially at times of peak workloads. This is the operational phase that is easiest to outsource.

In the case of mechanical parts, the creation and management of a network of subcontractors able to guarantee the delivery times and quality required is of fundamental importance. As regards commercial components, the strategic decision is to combine purchasing and storage at a single central structure.

Some parts of the assembly process (such as mechanical assembly of the basic machine, wiring of the standard electrical panel) can be outsourced to reduce production lead-times.

Subcontractors are unlikely to bring added value in this phase because it involves the fine-tuning of mechanical movements, motion control and verifying compliance with the customers’ specifications.

Many of the strong contacts established by IMA in recent years are within its own industrial cluster. These relationships sometimes take the form of minority investments (up to 30% of the share capital) in certain subcontractors. 

These are investments that serve to support the network of small local businesses, an active part of the process of innovation promoted by the Group: they are direct interventions, not only at a financial level, but also at a strategic level, which strengthen the cohesion of the production system and integrate the innovative potential of local players.

IMA also encourages suppliers in which it holds a participation to create second-level aggregations with highly specialized micro-enterprises that risk having to close down, so as not to lose a wealth of knowledge and experience that is the real added value of the Group, where physical proximity is still a very significant plus.

IMA’s supply chain is a genuine corporate network made up of the affiliated companies; through the development of this corporate network, IMA:

• increases its direct control of suppliers that are considered strategic for their know-how and the importance of the product/service that they offer;

• favours the development of these companies by leveraging the production and financial strength of the main customers;

• facilitates the integration of very small subcontractors through affiliated companies belonging to the network, so as to ensure continuity in critical situations of generational change, thereby contributing to their survival and development;

• helps each company of the network to focus on their own core business by delegating non-core activities to other entities in the network. For example, the central warehouse of commercial components supplies the major companies of the network, allowing them substantial savings as the Industrial Group is able to negotiate better purchasing conditions.


Innovative commercial warehouse project

The commercial components warehouse was launched in 2009 to increase efficiency and reduce the amount of surplus goods being bought by the Group’s divisions.

Creation of the warehouse allowed the Company to reduce purchasing costs through economies of scale and to increase the level of service provided to the divisions. Soon after, these benefits were transferred to IMA’s main suppliers, who were also able to take advantage of the service provided by the commercial components warehouse.

This purchasing strategy has allowed IMA to achieve a critical mass, making it possible to bypass certain levels of the distribution chain, such as dealers, and to obtain supplies directly from the manufacturer with substantial savings. To cope with the rising volumes of stock, in 2014 IMA decided to make a major investment in an innovative automated warehouse: AutoStore.

AutoStore is a system of storage and picking of individual articles and small packages that takes place by means of a control system of the on-board robots.

This automated warehouse system provides storage that is high-density, modular and highly configurable. High density is ensured by stacking the containers, reducing the storage area by 40% compared with the standard solution using Miniload.

AutoStore works with a strategy of picking “goods to man”, taking the materials directly to the picking station. Thanks to its highly modular design, it is particularly suitable for traditional buildings and therefore also for existing buildings. After installation, it is possible in a few minutes to change the layout by adding storage capacity and increase the handling capacity by adding robots, even with the system running. The availability of the system appears to be very high, compared with traditional systems, as the number of the robots is such that in the event of a failure on the part of one of them, the system loses little capacity.