Smart Solutions: Italian Innovation Can Save U.S. Manufacturers

July 30, 2008
Italian machines and machine tools are helping American companies to speed up changeovers, eliminate steps in manufacturing and improve their products and processes.

U.S. manufacturing isn't declining as much as it's changing. To navigate the changing landscape of the global manufacturing sector, U.S. companies need the flexibility to adapt their products to new, niche and non-traditional markets. Most importantly, U.S. manufacturers need to partner with the makers of innovative machinery and equipment that allows them to achieve all of the aforementioned goals while also increasing productivity and lowering production costs.

By forming unique partnerships, U.S. companies are already discovering that they can keep manufacturing in the states. However, it requires finding talented, reliable partners who have already successfully navigated similar challenges. These U.S .companies have found their unique partnerships are really paying off.

Italian Innovation Keeps Man's Best Friend Happy

KONG, a Golden, Co.- based, multi-million dollar pet toy company, has discovered partnering with Italian machine manufacturers not only leads to innovative products, but is the reason it is able to keep manufacturing local.

Corry Jobin, manufacturing manager at KONG, credits his unique partnerships with Italian machine manufacturers OR.P. Stampi srl and Rutil srl for KONG's ability to keep manufacturing in the U.S. In fact, the company manufactures all the rubber dog toys in the U.S., which is very rare based on the amount of rubber they produce annually. His is quite different than the majority of dog toy manufacturing companies -- he estimates 90% -- which manufacture in China.

The 'Classic' Kong dog toy is made of injection-molded rubber, looks like three fat discs molded together, bounces around unpredictably because of its shape and has a squeaker in it. The rubber is tough and durable, designed to stand up to dogs' natural desire to chew. Jobin says that the reason they can manufacture the quantity of rubber that KONG produces annually is the new technologies that they develop with Italian machine manufacturing partners.

According to Jobin, both Italian companies RUTIL and OR.P. are on the cutting edge of design and innovation in the rubber industry. The company purchased rubber molding equipment and prides itself for its reputation for devoting a lot of R&D to its machines and technology. RMT Rubber Molding Technology, Rutil's representation in North America, began working with Kong while they were buying rubber parts from molders and they decided to get into the business of molding themselves.

"In my career I have worked with Rutil srl and OR.P. Stampi srl a lot and found that they are both on the cutting edge of design and innovation in the rubber industry," said Joblin. "We purchased six 540 on, vertical Injection molding machines directly from Rutil srl in Italy and I was also responsible for the purchase of (5) machines from Rutil srl and (50+) molds from OR.P. Stampi srl at my previous employer," he said. "Believe it or not, OR.P. Stampi srl tends to be more cost effective, even with shipping across the world, than American mold makers. From my experience, there are many great American mold makers that have similar quality but you pay 15-20% more for the same mold."

Smit Textile Helping to Revitalize American Textile Industry

The textile industry is yet another area where innovation is key to competing in a global market. In the technical textile arena, Smit Textile designs, manufactures and supplies weaving equipment for tough applications, like conveyor belts. Many U.S. companies and plants are partnering with Smit machinery including JPS Composite Materials; Safety Components Fabric Technologies, Inc, of Greenville, S.C.; and Fenner Dunlop, in Charlotte, N.C., the world's largest manufacturer of conveyor belting for mining and industrial applications.

Smit's machinery is particularly strong in high performance materials, such as fibers and yarns with high-tensile properties and other distinguishing features, like glass, aramids and carbon fibers, like Kevlar and Nomex. In addition, according to Charles Little, Group Manager, Batson Group Inc in Greenville, S.C., a company that represents a number of Italian and other European manufacturers in the U.S,. innovation is essential for competing in the global market. It can overcome cost disadvantages because it helps customers to develop new products.

"Airbag fabrics, for example, are highly technical, non-woven materials," he said. "This is a highly competitive arena and I have to give the Italians kudos for being strong in innovation and development. That's the key to the success we've had. Smit makes looms for all applications and its Rapier technology is second to none."

According to Guido Zanon, Area Sales Manager for Smit, with responsibility for North America "Smit's investment in R&D enables us to customize machines for any requirement, especially in technical applications, and the advanced technology means that we can provide a diversified variety of machines from a common platform."

"We use Smit's GS900 and a hybrid loom based on the GS900, which was enhanced by Smit and Fenner Dunlop," said Alex Houston, Vice-President of Operations for Fenner Dunlop. The company's conveyor systems are used in baggage handling, grain transportation, forestry, tunneling and power generation. But it faces the most challenges in mining and aggregates where it has its largest presence. According to Houston, the coal industry represents 70% of its business. The belts are designed and manufactured with built-in tear resistance and fail-safe features, including line stop if there has been severe damage to the belt. But the intention is to make belts that are strong enough to resist damage in the first place. "The belts we make with our Smit machinery are highly durable and give great impact and tear resistance," he added.

"When we purchased our first looms, Smit brought partnership to the business relationship," he said. "We specify our requirements and their technical team works with ours to design the right solution. They manufacture better looms, too. When we sourced the market for the next generation of looms, we believe we decided on the right ones, based on our past experience and the quality and service we have received. They give us a significant benefit on speed of weaving and they are value products."

Whether the process is traditional or new technology, organizations from Italy are among the leaders in their field, through technological advances, R&D and customer response. Kong has grown with technical and process input from Italian suppliers; Fenner Dunlop has been able to tailor its equipment to meet its particular requirements. Products designed to meet the toughest challenges in auto, aerospace, mining and other industries all rely on Italian equipment to get the job done.

Pasquale Bova is the Italian Trade Commissioner and is based in Chicago. The Italian Trade Commission in Chicago manages the Machines Italia campaign involving 14 associations represent more than 10,000 Italian companies. Participating industry sectors include companies involved in the production of equipment for agricultural/farm machinery, ceramics, earthmoving machinery, food processing, glass, foundry and metallurgical, leather and tannery, marble and stone, metalworking, packaging, plastics and rubber, printing, graphic and converting, textiles and wood.

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