In Italy the extrusion market is highly competitive. Every Italian extruder tries to differentiate on the market in terms of services and tailor-made products to be more desirable to customers. There is a major overcapacity of 900,000 tons installed in Italy versus an extruded consumption of only 278,000 tons. In the midst of this, Hydro Extrusion Italy has achieved a leadership position in the Italian market.
Hydro Extrusion Italy recruits 320 people between two production plants: Feltre (near Venice) and Ornago (close to Milan). Located in the Dolomiti mountains near Venice in Northern Italy, Hydro Extrusion Feltre is at cloud level. To get there one must drive past verdant vineyards and a translucent icy blue river that winds its way along the road. The plant which includes an extrusion facility and a casthouse was built during the second world war in 1941 to manufacture military supplies. It was built far into the mountain range to provide protection from the enemy. The Feltre plant has had six owners over its years of operation until Alcoa in 1996, and Sapa took over ownership in 2007. Ten years later in 2017 Sapa was purchased by Hydro. Light Metal Age was treated to a tour of the plant during the Aluminum Two Thousand Congress in Italy this April 2019.
Feltre Extrusion houses two presses, a casthouse, and a dedicated value added department where all mechanical fabrications are performed. The production capacity of the plant is 20,000 tons/year with the P22 8 inch press producing 8,500 tons/year and the P35 11 inch press producing about 11,500 tons per year. Production capacity at the casthouse is 55,000 tons/year. The site employees 167 local workers and has around 600 extrusion customers. Feltre offers single-source aluminum solutions for a variety of industries ranging from extrusion to machining and surface treatments.
Aware of the fact that their customer portfolio is constantly changing based on market demands, one of the ways Hydro Feltre remains relevant while in the flux of growing technology is informing businesses about material substitution. “We focus very much, and we put a lot of effort in scouting new business opportunity in different sectors where aluminum can be considered an alternative to a potential customer’s current material,” said Angela Napoli, marketing and communication manager for Hydro Extrusion Italy.
The company also has many programs in place with the intention to involve every single employee in providing active feedback, especially peer to peer with active safety issues in their workplace. “Safety is our license to operate and we strongly believe that safety is the key pillar for business, “said Stefano Spinelli, Feltre plant manager. “It’s part of our DNA and investment in safety is always our first priority. We don’t accept compromise in safety and we’re ready to stop production in case unsafe operations are detected; however, we all know that safety is (mainly) a cultural-related behavior. That’s why we involve all employees in conversation about safety every day.”
New Fabrication Equipment
Listening to the needs of customers, Feltre has progressively reduced the production of standard profiles in favor of customized profiles tailor-made for a customer’s request. In the last three years, the plant has also invested in implementing approximately €5.3 million in state-of-the-art equipment to accomplish this change in production. According to Spinelli, Feltre remains relevant for their customers by “diversifying our products, being flexible and open to different and new challenges, and constantly studying and developing solutions.”
One of the investments at the Feltre plant is the installation of new robotics technology. “The reliability of our process and the equipment is fundamental for our customers, that’s why we’ve invested by implementing COBOT (collaborative robot) technology for assembling extruded components,” said Sergio De Cet, purchasing and suppy chain manager. The COBOT helps increase Feltre’s competitiveness in the global industry by completing programmed operations with timing and efficiency. Designed with safety as a priority, the high tech COBOT works in close collaboration without requiring safety barriers. If it detects an obstacle, it immediately stops without creating any risk for the operators. The 7-axis COBOT is able to make the most of its work area with bionic motions. It’s flexible and suitable for different applications like pick and place, assembly and screwing. The COBOT even has the ability to learn by demonstration.
Feltre also invested in a 5-axis CNC machine. The machine can work in single, or multi-piece mode and allows for machining of complex pieces and bars up to 10.5 m. A new automatic robotized welding cell in the value-added department provides maximum freedom and programming flexibility. On the table, it’s possible to fix the pieces up to a length of 2 m and make very thin welds, even up to 0.5 mm, thanks to cold metal transfer technology. The company values Industry 4.0 and will continue investing in new technology at the Feltre site with the goal of lifting profit and driving sustainability.
Investing in the Future
Hydro Extrusion Italy collaborates with the University of Bologna, Politecnico Milano and Trento, science-focused universities that train engineers, architects, and industrial designers. On a regular basis the company grants students for internships, and apprenticeships at both production sites. Hydro promotes the company in Italian secondary schools, especially technical institutes by hosting two hour presentations for 40-60 students at a time explaining how the plants run and the career options available.
“We also run a (mock) interview with few of them to show how a job interview could be. I always tell them to take advantage of our presence there because once out of the school they will be knocking at the companies’ doors. Now, it’s the other way round, we are knocking at their door, and it’s exceptional,” said Napoli. Through Hydro Extrusion Italy’s presence at schools they build their reputation as a safe, sustainable, and innovative company while connecting with the local communities. On May 10th 2019, Hydro Extrusion Italy invited interested students to their plants to experience “the real life in aluminum production.”