Italy: The Eternal Way To Survive
Innovation and ingenuity drive the success of Italy’s textile machinery manufacturers.
Jürg Rupp, Executive Editor
Among all nations of the world, Italy is exceptional. On the one side, this country is and always has been troubled by all kinds of problems that the rest of the world doubts can be resolved. But with a special feeling and the Italian way of life, its people always get over it.
On the other side, Italy is home to some of the most ingenious men that ever lived on this planet — think of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, but also people like Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of wireless radio transmission.
In textiles, Italy is a synonym for fashion, elegance and an undisputable ability to transform a piece of fabric into something beautiful. Como, Italy, was one of the centers of global silk production, and still today, Italian fabrics and fashion are playing in the top league.
Being a top-league player is also the case for Italian textile machinery. Some 150 companies are members of ACIMIT. The majority of its members are small and medium-sized, very straight-thinking companies, working for many generations in the same business. ACIMIT is a private, nonprofit body. Its main purpose is to promote the Italian textile machinery sector and support its activity, mainly abroad, through the most updated and innovative promotional means. The association was founded more than 60 years ago, right after World War II.
The very active organization provides a lot of information on the activities of the producers and organizes a wide range of promotional activities such as exhibitions, technical seminars, missions in Italy and abroad, and more.
A very important aspect is the fact that ACIMIT supports its member companies in dealing with all kinds of commercial, financial and technical problems that can occur in the different markets, in order to facilitate their entry into those markets. For this, it has set up a sister company named ACIMIT Servizi, which, in times of endless exhibitions around the planet, offers a series of services in order to promote and organize textile machinery exhibitions in Italy and in foreign countries and to support Italian textile machinery companies participating at these events.
A Positive Year In 2012
In 2011, Italian textile machinery production generated 2.7 billion euros, with 79 percent of machinery, worth 2.1 billion euros, were exported to about 130 countries. Asia, receiving 49 percent, was the main export area, followed by Europe with 33 percent, Latin America with 9 percent, North America with 5 percent, and Africa with 4 percent.
According to ACIMIT, the textile machinery orders index during the fourth quarter of 2012 rose by 22 percent compared to the previous quarter, achieving an absolute value of 130.4 points. More significantly, the index increased by 46 percent over the same period in 2011.
Overall orders also benefited from a positive trend within Italy, where the market recorded a 47-percent increase compared to the previous quarter, achieving an absolute value of 83.5 points. A 20-percent growth was recorded on foreign market.
Year-on-year, the orders index fell by 4 percent. Foreign market orders dropped by 1 percent, while domestic market orders grew by 21 percent.
Salmoiraghi On ACIMIT, Italian Machinery Sector
In an exclusive interview, Textile World spoke to Sandro Salmoiraghi, ACIMIT’s president, to get an in-depth view of the Italian textile machinery sector as it stands today.
TW: What is the main focus of the president of ACIMIT?
Salmoiraghi: First of all, to represent the Italian textile machinery sector worldwide, and then to increase the visibility of our member companies in the main challenging markets. ACIMIT is kind of a bridge between the Italian textile machinery industry and the world. Moreover, we take care of the interests of the sector through established continuous discussions on the main topics for the operators in the member companies.
TW: What instruments do you have in your organization to achieve these targets?
Salmoiraghi: A lot of promotional activities were designed during the more than 60-year history of ACIMIT in order to make our industry better known in all global textile markets. These efforts include training courses in Italy for foreign textile operators, technological training centers and workshops abroad, technical handbooks, and many more.
TW: Why should an Italian textile machinery manufacturer be a member of ACIMIT?
Salmoiraghi: Together with others he will have more exposure in the emerging markets, thus having strong help in his efforts for internationalization.
TW: What are the main advantages of being a member of ACIMIT?
Salmoiraghi: We have a lot of tailor-made services for the member companies, providing support for all the aspects of the company business: from R&D to sales and marketing, from promotion and communication to training.
TW: ACIMIT is one of the most active bodies of the European textile machinery industry in terms of participation, etc. What are the reasons for that?
Salmoiraghi: We try to do our best in every business the association is involved in. Italian companies are aware of our commitment being the voice of the industry and have the will to support it on all aspects of the industry, which is composed of small and medium-sized enterprises.
TW: How difficult it is for the president to integrate all individual group members?
Salmoiraghi: Every company has different needs, but the request to be represented by an umbrella association that is capable of safeguarding their interests is common to each ACIMIT member.
TW: How would you describe the difference between Italian and other textile machinery products?
Salmoiraghi: There are many features in common with traditional foreign textile machinery competitors. Quality and reliability can be found in every product of all the leading global textile machinery suppliers. I think the distinguishing characteristics of the Italian products are the good quality/price ratio and the versatility of our machines. In this sector, tradition and history are not meaningless words. We are used to working in symbiosis with well-known Italian textile companies and fashion brands. Many years of experience made us capable of becoming the leader of the sector.
TW: Why do you think Italian fashion is top-of-the-world?
Salmoiraghi: Again, its tradition, history and a well-rooted tradition for taste established the ability and an attitude for creativity in our styles for a long time. I think this is a key for the success of Italian fashion and for our sector indirectly.
TW: How do you see the current market situation in general?
Salmoiraghi: An extensive uncertainty at an economic level has negative consequences on the policy of investments in every industrial sector. This is also the case in our sector. Recently, we experienced shorter investment cycles than in the past in traditional and also emerging markets. This negative situation has negatively influenced the demand for textile machinery.
TW: How do you see the current market situation for your member companies?
Salmoiraghi: The index of orders for our companies registered an increase both on the domestic and the foreign markets in the last quarter of 2012. For 2013, forecasts are uncertain. However, we are confident that there will be a recovery of production activity.
TW: Currently, where are the most significant markets for your member companies?
Salmoiraghi: China, Turkey, India and Germany represented a large amount of total exports — some 45 percent, despite the slowdown of overall demand for textile machinery in these countries. Germany is our main European market. However, in some secondary markets such as France, Indonesia, Mexico and Pakistan, the Italian manufacturers registered a growing performance compared to the previous year. Finishing got better results in the foreign markets than the other segments.
TW: Are you happy with the 2012 results for the Italian textile machinery industry?
Salmoiraghi: Not at all, if we consider the preliminary figures released by ACIMIT's economic office. In 2012, Italian production of textile machines sank 10 percent compared to the previous year, amounting to 2,413 million euros. The export decline was 7 percent, the equivalent of 2,000 million euros.
TW: Do ACIMIT’s members have problems with the current market situation?
Salmoiraghi: Of course, stagnation of the leading markets, difficulties to get loans from the banks and more competition from new competitors are problems to be faced in these years. However, these are all problems that companies must learn to live with.
TW: Is the value of the euro distorting the markets vis-à-vis the business of your members?
Salmoiraghi: By all means, the recent decline of the euro can have a negative impact on the exports of Italian companies. We have to remember that some 80 percent of the Italian sales are realized in foreign markets. The majority of Italian machinery is sold in markets that value sales contracts in U.S. dollars.
TW: Where are you putting the main focus of ACIMIT’s activities in 2013?
Salmoiraghi: The promotional initiatives planned by ACIMIT for this year will involve about ten countries: Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, South Africa, Turkey and Vietnam.
We also want to support machinery manufacturers both in emerging textile markets such as Bangladesh and Vietnam, for instance, and also in sectors with high potential, such as technical and innovative textiles. For example, ACIMIT will attend Techtextil Frankfurt in June. This year will also see initiatives aimed at promoting awareness for ACIMIT’s “Sustainable Technologies” project in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.
TW: How important is the technical textiles market for ACIMIT member companies?
Salmoiraghi: According to the changing demands in the textiles sector, many of our companies are supporting their customers as they extend their range of products to supply the growing demand from niche or new markets. Technical textiles are already a solid market; however, many new applications must be carefully studied and exploited. We estimate that some 100 Italian companies are involved in the manufacture of machinery for production of technical textiles.
TW: How important is the nonwovens textiles market for your member companies?
Salmoiraghi: Very much so. This market too is growing for the Italian manufacturers. Many companies, mainly those involved in the spinning sector, now pay more attention to nonwovens in order to diversify their production. Compared to the big companies of Northern Europe (Germany) we have some excellent but small-sized companies that are invited to compete with foreign large-sized competitors.
TW: Where do you see the most important markets for your member companies in the next few years for apparel, technical textiles and nonwovens?
Salmoiraghi: This is not an easy question to answer. I think that traditional textiles will remain predominant over the next few years. However, technical textiles will certainly represent a more significant share for the production of our members. On the other hand, the nonwovens sector will remain a sort of small but growing market for the group of ACIMIT member companies involved in this sector.
TW: The Italian suppliers are considered to be market leaders in some segments. Why is this, and what do you plan to do to keep them in this market position?
Salmoiraghi: Innovation is the key to the success of many Italian manufacturers. ACIMIT will keep supporting them in any activities aimed at increasing the innovative level of Italian supply.
Santoni S.p.A.: Seamless To The Top
Often a crisis can be the initial point of a new way, leading to a success story. This situation happened in the 1980s, when a strong drop of production in the hosiery industrial segment took place. The outcome was the seamless production technology introduced by Italy-based Santoni S.p.A., a daughter company of the Lonati Group.
Santoni started in 1919 as the first Italian sock machinery manufacturer. In 1988, it became part of the Lonati Group, a leading producter of sock and hosiery machinery. The true kickoff of Santoni happened when the seamless phenomenon appeared on the global markets. And the success of the seamless technology is parallel to the success of Santoni as a machinery builder.
The seamless machinery market faced challenges in the 1980s as a result of the crisis of that time and a drop in hosiery production, Santoni was faced with a challenge, which resulted in the new seamless production technology. At that time, the Lonati Group introduced the LM1 machine, a prototype of a new knitting machine based on technology similar to hosiery technology. The development triggered the so-called Seamless phenomenon, and since then, the name Santoni has been related to Seamless technology. As the name seamless indicates, it is a technology to produce apparel without seams, and the company became the undisputed global leader in the production of electronic machinery for seamless apparel.
Textile World spoke to Patrick Silva, Santoni's marketing manager, about the past, present and the future. According to Silva, Santoni today is present in 72 countries and its sales represent 97 percent of the worldwide demand for seamless machines. The new technology opened new markets and developments in various apparel market sectors, such as underwear, sportswear, beachwear, outerwear and also garments for medical end-uses. Thanks to the potentiality and versatility of their machines, Silva says, Santoni moved from producing machinery for underwear to machinery for knitwear. Since 1997, the company has focused its core business on developing and producing electronic circular knitting machinery for seamlesswear.
It has been said that the introduction of Seamless technology has virtually created a revolution in the global production process for knitted products. It was a true breakthrough innovation enabled knitting of ready-made apparel, and it was a totally different production approach from compared to past methods. This change was possible by using on the one hand the single-jersey SM8 series machinery, and on the other hand the double-jersey SM9 series. These two technologies led to the technology to produce finished products ready for market, obviously reducing a few steps of the production process. The result is a considerable reduction of throughput time and labor cost savings.
Silva is quite satisfied with his company's 2012 results. China as well as Asia overall, Turkey, Brazil and Mexico are the most important export countries for the time being. However, he sees the actual market situation as quite difficult. "There is still a negative economic trend worldwide" he says.
TW : Coming back to the Seamless technology. Do you have a current top seller in your portfolio and what are the reasons for that success?
Silva: Yes, we have one. It is the circular knitting machine type SM8 - TOP 2, which offers the widest possibility of garment knitting.
TW : And how was the start of 2013 start for Santoni?
Silva: Well, it is more or less the same as the start in 2012.
TW : Is it possible to make any forecast for the next few years?
Silva: I don't think so. We think it is impossible to make any forecasts. For the time being, there are too many factors to be taken into consideration.