Agrati has taken on the challenge of the future of the automotive industry and is preparing for change.
A manufacturer of high-resistance fastening systems in the Monza and Brianza province with more than 80 years of history and present on three continents, in the last three years it has opened its technical research and development centre’s doors to external collaborations with universities, suppliers and start-ups. In particular, for three years now it has been collaborating with e-Novia, the factory of « deep tech » enterprises (collaborative mobility, humanized machines and augmented human), on which it has decided to invest directly, with a convertible loan that will translate into shares at the time of e-Novia’s listing on the Milan Stock Exchange, slated for spring 2021. Together with Agrati, other industries such as Brembo, Dompé and STMicroelectronics have contributed to the overall collection of 30 million euros for the e-Novia listing. It is a strategic decision for both e-Novia and Agrati.
« Having Italian precision mechanical companies such as Agrati with us is strategic, because it reflects our own business model: bringing together and combining the top technical and scientific resources of our polytechnic universities with the best technical-industrial know-how of our companies. The goal is to innovate on an industrial level and boost the competitiveness of our country. From time to time, these collaborations may take on different legal forms according to whether the objectives are short, medium or long term. Our involvement with e-Novia may also vary from time to time with the formation of new companies, with minority input into the client’s capital, or as a consultancy. Nonetheless, the general mindset is always « win-win », based on our country’s huge scientific resources for research and on the technical-industrial resources of our top companies. It is only a matter of bringing them together and allowing them to operate in an agile, constructive and collaborative way, win-win indeed « , comments Vincenzo Russi, co-founder and CEO of e-Novia, the enterprise factory with an industrial approach to innovation, which is part of the Intelligent Factory Cluster and now ready to hit Piazza Affari, meaning the Milan Stock Exchange.
In turn, Agrati’s commitment to the digital ecosystem is strategic, aimed at investing in the most immediate product and process innovation, as well as the more perspective one, which will include collaborative mobility, meaning self-driving mobility regulated by algorithms and AI, and electrical mobility. This will also regard the objects it produces, as well as the interfaces and digital platforms designed to serve human beings to reinforce their capabilities, and not vice versa, diminishing their roles and functions, in a logic of « humanized machine » and « augmented human ».
« It is a question of deciding whether to anticipate the technological and business challenges that await us in the automotive industry and be in a state of readiness, or wait passively and, in the end, be overwhelmed by them with irreparable delays. We have decided to make sure we are ready with investments in research and development projects which, for the exponential pace of technological innovation and its digital content, we cannot conceive of managing on our own internally. It was not an easy or matter-of-course cultural leap, but one necessary to open up to what is outside of us, to the technological ecosystem, in a rationale of sharing knowledge, technologies, and experiences », explains Paolo Pozzi, CEO of the Agrati Group. The mechanical company, with 12 manufacturing plants in Italy, France, the United States and China and a turnover of 634 million in 2019, today actively collaborates with the technological and digital ecosystem, also with Open Innovation initiatives, such as the Jrc Matt project – Joint Research Center Metal And Transformation Technologies, a research centre launched in Lecco in June 2020, the product of a partnership between Milan Polytechnic University , Agrati, Growermetal, Mario Frigerio and O.R.I. Martin Acciaieria e Ferriera of Brescia. The objective is to develop advanced innovative research, share skills, tools and research infrastructures, actively contributing to the training and growth of its personnel, students and new professional profiles. Initially, research will focus on new approaches to supply chain quality, innovative materials and analysing big data in technologically mature contexts. Agrati has in fact involved its cold moulding machine suppliers in the project.
From lean to digital for greater efficiency
Notwithstanding a challenging 2020 (-34% in the first half and recovery in the second), the Agrati Group closed with -18%, still better than the forecasts announced in June of a -25/-30%. The result is due to the upsurge of the automobile market in China in the last two quarters, although the Chinese market represents only 10% of its turnover (60% is produced in Europe). However, Agrati has maintained a good level of investments in new machinery and process innovation for the just concluded year for over 25 million euros of investments, against the 35 million of the previous years. Agrati is in fact moving in the challenging, complex and profoundly transforming context of the automotive sector, a sector that needs an increasingly greater level of productivity and efficiency due to the strong competitiveness of demand, against exceptionally high standards of quality and service. Agrati responded to the 2008-2009 crisis with a management change project which, in this decade, has led to excellent results in productivity and efficiency, introducing the operating principles of Lean Manufacturing in its plants: greater and faster production with less circulating capital, less waste and less downtime.
The new challenges of digital
Today new digital technologies, AI, analytics, big data and strong competition have once more raised the bar of efficiency even higher in Agrati, in addition to having to face the discontinuity of the sector.
Digitalized processes will make the entire supply chain quicker, more precise and efficient, with production in the 12 manufacturing plants on 3 continents, totalling 160,000 tons of steel wire in a year transformed into 8 billion pieces, about 40 million pieces per day, with 20,000 codes spread over various product families which are distributed in 5 logistics centres and 400 final delivery points.
« Similar quantities imply logistics processes stressed to the maximum, to minimize the high levels of circulating capital and the exceptionally high risks of delays and downtime. The lean-based APS (Agrati Production System) has already made our processes very efficient, but now digitalization opens up new perspectives for control and efficiency », Pozzi indicates. What’s more, installing sensors in steel parts will help shift the business model toward an increasingly service-oriented mindset, which will give a competitive edge to both the supplier and car manufacturer. Ultimately, the very challenges of the automotive sector that is oriented towards electrification and self-driving will impact the Agrati product. Nuts, screws and bolts will have to be redesigned and adapted to the characteristics of weight, size and materials that electric cars require. « These are the main technological and business challenges that await us: digitalizing processes and the product in a service-oriented mindset and the strong discontinuity of the automotive market, which will veer towards electric cars and self-driving, also impacting components. We must be ready and waiting, » Pozzi stresses.
Applied research projects starting with e-Novia
For three years, the Agrati Group has been working with e-Novia to open up to the innovative approach of deep tech start-ups which, with their disruptive solutions, can make a difference in industrial processes and products. In fact, thus far the relationship has been of a strictly consultative and cultural nature: « e-Novia has been greatly supportive in transferring skills and spreading the culture of innovation in all departments, in addition to research and development, as the entire company must be ready to collaborate with external researchers and to change approach and attitudes », Pozzi explains. Therefore, with the groundwork laid, several technological innovation projects with e-Novia are now in the start-up phase. « We are focusing on specific projects to apply new technologies vertically to our processes and products. In particular, we intend to equip our screws and bolts with sensors to collect information on their life cycles and thus offer our customers services that give a competitive edge in terms of quality, safety and timing in maintaining and replacing components. Safety also depends on our components, » Pozzi adds. Another project in which Agrati will be investing in the medium-long term will be the machine learning of automatic and robotic systems. « The goal is that, with visual flaw detection systems, machines will self-regulate and prevent errors with the aim of achieving zero flaws. We already have a very low error level—physiological I would say—but with the precision that digital makes possible today we would like to aim for zero errors. Each flaw slows down production, generates delays in delivery and risks on customer plants, affecting our competitiveness », concludes Pozzi.
[Source: Industria italiana website https://www.industriaitaliana.it/e-novia-agrati-automotive-collaborative-mobility-supply-chain/ ]