Laser and value added at System Group

Aug. 23, 2011
Fiorano, Modena, Italy − The main facility of System Group is divided into three divisions − Ceramics, Logistics, and Electronics − each of which is characterized by the spirit of innovation that transpires from the products of each individual unit.

Fiorano, Modena, Italy − The main facility of System Group, which also has production facilities in Spain, China, and the US, is located here in an area of 120,000 sq m. The Group is divided into three divisions: Ceramics, dealing with decorating and automation of ceramic products; Logistics, dedicated to automatic handling systems in various industrial environments; and Electronics, which creates control and integration systems for industrial production. These divisions are characterized by one common denominator: the spirit of innovation that transpires from the products of each individual unit.

Franco Stefani, president of System Group, is an enthusiastic person who has followed his passions, turning them into a company of surprising dimensions. The passion for applied technology that Stefani has shown since he was a young boy stems from his profound curiosity about anything related to automation. He started out as an employee in a company, but then, with his innovative ideas and just a small loan, he created a business with a total turnover of almost 280 million euros and a headcount of 800 employees, half of which are based in Italy.

The current company was set up in 1970, and the first system purchased was not a machine tool but an automatic storage system. This purchase was already a sample of the ideas that would later give life to the "business," which started off by outsourcing in the industrious and dynamic environment in the plains of Modena, where there was a shortage of craftsmen to outsource the initial ideas and what others could not do was done in-house.

Stefani’s spirit led him to take on the challenge in the laser tube field, but only after being fully convinced of the advantages. "Relations with BLM (the laser tube cutter supplier) have been on-going for 15 years during which time I listened carefully to the description of the machines that were being offered to me and of the opportunities and the vast range of innovations that laser technology could have brought to my company."

The determining factor in the choice made was the improvement in the quality of tubes available on the market. "At first, tubes were used for structural steel works and were generally of poor precision and quality. But today, following the increasing demand encouraged by laser systems, quality tube is requested, perhaps specifying that the end use is for laser cutting. High quality material can be obtained, and the systems allow precise structures to be implemented without the need for expensive and complicated mechanical processes to be carried out on machine tools."

Stefani is the first to promote innovation in his company and he is very careful to not just sit back when a target has been achieved; he is always on the go to reach new horizons. "Others can copy," he says, referring to hypothetical competitors. "But our ideas by that time are already well ahead."

"When the first laser system (an LT JUMBO 20 for large tubes with diameters of up to 508 mm) was installed, we started our training" he says, using the term that perfectly describes the efforts made at the beginning. The initial samples helped in the training, giving workers a deep understanding and helping them to seize the potential of the new tool that was available. "Today, we manage to produce complex structures using fitted tubes with unique reference keys that make fast and accurate assembly possible without errors and with a final accuracy of 3 tenths on the diagonal sections of a frame."

Initially, the choice of the ADIGE LT JUMBO 20 was made assuming the possibility of reducing the weight of the structures produced using tube by 40%. The savings alone from this effectively reduced weight were such to justify the purchase of the system, but today, when looking back, this perhaps was not the most interesting aspect that led to introducing the laser.

Installation of the second lasertube, an LT8 system with double bundle and single tube loader, completed the machine shop, adding speed and performance with the same tube processing concepts and advantages for the production of smaller tubes. Logistics costs and replacement of boxes with tubes have reduced transport costs. Today, with precise tubes processed by accurate machines, quality can be achieved without the need for machining.

"Customers do not always grasp the essential elements of innovation that characterize our inventions, but the benefits brought to the production process at System fully justify their use, regardless of the customers’ appreciation," explains Stefani. "Very fast processing times [are] thanks to the fact that there are no real transfers from one machine to another for the different machining; they are now all carried out on the laser system. What the customer sees is the final result, that is, aesthetically appreciable systems that are essential in their form, but sturdy and accurate in terms of operation."

The introduction of new systems has led to a revolution in the design concept. "It hasn’t been easy. All the previous principles had to be reviewed to adapt to the new situation," says Stefani. "Designing for tube means doing a job very similar to that of a carpenter who works with precise interlock fitting, and the same has to be done with tubes to take advantage of their full potential."

This innovative company tries to push the market, not follow it. Recently, System has focused on the solar panel business, but in its own way, with an innovative product based on covered tramping tiles with a solar panel inside. "The traditional markets are getting smaller, to the advantage of emerging countries," concludes Stefani. "Therefore, the idea is to produce less volume, but with added value and penetrate growing markets".

Source: BLM S.P.A.

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