Innovation, continuity, flexibility, attentive internationalization to be close to its customers and high automation degree. They are the threading wires of a company that just of the wire, enamelled and wound, makes its specific business. Here is what CE Electro does and how it operates.
Its “pay off” recites Electromechanical and electronic components for the automotive industry, for household appliances and medical sector but what is in the roots of CE-Electro can be simply summarized in the enamelled wire winding to satisfy any technical, qualitative and cost requirement of its customers. And it succeeds in that by focusing on some pillars, or better “threading wires” as the Venetian company likes defining them, to stay on topic, which can be summarized in flexibility (it has the capability of tripling its productive capacity, whenever necessary), in the very high automation, in the attentive internationalization and in a range of products that are not contained in its catalogue but that are developed and produced in strict collaboration with its partners, which in the specific case of household appliances are almost all the main brands that operate in this field. We have visited its production headquarters at Castelfranco Veneto, in Treviso province, taking up a covered surface of 7,000 square metres (according to the internationalization strategy it has another productive unit in Slovakia, established to be closer to those customers that have delocalized in the area and to provide more refined logistic services) and we have talked with Bruno Scapin, managing director and partner of CE-Electro, together with Roberto Ceron and Claudio Trevisan who took it over in 2009 from the previous owners, when it was called Campagnaro Elettrotecnica and Bruno Scapin was its general manager. Today CE-Electro has a turnover of 13 million Euros, 92 employees in Italy, other 25 in the Slovak site and exports 65% of its production all over the world.
“We haven’t a catalogue of standard products – says Bruno Scapin – because our offer springs from a context of open collaboration with our customers, which, thanks to the fact of being highly structured, allows us to supply solutions that often start from an idea up to getting to the product implementation, including the devising of the machines to manufacture it, passing through all the design and prototyping phases that we can manage directly”.
CE-Electro, since when it was run by the previous owners, has progressively enriched the original sectors of lighting and household appliances, with new products and applications for different fields gaining experience not only in the design and production of electromagnetic components but also in the plastic moulding, in the metal blanking and in the implementation of electronic transformers. Its production ranges from stator coils for pumps to electromagnetic brakes for shutters, from laminar safety transformers for gate openers to electronic low-consumption transformers compliant with the EuP directive, from solenoid valves for water and gas to tachometer coils, from injectors for LPG/CNG engines to electromagnets for drives and locks, from antennas for electro-stimulation to ferrite wound components for filters and switching power supplies. “Speed sensors, that’s to say tachometer coils, for washing machines and dishwashers, are one of the products for which our company is renowned and appreciated in all Europe – underlines Scapin – but we are progressively going into cooking and heating because we foresee that there will be an increasing demand in this sector for devices managed by smart systems, then able to be more and more efficient and to save energy”. Devices that will need the know-how by CE-Electro to integrate all those systems that, as Bruno Scapin likes saying, are based on the magnetism concept that represents the true DNA of the Treviso company.
The production by CE-Electro is organized to implement small and big batches, even if its vocation and the high automation degree that characterizes it allows achieving the best results, in terms of competitiveness, in big volumes. Machining processes range then from manual ones to those fully automated. “We tend to machine on big quantities – affirms Scapin – in a market that today requires, in addition to the competitive price that has become a fundamental pre-requisite, quality and high service level. A service that does not concern only the design and the implementation of a product but that in this market context involves, more than ever, the careful planning, the management of warehouse stocks, the capability of facing production peaks without rejecting orders and, especially, fulfilling them and delivering them in the due terms, complying with the fixed quality level. One of the reasons for which we have a factory in Slovakia, today central Country if compared to the geographical areas where lots of companies that produce household appliances have displaced the production over the last few years, is just to grant that proximity to customers that results in service”.
CE-Electro has, in fact, a well-oiled logistic network that allows delivering daily, from Portugal to Turkey, what the company’s factories produce, conforming to production programmes that in this period white good firms are not always able to put into practice following a good planning method. “One of our strong points – explains Scapin – is just the capability of “switching” our production capacity from 100 to 320%, and naturally vice versa, in the lapse of one week, working on four shifts, six days a week, when our needs impose it, in perfect harmony with my staff and with the full support of the unions representatives who have understood at once the value of this flexibility. A model that has permitted us not to fire any employee, neither in difficult market conditions and to meet the requirements of our customers that have to come to terms with business plans often denied by the market. Positively or negatively: if all companies are obviously able to reduce their production (not all of them, however, without relevant financial repercussions), the added value of our organizational model consists in the ability of modulating it, up to tripling it, to satisfy sudden and unplanned demands”.
A farsighted management and a flexible staff are only two of the ingredients that allow CE-Electro to grant this flexibility. The third consists in innovation and in the continuous investments in automation. “Our advantage, and when I say ours I mean not only that of this company but of Italians in general – affirms Scapin – consists in having such engineering fancy, competence and mental flexibility able to optimize solutions that can drastically decrease production costs and constantly rise the product quality. Just to make an example, one of our customer companies asked us to carry out a cost reduction analysis for a product that it did not intend to in-house manufacture anymore. After attentively verifying the product and the productive flow, we have developed a machine that has allowed, with benefits for both despite a long-term amortization plan, to employ a single person instead of four for that machining”.
Automation is essential not only to knock down costs but also to assure the quality of a sector, like the white good industry, which demands few parts only against one million of rejects. “It is necessary to have a stable process with real time SPC analysis to attain this result, a process in which the human variable, of an employee who has different performances also depending on the hour of the day or the day of the week, should not be the element conditioning the productive and qualitative level of the machine”.
“To be able to go on producing in Europe, in the case of companies like ours, it is necessary to supply at the best possible price the suitable quality level for a determinate product, which must anyway have an added value able to justify its implementation also in the Countries where the production cost is higher. Just to make an example, in the past we implemented, on a machine that worked on three shifts, eight hundred stators per hour for one of our customers that produced motors for the oven spits. Nowadays that company risks of being ousted from this market because the same products manufactured by Chinese companies cost less than one third. Quality was certainly different, but for a spit that is statistically used for few minutes in the whole life of an oven, a much higher mean time between failures (MTBF) does not seem to be necessary, unlike the 20,000/40,000 hours that CE-Electro assures for products intended for the white good field or the automotive industry”.
The large use of automation to produce high added value components and in volume manufacturing is then one of the factors that will allow continuing winning productions in “glocal” companies like CE- Electro, able to operate in a context that considers all the variables of a global market but also able to act locally, close to their customers. The higher labour cost in Italy and in Europe in general can be contrasted with an effective industrial policy. «If manpower is the competition element among Italian products or the Tunisian or Chinese ones – states Scapin – we must operate in such a way that this is inside our margin and not a variable element of the product cost. And the best system consists in automating all those productions in which the batch number permits it and with customers with which we can process medium-long term plans that allow amortizing the investments made». The manager mentions the case of a product that CE-Electro developed at the beginning of 2000 for a Turkish customer with which it has signed an intelligent investment plan. “This product – affirms Scapin – has by now reached the fifth generation and in thirteen years we could considerably improve its productive process thanks to scale economies, rationalizations, speedups, reduction of wastes and so on. The result? If before the cost was 100, now it is 60, quality has improved and we produce 800 per hour when at the beginning we manufactured 300”. A good example of how Italian and European productions, if attentive and well conceived, can give a hard time to those of low labour cost Countries. Besides, obviously, other important factors that damage some Countries, like the use of lower quality raw materials or the use of productive processes that pay scarce attention to the environment, to eco-sustainability and to the workers’ conditions, factors that are more and more taken into account by household appliance manufacturers, which decidedly bet also on the “green” aspects of their products.
“A low-cost product is not always a bargain – ends Scapin – and it is for this reason that I strongly believe in the Italian and European productions of “glocal” companies like ours, close to customers also from the logistic point of view and able to counterbalance the cost handicap with a great engineering capability”. And managerial, we add.