When production becomes art

Twenty-five years of hinges

Cmi, enterprise founded by Eros Gherardi, world reference partner in the production of hinges for household appliances, has celebrated its goal of twenty-five years of activity gathering its collaborators, customers and suppliers around the business management. 

Roberto Papeschi

Eros Gherardi, who founded Cmi in 1988, is portrayed here with his daughter Susanna, Marketing Manager of the company.

In a time of objective difficulty with which lots of companies are obliged to tackle today, especially in the sector of the national household appliance industry, owing to the economic crisis still in course and the market changes, it is comforting to take part in an event like that with which Cmi has celebrated its first twenty-five years of activity. Cmi, which is headquartered at Crespellano in the immediate outskirts of Bologna, was in fact founded on October 18th by Eros Gherardi, a protagonist of the industry of household appliance components who was able to transfer an uncommon mix of creativity, professionalism and technological skills to the Emilia company, together with characteristics of absolute behavioural rigour that are however coupled with the familiar character of work relationships. On the basis of these values Cmi, which develops and produces hinges for cooking ovens, dishwashers and washing machines, ranks on a world scale as leader company in its product field, competing in industrial terms with even bigger companies. Cmi has surpassed these same enterprises not only for the efficiency of production processes and the higher service level but also for the geniality of its solutions, able to anticipate the most varied and complex requirements submitted by customers, instead of simply meeting the demands that were formulated by them from time to time. Such a success is even more significant when we ponder the fact that the firm produces hinges for household appliances, simple mechanical elements that however hide high intrinsic complexity. Also for this reason, the entire history of Cmi is characterized by a continuous research of innovation and by the creativity of the solutions developed during the whole quarter of a century that CMI has celebrated in these days. A corporate event recurring in a time in which, besides the market troubles affecting all sector companies, all the satisfaction for the path made and the attained results is anyway expressed, together with this company’s will of going on growing and consolidating its competitive skills in the global market.

Cmi hinge for dishwashers with fixed fulcrum.

An exemplary history
The reasons on which Cmi’s success is based can be identified in the answer that already some years ago Eros Gherardi gave us when, in the course of an interview, we asked him what is the secret of his company. At that time Eros Gherardi told us: “there must be an idea behind a product, otherwise all the rest, financial resources, valuable materials, sophisticated technologies, craftsmen and top-level engineers are useless. You can find all the other resources everywhere, in Italy like in the rest of the world, but not the ability of producing ideas, before products”. It is just on this simple truth, that’s to say on its uncommon ability of producing ideas, that it is based still today the success of Cmi, born twenty-five years ago upon the initiative of an entrepreneur who perfectly knew the problems of a sector where he had operated for several years in the top management of another company but who, at a certain time of his life, had decided to express his ideas independently. Relying on knowledge and skills unique of their kind, together with the passion for his “job”, Eros Gherardi believed that there was a space, in the household appliance industry, for the production of purely mechanical components but with high added value. For this reason, since the beginning of its activity, Cmi has paid utmost attention not only to meeting the requirements that customers expressed from time to time, but especially to identify and to anticipate those unexpressed needs that, once satisfied, could make the difference between a traditional hinge and an innovative product. This approach resulted in a real revolution of the concept itself of hinges, whose structural complexity has been addressed to improve the opening of the doors of any household appliance kind, from cooking ovens to dishwashers and washing machines. We are talking about a course started with the production, twenty-five years ago, of the first “oven-door hinge without sector”, an absolutely innovative component equipped by a self-balancing system unique of its kind.  Going on, then, with other hinges, always innovative, which were successful on the market to the extent that they have often become standard solutions of the sector, like the revolutionary hinges for dishwashers with fixed and variable fulcrum, in order to assure a perfect balancing of doors with variable weight.

Cmi hinge for dishwashers with variable fulcrum.

Constant innovation

The product innovation constitutes a constant factor in the history of CMI, since when in 1988 it started producing hinges for household appliances. Since then, with a long history of patents, the company marked with its brand the development of a market ambit in which it imposed its leadership on a world scale. Particularly significant, concerning this, was the decade of the Nineties:

– 1989: first hinge for oven door without sector, with self-balancing system

– 1991: first hinge for dishwasher with door balancing through front device of progressive regulation

– 1996: first hinge for dishwasher with variable fulcrum

– 1998: first “smart” hinge for dishwasher with balancing system that needs no dedicated regulation devices

– 1998: “global” hinge for oven door, able to suit doors with different weights and shapes

– 1998: hinge for washing machine porthole of innovative type, with opening-closing angles of 90°+90°

– 2001: substantial improvement of the dishwasher hinge developed in 1991, with the development of a kinematic motion that permits to override the baseboard of built-in cookers.
The development of innovations and improvements to the solutions already defined therefore continued for the whole successive decade, with the storage of other patents, some of which are still in the assessment phase, like that for a “hinge device with translation of a panel” and that for a “compensated hinge device with selective brake”. The last patent granted dates back to 2013 and refers to a “compensated hinge device”.

Cmi hinge for oven door with fixed fulcrum.

The product complexity
The hinges for household appliances are actually complex components due to the particular problems referred to the various applications, different one another, as well as due to the technological contents related to the particularly high performances that these elements are expected to assure. To realize the severity of the tests underwent by household appliance hinges, it is sufficient to remind that, for instance, the hinges for oven doors must bear a weight that can reach even 19 kg, as required by the regulation in force in the United States. Besides, they must permit the perfect balancing and the opening of the door with several still positions, besides bearing service life cycles ranging from 20,000 to 50,000 openings, together with dynamic tests of free fall and of opening under load, maintaining however, at the end of these tests, suitable minimum residual deformation and closing force for still granting the perfect sealing against oven steams. Cmi succeeded in solving in optimal way the whole of all these problems, developing a range of solutions for oven doors that have met the market’s favour, like the one that has solved the balancing problem of doors with different weight, through an exclusive frontal device of progressive regulation. But not minor troubles arise in the design of hinges for other household appliance typologies, such as in the case of dishwashers, in which not only it is necessary to solve some problems concerning the mechanical and dynamic sealing of doors, but also particularly kinematic motions must be designed. Just in the sector of the components for dishwashers, Cmi has obtained its most significant results, with the development in 1991 of a first self-balancing hinge, followed in 1996 by the first hinge with variable fulcrum, then perfected in 2001 with an original kinematic motion that allowed overriding the baseboard of built-in products. But even before, in 1998, Cmi had developed a hinge for dishwashers characterized by a particular balancing system, patented, which did no require specific regulation devices. In the washing machine ambit, finally, which the company entered only in a successive epoch, Cmi succeeded once more in introducing important innovations, with the development in 1998 of a porthole hinge that represented an absolute novelty on a world scale. This hinge, in fact, unique of its kind, allowed obtaining an opening of 180° in two successive phases of 90° plus 90°.

Automatic DEA 3D measuring system for the dimensional detection of mechanical parts in the Cmi quality laboratory.

Materials and production process
In a hinge for household appliances, which is a relatively simple mechanical component, the elements that contribute in determining on one hand the value and on the other hand the production cost are three: the design of the kinematic motion, the quantity of material and the production process. As far as the project of the various kinematic motions is concerned, the number of patents that Cmi has obtained is the proof of how much attention Cmi paid in the past, and still pays today, to this aspect. The same focus, however, was concentrated by Cmi on the other two aspects, too. In particular, Cmi has operated to reduce as much as possible the incidence of materials on the product cost, since today they weigh by over 40% of the industrial cost of a hinge, while machining processes have a much lower incidence, considering the high automation level of productive processes of this company. To this end, Cmi engineers have worked to reduce, keeping performances unchanged, the hinge weight through a more attentive sizing of the different parts, as well as through the differentiation of the materials used. For this reason, they have resorted to the use of high-quality materials, like ultra high strength steels and they have exploited particular heat treatments able to improve the metal behaviour under stress and fatigue. The weight reduction obtained in this way has allowed achieving a further advantage in terms of logistic costs, which have been decreased in proportion to the reduction of the product weight. It is anyway worth highlighting that Cmi keeps on investing in the research of innovative solutions in the ambit of materials and this resulted in a series of long-lasting collaborations with Bologna University. In its turn, the production process holds strategic importance for Cmi in competitive terms, especially considering the low labour cost for the firms producing in rising Countries and the product quality level, aligned to the highest market standards, which the company intended to grant.  In view of that, in its factory Cmi has resorted to extremely advanced automation systems, with the use of automatic working isles with rotary table and automatic assembly lines. These lines make use of loading cells for the automatic calibration of springs and also of robots equipped with vision systems, both for the line feeding with a pre-determinate positioning of elements loaded at random and for the assessment of the presence and of the correct assembly of all the parts that share in composing the finished product. Cmi can rely on sound internal skills, as well as on the collaboration of highly competent external partners for the devising and development of its automation systems, of which it holds the exclusive property.

Cmi production processes are characterized by a high automation level, with isles equipped with rotary table and free-pallet assembly lines.

The automation systems in the Cmi factory at Crespellano provide for the use of several handling robots for the loading-unloading of parts and vision robots for the control of the correct assembly of components.

Current market and future prospects
We talked with Paolo Santini, Operations Manager of Cmi, about the market situation and the company’s future prospects.

To how much does your turnover amount and on what product typologies is your production concentrated?
The Cmi 2013 turnover will reach about 21 million Euros at the end of the year while the production roughly corresponds to 15 million pieces/year, of which 70% in volume is represented by the division of oven door hinges and 30% by the branch of dishwasher hinges. In value, percentages are instead different, with 48% ascribable to the sector of oven doors and 52% to the ambit of dishwasher doors.

Lots of manufacturers of household appliance components complain about difficulties and lower turnover. What is the situation from the point of view of Cmi?
The economic crisis has undoubtedly affected us, too, but more in terms of missing growth than of business worsening. From this point of view Cmi is favoured by the fact that today it exports 80% of its production and therefore it is more subjected to the aspects of the productive delocalization of the main finished product brands, as well as to the drop of household appliance demand on the home market.

In prospect, do you expect an improvement of your business?
While 2013 was a consolidation year for us, we aim at growing in the following years, with a turnover that in 2016 is forecast to reach 24 million Euros, with a growth, in comparison with today, by 15%.

On what elements is this growth forecast based?
In 2014 we will start an ambitious project, in collaboration with an important foreign partner that produces household appliances, providing for the definition of a new technological platform for dishwashers. Besides, we are developing our presence in markets deemed very interesting for us.

Can you explain this aspect better?
In Brazil, where we are anyway already present, we have acquired a new customer, with interesting growth prospects for the next supplies. Besides, we aim at growing both in Mexico, which is an important market for us, as well as in the other nations of South America, in the United States, in Turkey and in Europe with our traditional customers, many of which are developing new projects in which we are requested to collaborate.

Do you think of resorting to some form of productive delocalization?
We are not considering the delocalization with the prevailing goal of reducing labour costs but we are instead starting evaluating an organization that we might define “glocal”. According to this view, we would like to maintain our strategic activities in our headquarters, as well as the production of all parts that share in constituting our products. At the same time we think that an active presence, even if limited, close to our customers to provide both commercial and technical assistance, is useful. In certain cases, like in Mexico, our local presence, already existing today, might also include some assembly phases of products.

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