Check out bellow the full interview with Massimo Carboniero, president of UCIMU-SISTEMI PER PRODURRE
Due to its characteristics, the COVID-19 affected industries around the world. What were the impacts on the Italian scenario?
The impact has undoubtedly been heavy. Italy was the first country that had to face the emergency with little information received from China. We have been the test country and the one observed by the other European countries to decide what to do. Nevertheless, despite our example, some countries wasted precious time and it took them several days – and even weeks – to implement an appropriate strategy to respond to the pandemic.
The effects of this crisis on the Italian machine tool industry were already partially highlighted by the index of the orders collected in the first quarter 2020, which showed an 11% fall compared with the period January-March 2019. The downturn turned out to be strong for the domestic market, where the collected orders went down by 43%, and smaller on the foreign marketplace, where there was a 4.4% reduction. The effect of the crisis was however mitigated by the good business trend in the first two months of the year. Emergency and lockdown started to affect us from March. Therefore, the impact of this crisis will be evident in the next quarter. Manufacturers envisage that there will be a 20%-30% decrease in the turnover 2020, but we expect a recovery from 2021, the year in which Italy will host EMO, the world exhibition of reference for the manufacturing industry, which will certainly take full advantage and stimulate the recovery moment.
What were the first reactions to the crisis carried out by the industries in Italy?
When, at the beginning of March, the Government authorities asked us to temporarily shut down our factories, we fully agreed on that, because we understood how serious the situation was. We used the first weeks to get organized in the best way, thinking about all measures we could implement to achieve the highest safety on our plants. Then we provided for even stricter procedures and rules than those stated in the health rules established by the authorities. Also thanks to extraordinary investments, we equipped our factories with a “special” organization and tools that would have allowed us to open much earlier than when our authorities gave the green light.
During the five weeks of lockdown, production activity almost stopped. On the other hand, also thanks to digital technologies, we were able to ensure remote assistance for our customers all over the world. For all those activities not related to production and assembly, we successfully experienced smart working. However, the heart of our business was stopped until the beginning of May. It has been a really long period that now we are trying to recover with a great deal of effort. This crisis is heavy, but Italian enterprises are very flexible by nature and have taken on the challenge for a further change. I am sure that the results will eventually be positive.
Did any country or region have a scenario that can be considered better prepared for this type of crisis? What good practices can we mention in regard?
What we experienced proves that no country was prepared to face an emergency of this kind. As we mentioned, Italy was among the first countries that had to face this crisis, without any precise directions and, in doing so, it surely made some mistakes but behaved with great gravity. Undoubtedly, some aspects could have been better managed, but we must admit that the authorities had to deal with a really difficult situation. I think that communication was one of the aspects that mostly penalized us. We have been wrongly considered as the country that contributed to the entry of the virus to Europe and its spread among the EU countries. Actually, we have been the first to warn about Covid-19, which had already been circulating in other countries sometime before. This aspect strongly penalized us. Now, we have to work hard to recover our image and the workdays we lost. However, as usual, we are confident and very motivated to “re-enter the stage”.
How can technology help the manufacturing industries during and after this crisis? Is it possible to say that COVID-19 accelerated the process of digital transformation?
This really particular period has certainly made everybody understand that thanks to the technological innovations at our disposal, we can change and improve the operating work procedures. Also in the machine tool sector, flexibility and innovative technologies are increasingly present, helping to proceed in a more rapid way and to meet the new requirements in a more reactive way, while facilitating remote control and management of business and production processes. All the work carried out on Industry 4.0 showed its value and efficacy in this situation. There is a lot to do and, even in this case, the emergency proves how the issue of digitalization is essential for our sector and for our work. We, the Italian manufacturers, made large investments on the development of machines and solutions based on 4.0 technologies and this made our product offering even more competitive on the international market. Also in light of this bad experience, we will go on in this direction, feeling sure that the market will follow us.
Will industries that were already more advanced in applying the concepts of industry 4.0 have fewer difficulties to go through this uncertain moment? What factors will be decisive for the resumption of industrial production in the world?
Surely, enterprises using 4.0 technologies have been facilitated when facing this particular moment. However, the Coronavirus emergency made us understand how important it is to upgrade not only machinery but also management and organization methods within a company according to the digitalization approach. All enterprises must work on this in the next future.
What can be expected in the coming years of the global industry?
In the last few years, globalization has become a reality for those operating in the manufacturing industry, but also in trade. Now, the health emergency forces us to reflect upon a new interpretation regarding the concept of globalization that is pervading all fields of our daily life. We do not know yet how the world will evolve. However, we are sure that we, the Italian machine tool manufacturers, will keep on working on the international marketplace, selling on nearby and faraway, traditional, emerged and emerging markets. After all, our expertise is acknowledged everywhere in the world and allows us to take part in the global production chains of leading sectors, such as the automotive, aerospace, energy, but also the mechanical and engineering industries. Also in this period of great complexity, despite the stop of our activities, we did not experience any exclusion from the production chains.
What will be the legacy of this crisis for the industry?
This experience has taught us that we must be ready to reorganize, also making extensive changes with regard to our way of managing a business in a very short time. In addition, we learned that no one is safe from crises of this extent, regardless of the geographic position and development degree of the country where one lives and operates. Furthermore, investments in research and development in the scientific and technical fields represent the key to guaranteeing the future and development of society. And we are the key players.