Caronno Pertusella, in Italy’s northern province of Varese, is home to Pangborn Europe S.r.l., a member of the multinational Wheelabrator Group. The company produces grit blasting, sand blasting and dust collectors. The quality of its products, service and research can combine with suitable public projects to enable Italy to maintain its production plants without running the risk of relocation abroad, reports the company’s Managing Director, Renzo Boarino.
As you travel northwest from Milan towards the city’s international airport at Malpensa, you will pass in the vicinity of Caronno Pertusella, a small place in the province of Varese, just a few kilometres from the partly rhyming and far better known town of Saronno. At one time, this whole area in the flat lands between Milan and Varese used to be occupied by large farms and peppered with their buildings, which often bequeathed their names to today’s localities [Pertusella was once a farm nucleus], but these gradually gave way to large factories, specialising mainly in metallurgy and mechanics. Most of the firms located in Caronno Pertusella today work in the chemical and pharmaceuticals industry or as mechanical contract manufacturers. The town is situated strategically at a point where northern Italy interfaces with the rest of Europe, near motorways and Milan’s domestic airport at Linate, as well as Malpensa. Established in Milan in 1959, the Fondermatica company moved to Caronno Pertusella in 1962, when it evolved from a commercial operation importing foundry products from the USA into the manufacturing company with the name it still bears today. After changing hands on several occasions, in January 2005 Pangborn Europe became part of the multinational Wheelabrator Group, a conglomerate based in the United States that leads the world in the sector of equipment and services for surface treatments and blasting, whose subsidiaries and brands enjoy world-level reputations. The group now employs 1,000 people in Europe and another 1,500 all over the rest of the world.
Renzo Boarino, 51, graduated in mechanical engineering from Milan Polytechnic in 1979, before taking a Masters in Business Administration at the Bocconi University in Milan and specialisation courses in technical and production areas. After gaining experience in the sector of transmission assemblies and mobile cranes, he joined Pangborn Europe in 1989, occupying a number of different positions in technical and production departments, always moving up the ladder of responsibility. At the moment, he is the company’s Managing Director and a member of its Board, as well as a Director of the parent company.
An engineer by training, the company’s 51 year old Managing Director, Renzo Boarino, introduces us to his firm. “Pangborn Europe has its own operating capital and Board of Directors. Inside the Group, technological centres of excellence that specialise in specific products have been established and this company has been designated as a centre for designing and constructing special heavy duty equipment and products for foundries, forges, steel and aluminium works, for treating surfaces before enamelling and painting and for sand blasting in mass production processes. Pangborn Europe has a total of 60 employees, on the shop floor and in the offices, and achieved a turnover of 9.5 million Euros in 2004, a figure that we expect to increase to 14.5 million Euros in 2005: a vigorous but real rate of growth that will be brought about by orders that we have already acquired, by repositioning our products on our markets and by a new commercial organisation of the Group as a whole, which has created a specialised centre here to cater for the demands of our customers also in certain niche sectors. What we offer our customers”, continues Boarino, “is global, custom solutions, from design to service: we are the only organisation that has a foundry of its own, where we can turn out pieces in special wear-resistant alloys and also
individual pieces or small batches specified to order by our customers. All this is only possible because we can change our production set-up at the drop of a hat. Flexibility and speed of execution are the salient features of our production lines.
“We have invested a great deal in research and development,” explains Boarino, “and the results are plain to see: in our foundry, we have experimented with and produced resistant new materials that make machine stops for accidents and breakdowns a thing of the past, because blasters are machines that destroy themselves as part of the process of cleaning pieces.”
Q: What progress has been made in the area of vitreous enamels here at Pangborn Europe?
“As a consequence of the significant investments made, we were the first to launch a continuous system onto the market fitted with compressed airpropelled rotating nozzles that shoot the abrasive inside the boilers. It was a revolutionary innovation: the only
installation along the entire boiler production line that needs to have the piece rotated for sand blasting is the now blasting machine; beforehand, the conveyors had to be fitted all the way along the entire line with rotating hooks that were then only used by the sand blaster. Our system, which is very reliable, constitutes a real saving for the end user, in terms of both maintenance and cash.
“We find ourselves working more closely all the time with the companies that supply the other equipment used in these lines, so that we can offer our common customers a complete, efficient enamelling line, in which we provide the part that takes care of the sand-blasting. “Another important feature for us in the area of enamelling is the progress made on preparing surfaces for saucepans that are then coated with Teflon,” adds Boarino, “as these call for a controlled and uniform degree of roughness, which can be obtained using a system of automatic controls on each piece.
“Planning now for the future, we are working in partnership with manufacturers to perfect a system for treating the surfaces of welded boilers automatically with sand-blasters. The welds are the most delicate parts of these products, the places where the enamelling may encounter more problems; once it is possible to determine the position of the weld and prepare the surface that has been located with automated systems, doing away with the manual work that has to be done today, the efficiency of the process will achieve maximum rationalisation.”
Q: And what if I ask you about environmental problems?
“In the last few years, many enamellers have made the move over from pickling to blasting: sand blasters are electrically powered and only produce inert powders that are captured by filters, as the law stipulates, before the enamelling takes place; this process does away with all the sludges and acids and overcomes all the environmental impact problems consequent on them. All this has also been made possible by the Pangborn Europe innovation of rotating nozzles and surface treatments.”
Q: What message would you like to send to the CISP?
“My message is not a criticism, but a suggestion. Italy’s enamelling technology is second to none and deserves to be exploited as much as possible, in terms both of finished products and of production plants and processes. Italy’s whitegoods manufacturers have a very strong appeal abroad: we need to export our technology to today’s new markets as much as possible. We have to build ourselves more international visibility.”
Q: And if we now look at the future of our markets, what do you think it holds in store for us?
“The Italian market is stable. Our customers invest a great deal in Russia, China, Vietnam and in other countries where labour is far cheaper than here… and we follow them: we have installations all over the place, so as to cover the global market. China has been and remains a good market, even though it is now well on the way to saturation point, as local manufacturers have now installed the enamelling lines they need.”
Q: What is your attitude to the globalisation and relocation that people talk about so much these days?
“Globalisation is something that we are more likely to be subjected to than to be able to control. It takes a long time to get a return on investments. You can export the equipment, but you can hardly export quality. Nevertheless, some people do manage to produce efficiently: they are the big brands, who export not only the equipment, but also the trained people. Meanwhile, those who abandon their production lines to local manufacturers are doomed to failure: that is what we are seeing these days. As time goes by, I believe that the crucial difference will be made by the right quality-to-price ratio. As Italian manufacturers, there may be some excellent chances waiting for us here at home, too, but if we can, we should aim to achieve the right balance between the cost of labour, production and quality. The starting point has to be a political solution to the problem of the cost of labour, one that would enable us to produce our quality at home at competitive prices, while also attracting foreign capital here to help us to it, along the lines of what is happening now in Spain, for example. Because that is where we have to play our future hand of cards.”
Q: And how does that futurelook for Pangborn Europe?
“It looks rosy to me: partly because I am a natural optimist, but also because I see that this firm has the ability to cater adequately for what our customers need, in terms of equipment, products, services, research, innovation and a competitive edge. That is something that not everybody is capable of doing: we believe that we can beat all our competitors, even the Chinese…”
At a time when it looks as though there is no way of escaping the dominance of the “Chinese phenomenon” or having to chase after it at all costs, it is wise to listen to those who counsel “Let’s stop a moment and think about this…” before rushing along a road that has not even been mapped out yet, but is sure to take us a long way. It is always useful to listen to all sides, it helps us make more pondered decisions. Especially when those decisions are important ones. All the more so if those who counsel patience are also those who, in practice, have demonstrated their ability to move effectively, achieving important results in their field. Such is the case of Pangborn Europe, from Caronno Pertusella, a company with a solid position in Europe and the rest of the world.
Pangborn Europe S.r.l.
Pangborn Europe produces grit blasting, sand blasting and dust extraction equipment entirely in its facility in Caronno Pertusella, near Varese. The company has been operating in Italy under this name since 1962, but had already been present here prior to that date with Pangborn Co. (USA) machines, built under a licensing agreement, since 1959. Since January 2005, Pangborn Europe S.r.l. has been operating as a member of the Wheelabrator Group, the US multinational world market leader in the sector of equipment and services for surface treatments. The group administers the following brands: Wheelabrator and BCP in the USA and Canada; Tilghman, Spencer Halstead and Vacu-Blast in the United Kingdom; Gutmann, Wheelabrator Berger, Schlick, Brück and Blastrac in Germany and Wheelabrator Sisson Lehmann in France. Pangborn Europe S.r.l. constitutes the Wheelabrator Group’s centre of excellence at world level, in particular for all special and heavy duty equipment destined for the foundry, forge and steelmaking sector, for everything related to treating motor baseplates and heads and for all automotive jets made of cast iron and aluminium. 30% of the company’s turnover is generated from equipment installed in Italy and 70% from installations abroad. Since 2000, the Pangborn Europe Quality System has obtained ISO 9001 quality certification, since converted into the Vision 2000 edition.