The Smalti Modena firm, with two plants, cutting-edge technologies, control of raw materials and focus on environmental problems, is one of the European leaders in contract enamelling. “We have been genuine subcontractors for over 50 years”, claims the chairman Giorgio Francia, “and our clients benefit from this”.
Giorgio Francia is both sparingly built and sparing with his words. Like any self-respecting Modenese he is realistic and pragmatic, shies away from overstatement and instead goes straight to the point. This explains why, although starting from the bottom, from the fifties to date he has come a long way in enamelling, in Modena, Parma and Verona, from employee to chairman of Smalti Modena. One of the largest European firms in contract enamelling of household appliances, heating elements, sanitaryware, farming machinery, building and furnishing, with 100 employees and two plants, one near the town centre and the other in the Modena Est industrial zone, very close to the Via Emilia and motorway junctions.
Here a building measuring 10,000 square metres, formerly occupied by a firm producing prefabs and standing on a surface area of 25,000, has been modernised and a new building added, comprising the services block, designed as modern architecture and with leading-edge technologies and fittings which guarantee a reassuring workplace for the staff. “We’ve made progress”, Francia concluded totally naturally, while showing me around the factory buildings.
It was quite a warm day at the end of July, yet nothing is hotter than outside among the tunnels for washing parts (with the least possible water in order to reduce pollution), the drying system, the booths for powder spraying, performed entirely by robots, the high temperature furnaces where parts enter and exit constantly, amid the typical noises and movements of enamelling works. Francia takes advantage of the inspection to give advice on procedure to staff and gain information on recent problems. Even a layman can recognise his in-depth knowledge, the ability to check at a glance and to converse in technical terms with operatives in every department. He talks briskly in the Modena dialect and in Italian, and exchanges quips with the truck drivers waiting to load and unload.
Giorgio Francia started his many years’ experience in the area of enamel as far back as 1952, and by starting from the bottom he has come a long way.
In Modena, Parma, Verona and Soliera, from employee to chairman of Smalti Modena.
“In the year 2000 we invested 40% of our revenues, adding a new industrial building, the workshop and a services building. In addition to local staff we have a group of young people from southern Italy. We try to avoid a rigid structure, and instead aim at flexibility. Our staff is relatively young and the average age is 33. Even I know how to do everything …….”.
“We at Smalti Modena have continued to work as genuine subcontractors for over 50 years”, he told me as we drove to the “old” plant. “And this represents a guarantee for our clients, as the others, the “non-genuine” ones, if the product is acceptable, ignore the client, whereas if it is inadequate they tackle the market with a short-term aggressive price drive”. He is not argumentative when he speaks, but adopts the tone of somebody pointing out the facts, and stays the same in his subsequent remarks. “During these 50 years the enamel market has narrowed somewhat. Many large firms are equipped with internal systems which can cope with almost 100% of their production. The excess materials or limited editions are sent out for enamelling by subcontractors”.
“All the environmental topics linked to enamelling”, added Francia, “must remain at the centre of our attention, they cannot be underestimated or avoided. We have tackled them with the technologies of our new plant”.
While we move from one plant to another, we also change the subject. “Porcelain enamel is holding its own also because it resists heat, abrasion, weather, acids etc., and retains its original colour. Thanks to the new technologies and powder systems which facilitate colour changes, nowadays the traditional black, dark grey and dark brown (or mocha) have been joined by many other new colours, already applied electrostatically by Smalti Modena in the catalytic and pyrolytic versions.”
The question about CISP is also answered in a few, yet clear, words. “The association is doing well, it’s the only one which promotes enamel. It could perhaps provide more practical training courses for enamellers and for the manufacturers of products for ena-melling”.
From the outside the plant in Via del Murazzo reveals that a few decades have gone by since the time when it must have been a modern plant in a state-of-the-art industrial zone, nowadays incorporated into a central area. Here coloured porcelain enamels are prepared and applied, pickling is carried out by dipping in degreasing acids, and enamel is applied also by hand-spraying.
There is a spectacular large grid above which, in the upper part of the factory buildings, runs the kilometre-long line which acts as a storage unit for production surplus later fired during the night. Here too Francia takes the opportunity, between presenting each department, of checking close up, asking questions, and giving answers and instructions to the staff who are apparently accustomed to meeting him among the production lines.
From the new plant to this one we have followed in reverse the path taken by Giorgio Francia and his Smalti Modena. They have moved to new areas, towards improvements, and the facts bear out the plain and down-to-earth words of the chairman.
Set up in 1949 as a contract enamel works, Smalti Modena has always remained true to its vocation until becoming, today, one of the leading firms in Europe in contract enamelling. Working flexibility, reliability, professional attitude, focus on quality, technological updating, modern plants and cutting-edge technologies are indicated by the firm as the main factors of its success. It has two plants, one near the centre of Modena and the other in an industrial area. The latter – 25,000 square metres of which 10,000 indoors, to which a new factory building, the workshop and other offices are soon to be added – has modern technologies, in line with the strictest standards on ecology and industrial hygiene.
With a staff of 100 people (of which around thirty part-time), Smalti Modena applies enamel for Italian firms and constructs complete products (sheet metal, moulding, enamel application) on moulds supplied by the client for foreign firms. It applies powder enamel electrostatically, wet, by robots and manually in the sector of household appliances, heating, sanitaryware, farming machinery (exhaust silencers and coupling hoses), building and furnishing (small panels for covering).