During the INNOPROM Exhibition last July, we had a talk with representatives of Italian machine tool company SALVAGNINI ITALIA - Enrico Lovato, sales Manager in Russia, CIS and Baltic countries, the company SALVAGNINI ITALIA, and Alexander Starih, the General Director of the Russian LLCSTARMAX TECHNOLOGY company, representing SALVAGNINI ITALIA in Russia. They shared successful technical solutions of Italian company, and also expressed theiropinion on trends in the development of laser machine tool.
Please tell us about the role of your company in the Russian and international markets. In addition, I would like to hear your opinion about the Russian market and its prospects. Enrico: The Russian market is important for our company. We have long and strong relationships with our partners in Russia. Salvagnini was founded in 1963 in Italy. We produce machines for the automatic processing of materials. According to our observations, machines that are able to work in automatic mode without an operator are in demand at the moment in Russia. In addition, these systems should be flexible and produce high quality products. It is worth noting that we manufacture machines with a high level of integration into production.
There are all opportunities for the introduction of our technologies in Russia and we expect the development of our business. This is confirmed with the events of the last three years, which showed an increased demand for our products in Russia. And during this year the trend is maintained due to the increase in the number of requests. Customers are increasingly interested in the features of our products and offer to meet with us in Italy to see the work of the machines on the factory floor. What do you think about oversaturation of the Russian market with industrial automatic machines? Or is this market capacious? Enrico: I believe that at the moment in Russia there is a great need for new equipment. I managed to visit the production sites of a number of Russian companies, where I observed the work of already obsolete equipment produced 30–40 years ago. In my opinion, there is a need and a basis for change. Automation does not mean that a person’s work will be completely replaced with the help of machines and many people will remain without work. I think that there will be changes in the activities of people and productivity will increase. For example you need to create and print a document. So, to solve this task, you need a computer, a text editor and a printer. But 20 years ago this work would be done using a typewriter. But it is very inconvenient in case of an error when you printing text. Our machines have the ability to simulate the production process. And if you specify the parameters for processing the product with an error, it is automatically corrected. To date there are many machines, but a small number of them work automatically. Alexander: I’ll go back a bit about the issue of overproduction. At the moment we have a lot of Soviet equipment. Europe is in the phase when all machines is equipped with a CNC. And to further develop and increase productivity, some companies have gone into the field of production automation. We have not yet completed the first stage in our country – equipping the production with CNC machines. Some of our enterprises, in order to keep up with European manufacturers, "jump" the first stage. And Enrique says that some time ago the operator should, for example, position the workpiece and control the quality of the product, currently it is needed to load the workpiece and the machine will automatically perform all necessary manipulations and control the quality of the final product. What market share is the bending of the material? Alexander: We do not give out a bending operation in a separate area. Any product that needs to be bent should first be cut. The company that manufactures the instrument cases or metal furniture should do all the necessary technological operations. Therefore, manufacturing companies have equipment that allows you to go through all the technological stages in an automatic mode, including cutting and bending. Do I understand correctly that the equipment allows to cut and bent at one production process? Alexander: You’re right. In the company’s lineup there are automated laser cutting equipment and individual bending modules. According to the new production concept 4.0. this equipment can be combined into automated lines. And not only programmatically but also in terms of logistics. We are talking about a great smart designer, where the details are transferred automatically from one machine to another. When did Salvagnini come up with the idea that it is necessary to turn from independent individual production modules to machines that can be integrated into the technological chain? Enrico: It was 1977. How do you think, when we began to supply our modernized automatic machines to the Russian market? We are talking about a complete cutting and bending system. I think in 1981 Enrico: In 1985. Russia was one of the first customers. In 1990, there were significant changes in the country led to stagnation in industry. And only a few years ago in Russia there was again a demand for automated machine tools. From 1990 to 2010 we unfortunately did not observe any interest in our equipment on the Russian market. In this regard, there are huge prospects for changes at the present time. Do you think this exhibition and related forums are aimed to solving the problem of re-equipment, which usually occurs every five years? We know that every large enterprise renovates every five years and prepares for it. Is it possible that we will have the calm during the coming years? Alexander: We would not have tied it to the exhibition. Enrico: First of all I would like to note that the service life of a new generation of machines exceeds the period of 5 years. This period is at least 10 years. We interact in different ways with customers. Someone company after the delivery was in contact with us only concerning service, spare parts and technical support. Some customers after 2–3 years from the delivery turn to us again in connection with the expansion of production and the need to increase production capacity. We do not have such situations, that we sell equipment and this concludes our cooperation. Usually we are constantly in contact with the customer. Alexander: Salvagini’s equipment is always a little ahead of time. Today all manufacturers have turned to concept as industry 4.0. In Salvagini the corresponding decisions appeared in 1985. Our customers who purchased Salvagini’s equipment in order to reduce the costs do not even expect the possibility of a dramatic increase in productivity. Your question regarding the updating of equipment, as I understand, is related to wear and tear. Often we are faced with the fact that a significant increase in production leads to the need of new equipment in order to occupy a certain niche and reduce the chances of other companies in the competition. Thus, the length of time between the deliveries can be less than the life of machines. Fortunately, the Russian market is growing. Do you sell equipment for leasing? Alexander: Yes, it’s possible. We use such method with both Russian and European companies. Salvagini offers various options for purchasing equipment. Please tell us about the structure of the company? How many employees work in the design and production departments? Enriсо: To date, the company employs more than 1600 people. We are a completely private company. We have three production facilities in Italy. One is located in Austria. In addition, we have 23 subsidiaries around the world, including Russia. The annual turnover of the company is around 330 million euros. 50% of employees work in the office, 50% in the workplace. The company is focused on research and development. In addition, since the company was founded we independently manufacture control systems and software for our machines. We have a staff of specialists working in this direction. At the beginning of the exhibition a representative of Kaspersky Lab said that automated systems are at great risk. Did you hear his speech? Alexander: The purpose of this speech is to expand its market. For the equipment Salvagini used the same computer that is used in everyday life. What methods are applied to protect equipment from external interference? Alexander: The methods of protection are standard. It is possible to install any antivirus program. Enriсо: When the first bicycle was invented, it was unusual for people to ride on it because of the danger of losing balance. However, today if you need to move from point A to point B, you choose a bicycle, because it is faster than walking, less energy-consuming and more convenient. Using a bicycle leads to greater risk than walking, but it is certainly more convenient. It’s the same with the internet. If the company does not accept changes and new opportunities, it leads to regress. Alexander: What methods and tools are most effective for protecting the control system? Enriсо: I’m not an expert in IT technology. I can briefly talk about the company’s activities in this area. In our company, there is a strict policy regarding work at the computer. Our employees are not administrators of the corresponding PC, therefore, they can’t download any software from the internet. In addition, employees can only view trusted, secure sites. We use methods that reduce risk, but there is no way to completely get rid of it. I would like to give you an example. In the new generation of cars, there are increasingly problems with electronics that can be solved in most cases only with contacting an authorized dealer. However, to date, a modern car is able to track the distance to a neighboring vehicle and, if necessary, reduce the speed. My car can automatically maintain a safe distance to the front car. Thus, on the one hand, due to the development of technology, the probability of various problems is increased. On the other hand, the safety of the movement on the car is increased. The same can be applied to our machines. There are all sorts of risks, but at the same time productivity of production is increased. How do you find out information about the needs of manufacturers? How are your know-how born? Alexander: We analyze the needs of the market and our customers. I believe that in the modern world those companies that interact closely with their customers become successful. In other words, success is achieved with the ability to adapt to the needs of the market. I’m an engineer. Specialization is related to aircraft construction. I had a good practice. I worked in the cockpit layout department at the Beriev Design Bureau in Taganrog. We had a B200 seaplane and placed with it more than 150 world records. I know that in many universities there is a good educational program, but graduates have a lack of practice. I was lucky to have a good practice In this business I have been working for more than 13 years. Constant communication with customers and market analysis oblige me to understand the technical features of the equipment. I will try to formulate the question differently. For example, there is a well-known company Coherent. It is manufacturer of lasers. And people working in the field of science know about this company as a manufacturer of high-precision, reliable lasers. At present, the company is more focused on the production of lasers for industrial instruments, but the field of science is still relevant to them, because scientific research is conducted for certain purposes based on the requests of individual companies. Working in the field of science, Coherent remains well informed about current and future market needs. Alexander: We are conducting market analysis to find out the needs of potential customers. After that, we produce solutions that meet the market expectations. The company adheres to the rule that demand creates supply. Enriсо: In addition, the company should respond as quickly as possible to changes and adjust its plans and activities. In other words, the time from the idea to its implementation in practice (time to market) should be as short as possible so that the company can occupy a leading position in the market. Enriсо: As your magazine is called Photonics I suppose you write a lot about lasers. What do you think about the laser market in Russia? I think that people do not know enough about the advantages of industrial laser instruments in Russia. Enrique: Lasers were invented many years ago. I would like to note that the laser cutting technology, which was invented in Europe, has limitations related to power consumption. The efficiency of technology is 10%. In other words, if you want to achieve a power of 1 kW, you need to expend energy of 10 kW. However, 8 years ago, we were the first in the world to use a new technology that allows us to increase the efficiency up to 30%. How do you think who is invented this technology? It’s hard to imagine Enrique: Your compatriots. This is the development of the IPG, which is used in our equipment. I want to say that in Russia there are excellent specialists with deep knowledge in the field of lasers. However, the application of this knowledge is limited to the scientific laboratory. According to some information equipment by Trumpf and IPG have serious different to each other in scheme produce fiber lasers. Alexander: As far as I know, IPG and Trumpf technologies vary greatly. In our opinion, IPG significantly outperforms Trumpf in terms of efficiency. Although it is likely that Trumpf has other achievements. I am ready to talk about this separately. The main conceptual difference in technology is that the IPG laser "is born immediately in the fiber." In other words, from the diode the beam is transmitted directly to the fiber. The Trumpf’s technology is older and simpler. Here the diode bars are used. The radiation from bars is transmitted through a plurality of optical elements and focused into the optical fiber. In this regard, some of the energy is absorbed with the optical elements and the efficiency falls. In addition, there is a need for maintenance of the system due to the presence of mechanical elements and different optics. IPG sources do not have any mechanical part. It completely eliminates the need for maintenance. Furthermore, if a beam is focused into an optical fiber, then it can’t be small in size. Otherwise, it will not be possible to focus the beam. In our case the diameter of the optical fiber for delivering radiation to the cutting zone is 50 µm. It is the smallest value in the market. In the market the value of this parameter is 100–200 microns. Thus, in case of cutting a thin sheet, we can reach a speed of about 60 m / min. This is highest value in the market. We know about the problem concerning curving the material at the ends of the workpiece. Can you comment this issue? Alexander: Most companies have different devices to control the speed and power of the source. For example, we cut a square and come to a place where the machine should change direction. At this point, there should be a gradual decrease of the workpiece speed relative to the laser and the radiation power to achieve the maximum cutting quality. Most manufacturers have separate modes of operation for cutting small and large contours. Salvagini uses unique tools and its own process control system. This system allows using one tool for cutting contours of almost any type. The control system allows a smooth automatic adjustment of the workpiece speed relative to the laser beam. It takes into account the geometry of the workpiece and regulates the power of the source. Are you talking about know-how? Alexander: This is one of the distinguishing features of our equipment. You do not need to spend time adjusting the equipment for cutting contours of various types. How many patents does your company have? Enriсо: There are about a hundred patents. We do not pay much attention to patents, because the company constantly develops something new. How long does it take from the origin of an idea to its realization? Enriсо: About 18 months. Alexander: Salvagini began to work in the market of laser technology not so long ago in comparison with large companies. However, in comparison with competitors, Salvagini’s activity is not limited with the development of a laser and its subsequent release within 10 years. It is the ability to analyze the market in a qualitative way and to develop new models of machine tools in a short time interval that allowed the company to succeed in the market. Many manufacturers use linear motors for rapid movement in their machines. However, due to the presence of dust in the production sites, which is often observed in Russia, such systems are not reliable enough. Salvagini went on the way to reduce the number of nodes that could be break down. The company has created a new patented system. The essence of this innovation is that in addition to moving the portal part, there is an additional axis for moving the laser head. During movement, it becomes possible to positioning not only the portal part, but also the head. It becomes possible to increase the speed of movement of the workpiece relative to the beam. In the case of short displacements, this approach is most beneficial. In this case, the laser head is less inert in comparison with the portal part of the machine. It improves positioning accuracy and processing quality. So we’re talking about rough and precise positioning? Alexander: Both axes have high positioning accuracy. The discreteness of the step in both cases is approximately the same. We are accustomed to using linear motors to ensure high acceleration. However, in our machines this motors are absent, but at the same time we obtain sufficient acceleration values. For example, the average acceleration in the machines of competitors is 2.5–3 g. Our equipment provides acceleration of 5 g. The magnitude of acceleration is important in those cases where the customer needs highly dynamic processing. This can be important in case of processing a large number of small parts. Or in case of need to make holes in the processed sheet. The main problem is inertia of the portal part. It is difficult to achieve the optimum operating speed. Thus, most of the parameters specified in commercial offers can’t be reached at short distances. In these cases, acceleration is an important factor. Its value shows how quickly the machine can reach the maximum processing speed. From my experience I can say that for one company we carried out a comparative analysis of the produced parts. On the standard sheet we placed about 460 small rough parts. It was necessary to cut the desired contour and make holes. For old machines with CO2 laser processing time was about 60–80 minutes. Thanks to the use of a fiber source, which speeds up the process of cutting, we got the result in 43–45 minutes. With our innovative positioning system, the processing time was 25–27 minutes. Another aspect is the development of a unique patented optical head design. This is the first on the market head with a so-called "dry" cooling, based on the Peltier effect. Through this development, several tasks are being solved. On the market, the head is usually cooled using either pure gases or water. In the case of water, we need to clean the cooling system, change the filters, in one word – to maintain. In the case of gas, we observe its overspending. And it is consumed both in the operating mode and during the waiting. Using "dry" cooling, the company has solved two problems. The first is the absence of gas consumption. Second – in practice the purity of gas does not always meet the requirements according the observed state of the filters during maintenance. In this case, we do not have contact of focusing lenses with any media. It allows us to operate the system without maintenance. Do drops of metal fall on the lens during the cutting process? Alexander: This effect can be observed in case of using the old machines where the operation parameters are not optimized enogth. Enriсо: Here you need to take into account the material of the workpiece and its thickness. In the process of cutting, parameters such as gas pressure and laser power are optimized. In addition, we use an optical sensor that reads the glow characteristics during the cutting process, such as color and intensity. With this sensor and the feedback system, the laser power level is adjusted. Thank you for an interesting interview!