The factory history
The historical Bianchi Industry production site in Cisterna di Latina, in Italy, still occupies part of the buildings today where, from the 1970s, Bianchi bicycles were manufactured. Giacometti told the story: “Having purchased and relaunched the Bianchi brand thanks to the victories of champions of the caliber of Gimondi and Van Linden, the Trapletti family maintained part of its bicycle production here in Cisterna. Then, when the Bianchi brand was sold to Piaggio, the Trapletti family continued its industrial activities, but in a completely different sector, vending machines. Today Bianchi Industry is a world leader in the production of automatic vending machines and professional coffee machines for the vending and Ho.Re.Ca. sectors. Here in Cisterna we produce all the internal components of the machine. In fact, around 70% of the internal components of our vending machines are produced in-house, and then they are assembled at the site in Verdellino.”
This interesting fact demanded an explanation, and we asked why they produce components over 700 km from the place where they are assembled. The reply came immediately: “Unfortunately, we are severely penalized by our geographical location, it is not cost-effective to purchase components in the north and then assemble them here in Cisterna. Everything we produce in-house that is easy to assemble, we assemble here; the same goes for the heart of the machine, the grinder, the dosing unit, we produce and assemble them here. The vending machine assembly is completed in Zingonia, integrating the components made here in Cisterna with those produced by external suppliers. Despite these logistical problems, we still focus very much on production here today.” And so we come to the first fact: this factory has been active for over 50 years. “Definitely, but we should say that, at least as far as the Trapletti family is concerned, there was a break from 2008 to 2014,” Giacometti continued.
“The company was sold to a fund, and in those six years no investments were made in production, so in 2014 when we took over again, we implemented a three-year technological renovation plan – because you can’t be productive without technology. And we intend to continue to invest, in order to improve productivity in the factory.”
Automatic sheet metal with automation solutions in Bianchi Industry
When the Cisterna factory returned to the Trapletti family, the machinery fleet was basically the same one that had been sold in 2008: two punching machines and a combined laser-punching machine. Although operational, these solutions had no automation and were fairly obsolete. And clearly, the technological investment plan Giacometti referred to had to begin with some intense scouting for automatic sheet metal solutions.
“The stated objective was to invest in order to improve our flexibility, and so I began to look for some new technology which could ensure this result. Obviously, the search for a new solution was also facilitated by the measures and terms of the national Industry 4.0 plan. For me, it was instantly clear that laser cutting would become the cornerstone of our sheet metal forming activities, but this had to be supported by automation that could completely manage loading, unloading and sorting: the laser is more flexible than the punching machine, it has no setup times or punches, and as we also design our own products I thought it would also be beneficial to re-design our parts, so this was also an excellent opportunity for optimization. We conducted an in-depth screening, I personally visited all the major automatic cutting system manufacturers. I was convinced by Salvagnini, because it was the only completely automatic solution available; no other partner could have offered the same level of distributed loading, unloading and sorting automation. Salvagnini supported us, advising us on the definition of the system, considering our sheet metal formats, our materials, our thicknesses – and even our workshop, where the bays are supported by pillars, which caused some layout issues. Today we process around 220 tonnes of sheet metal a month, and the materials vary greatly – from pre-painted sheet to stainless steel, galvanized sheet, and with thicknesses between 0.6 and 2 mm, because with the automatic store-tower changing material is no longer a problem –, but above all, with just one operator managing the systems on each shift. We unload everything automatically, because 90% of the sheet metal we cut is then formed, by bending: it has to be done correctly, to ensure that the sorting of parts ready for bending is accurate.”
The workshop and the automatic laser systems
A pleasant surprise awaits you as you enter the workshop: it is perfectly clean and tidy, and there are practically no people or fork lifts moving around, which is what you would normally expect from good work programming and management.
In our experience, we must say that it is rare to see a workshop like this. And, welcoming us as we came into the workshop, for the automatic sheet metal machine, the Salvagnini P4 2225 panel bender was hard at work; this machine, purchased by Bianchi Industry in 2018, can bend sheets with a maximum width of 2,200 mm and a maximum bending height of 254 mm.
As explained, because of the pillars, the layout of the two twin systems supplied by Salvagnini – there are two lasers, with the same configuration – is longitudinal, with a precise sheet flow. The different raw materials are stored in a vertical store-tower with 11 trays; the ADLL, fitted with a suction cup device, automatically picks the sheet metal made available and, again automatically, removes the skeleton of the previous processing, eliminating all intermediate handling phases usually done by the operator; finally, the Salvagnini MCL Cartesian manipulator sorts the cut parts in an orderly manner. In both laser systems, the cutting process is effected by the L5-30 unit equipped with a 3 kW fiber laser source, which is more than sufficient for efficiently cutting the materials processed at Bianchi Industry.
Alberto Colpo, Salvagnini Media Manager, added, “Over the years, this work system has demonstrated its great reliability and excellent performance, thanks to its compass, which moves the laser head along the XY plane with small movements, reaching high acceleration (up to 5g) and ensuring perfect cuts even with complex shapes.” Giacometti commented, “After three years of continuous operation, this laser system has really lived up to our expectations, and we have never had any downtime for unplanned maintenance. Thanks to Salvagnini, we have reduced our operating expenses, replacing assist gas with compressed air, which is a significant cost saving.” Colpo concluded, “Here, too, the compass is a decisive factor, because compared to the use of linear motors, this patented Salvagnini solution has considerably lower consumption.”
With just one operator managing the systems on each shift, the systems have be completely automatic; in the automatic sheet metal the only activities handled by the operator are positioning the sheet metal packs in the store-towers and managing the pallets of parts stacked by the MCL. “All system activities, from picking up the sheet metal to be processed to stacking, are carried out in masked time,” Colpo stated. “The cutting cycle on the L5 is continuous, and does not require any assistance from the operator.”
Before drawing the usual end-of-article conclusions, we would like to offer a couple of considerations on what Giacometti told us during our pleasant conversation.
The first comes from our own assessment: often, when a company decides to adopt new technology with automatic systems, it then realizes that it has time for more work, and so “also” becomes an outsourcer.
What happened in Bianchi Industry’s case? The answer came loud and clear: “We went down that road too. We contacted local companies who we thought might need to process high-quality sheet metal components: the response was interesting, although for the time being limited to our area.” The Bianchi Technology promotional brochure he showed us advertises this service, and its motto is: “We wanted the best for ourselves, and now we can offer it to you too.” We asked: what do you mean by “process”?
“Obviously, first of all I mean that we are available to provide laser cutting and bending services. We specialize in this type of processing and, with the technologies we have at our disposal, we can guarantee high quality and certain delivery times at a competitive hourly rate. But we also design our own components, and for this reason we can consider ourselves as advanced outsourcers: we also provide product optimization, assembly and quality control services. In 2019 we were pretty successful on the market, so we are thinking of extending our services to other customers.”
The second consideration relates to the sworn technical appraisal that confirmed the company’s technological transformation to the “Industry 4.0” model in 2017. This well-drafted document confirms the company’s adoption of automatic machining systems which have substantially changed the way in which Bianchi Vending machine components are manufactured starting from the automatic sheet metal systems.
What are the Factory Manager’s plans for continuing to increase production efficiency, after such a successful introduction to the automation world? In this respect, too, Giacometti’s vision is quite clear: “As regards this factory, we would like to automate the operations of the P4 panel bender, which is becoming increasingly decisive for our production. We are in the process of deciding whether to add a robot to automate only the unloading operations or the whole production cycle. At the site in Verdellino, on the other hand, we are completing the installation and inclusion of a laser system that is identical to the one you saw here, to automate the sheet metal cutting operations done there too.”