Aluminium for Railway Carriages Feels at Home in Tuscany

With its evolution from wood to light alloys, Rustici is an example of Italian excellence for its structural applications, not just in the railway sector

by Alberto Pomari

Near Pistoia, more precisely in Montale, the Rustici company has been active for almost sixty years; the name derives from the original production, which began in 1969 and was made up of handcrafted, “rustic” furniture. Being close to one of the world’s most important companies for railway carriage production, AnsaldoBreda (now known as Ansaldo STS, Hitachi group), in the following years Rustici developed from a manufacturer of furniture and wooden elements for homes and offices to supplier of wooden elements for railway carriages, seats, tables, floors and more. The following step taken by the company, using structural aluminium in railway carriages, was an almost “natural” process, a consequence of the technological evolution of the whole construction of vehicles on rails. We discussed this topic with the daughter of one of the main players behind the creation of this important industrial concern, Emanuela Galigani.

How did Rustici develop from an artisan company to a European-level firm in the railway construction industry?
This important change began for us at the end of the Eighties, when the founders of the company detected the ongoing evolutionary process regarding the construction technologies of vehicles; wood was beginning to lose ground in favour of new materials and a completely uncharted road was opening up, pointing towards the use of aluminium. Since then Rustici has undergone a remarkable change, we began to invest in machinery fit for light metal machining, and at the same time we built our know-how dedicated to the metallurgical and machining characteristics of the various aluminium alloys fit for our usage requirements; we focused especially on structural welding techniques and on the machining of metal by means of specialized work centres; all of this thanks to the great efforts made by Sandro Saielli, the company’s partner who literally accompanied Rustici from the old materials to aluminium alloys.

Which are your markets today and where do your main clients operate?
Rustici is now a limited company, with a turnover of around 17 million euro and with about 160 employees. Supported by our main suppliers, that is, the manufacturers of large extrusions for the railway sector, we are able to supply complete kits and components for the aluminium car bodies of trains, and we export about 70% of our production towards the markets where our main European clients are active.

What are your main strengths?
We specialize in the welding of very complex aluminium profiles up to 26 metres long, the mechanical machining of components and the production of flooring in multi-layered composites for train carriages. I can state with certainty that few companies may take pride in an experience such as ours, obtained in the field of welding of profiles in the 6000 family, for this reason we have an extraordinary and strong relationship with our clients, as partners more than suppliers. I would like to add that our simple, lean and extremely flexible organization allows us reaction times and speedy action which would be unthinkable in hyper-structured companies. The highest levels of certifications we obtained also qualify our supplies.

Rustici – Typical sectors and turnover What do you think about the railway market in Europe?
The European railway market, as we know, changed considerably during the past few years; in Italy, for instance, some large concerns in this industry were purchased by important world level competitors, first and foremost, AnsaldoBreda, now part of Hitachi, and previously Fiat Ferroviaria in Savigliano. Other “minor” companies practically vanished, only Firema, a company which in any case was closely linked to AnsaldoBreda, survives but is apparently about to be sold to Eastern companies. Clearly all of this provided a completely different outlook for the Italian railway industry. It is in any case not an extraordinary occurrence, even abroad association and mergers in the railway industry are ongoing: the merger of Siemens Transportation and Alstom is only the latest of many significant events. On the other hand this is what happened in all segments of the industry, globalization of course affected our segment too, whence our greater attention to foreign markets. I must however add that our railway construction sector was affected to a much lesser extent than other segments by the crisis which hit industry in Europe, and especially in Italy, during the past ten years. Our main clients, among them Siemens Transportation, obtained very relevant orders during this period. Just to mention one case, we worked on materials for the Thameslink project, the main order of the last four years n Europe.

Did the arrival of large Chinese companies cause you any difficulties?
The choice of the structural profile manufacturer does not depend on us but on our clients; having said that, we recorded with some surprise the entry of Chinese manufacturers on our market during the past few years. It seemed impossible that extruded bars 26 metres long weighing 700-800 kg could arrive in Europe coming from the far East, but we had to think again. Now it is a given fact that Chinese companies provide a complete offer which includes, at times, the supply of kits and finished components. As far as we are concerned, however, the issue of Eastern competition is actually not so much of a problem as an opportunity, because the huge distance between Chinese suppliers and European manufacturers makes the presence of a flexible alternative on site strategically necessary. The desire of all main constructors is increasingly that of purchasing externally in outsourcing the best part of aluminium components, but with defined timing and regular schedules, and it is clear that from this standpoint the availability of a company such as Rustici is a great opportunity.

To conclude, what are your development and investment projects?
Ambitions are the force which drives companies and entrepreneurs every day, without projects, without a vision and without investments companies would die. This having been determined, we recently strengthened our sales force to be able to tackle new markets, to diversify and not to depend just on the railway sector, with the strategy of broadening our field of interest and aiming at further increasing our turnover. Just in 2016 we carried out investments adding up to 750,00 euro and currently we are discussing with our partners to consider investments in new welding technologies, among which Friction Stir Welding stands out. Besides aluminium components, we are focusing n composite flooring, as I mentioned before; in these new projects we invested energy and resources which are important for us, we now offer a wider range of high-content products on which Rustici is building the development of the company in the coming years.