Estral, Always Improving

A remelting plant, five extrusion lines, mechanical machining, surface treatments and automation. Estral has a complete integration on the production line and it is deeply rooted in the market of profiles for highly qualified applications. The next goal is called Estral 5.0 and it aims at digitization in order to improve the design and the quality of production, as the President, Michele Cibaldi, explains

by Mario Conserva

For over 45 years Estral S.p.A. has been a key player in the market of industrial aluminium extrusions. Founded in 1974, with a little 600-ton press for very light profiles and high dimensional precision, with a capacity of 2000 tons per year, today Estral is one of the most important Italian extruders, with five production lines and an annual estimated potential of 35 to 40 thousand tons of extrusions. The production site in Manerbio, near Brescia, has become a great industrial hub in the extrusion value chain, with cutting-edge structures and plants, producing any kind of profiles, from thinnest one up to 0.8 mm with very limited tollerances, to biggest profiles used in constructions and transportation. Extrusion is complemented by important upstream and downstream integrations; a strategic role is played by Deral, founded in 1985 and nowaday leader in the production of extrusion billets, with innovative patented remelting plants, which can produce forms of competitive quality.
We met Mr Michele Cibaldi in his headquarter. 46-years-old Estral’s President represents the second generation of his family, and he’s today at the helm of the company. Enzo, his father, was one of the co-founders of the company 45 years ago and he is an undisputed leading player in the history of the aluminium industry in Italy in the pastdecades, and to this very date a keen counsellor, observer and
analyst. Michele Cibaldi welcomed us in the meeting room which bears witness to the long history of the company by means of dozens of shapes of extruded profiles, among the most interesting ones produced by his presses in Manerbio during these years, and showed us the company’s new brochure with a clear and strong title: ESTRAL 5.0.

A very ambitious presentation…
Ambitious but long-sighted and full of possibilities: 4.0 is a valid and meaningful concept, but it cannot express our desire to go further. Industry 4.0 denotes the trend towards industrial automation which integrates a few new production technologies devoted to improve working conditions,
create new business models and increase productivity and
quality. It is a consolidated fact for us and for many other
companies; Industry 5.0 is one step further, where the key players will be cobots and Smart Software applications (bot). Cobots, unlike robots currently used in production cycles, are collaborative robots which can interact with human beings in shared work spaces. Differentiation and personalization of the product cannot do without the guide of the human mind. The purpose of Industry 5.0 is precisely to take advantage of the capabilities of machines (clearly superior with respect to ours) to maintain very high production volumes and, thanks to the cooperation with humans, increase and improve the quality of our products.
I would like to add that number 5 for us has another meaning and stands for a very relevant fact: the new press we recently installed is the fifth one. Our current machine park therefore includes: a 1,350 ton press; a 1,950 ton press; a 2,500 ton press; a 2,800 ton press; a 4,400 ton press. Over time we created a company abreast of the times to supply every type of extruded profile, in a wide range of alloys, for all types of mechanical machining, assembly and surface finishings.

Which significant facts come to your mind regarding what happened in your industrial field during the past few years?
First of all the market has changed enormously, with an increasingly fierce and determined competition. We had to review our mentality towards our clients, in order to be able to carry on being an important reference point for this industry. The setup has however remained the original one, every new project represents for us a challenge
and a new growth opportunity. It is a process of cooperation with our customers: we create, from their ideas, innovative forms and products. In the Seventies Estral was a normal producer of industrial and small and medium-sized extruded profiles produced for a niche market and completing the production mix with standard products, which is of course the easiest part of the work of a third party extruder. The introduction of larger presses, from the 4,400 ton press installed 11 years ago to the very recent 2,800 ton press, opened up successfully for us the market of larger extrusions, a choice which reduced our presence on the market of standard products with lower added value.
Thus, in the field of constructions and building products, as in the transportation segment, to mention just the two main final destinations of extrusions, we focused on architectural profiles for facades custom made, even large ones, and on high-performance structural extrusions. The great experience and the precious knowledge accrued in our historical foundry Deral, allow us to work with high quality billets tailored for our requirements, starting from the remelting of selected scraps and ingots.
Thanks to the continuous investments in new generation plants, Deral provides us with highly ecological billets which we use to produce certified extrusions.
We have therefore contributed to enhance remelted metal, necessary to contain energy costs and to safeguard the environment. Another innovation developed during the past few years is the integration of downstream machining of extrusions: aluminium is an exceptional and particularly versatile material, it lends itself to many machining processes and our customers seek a single supplier capable of bear the complete chain of machining for each component. We know the metal and its alloys very well, for this reason we can interpret the demands of end users with quality services, from surface treatments, to mechanical processing by chip removal, cutting to size, drilling, thread, milling, mechanical processing by bending, shearing, 5-axes CNC machining working centers, as well as specific action for profile reeling, thermal break, pre-assembly and packaging in kits, with customized boxes complete with accessories and screws. We also opened a machining department about ten years ago and we must say that it was a very appropriate choice because the request of finished components is constantly growing, and our previous experience is an extraordinary trump card on the international market. Today we are ready to satisfy even highly demanding requests for the supply of machined components, we created a new internal department integrated with the company and we are building a new hangar which will be destined exclusively to the production of automotive components.

Regarding aluminium and automotive, the industry is not going through the best of moments right now, it is however a market with great prospects for light alloys, even though it is demanding both from a technical and from a logistic and organization standpoint…
For us the choice of the automotive industry is a hot
topic, developed over a long time period and it is
now rapidly evolving. The car industry has important
values, but it also implies great efforts on account of
all the quality issues, which we considered very carefully.
We decided to move with determination along this pathway, by the end of the year we shall obtain the IATF certification which will allow us to supply automotive components directly, and with this outlook in mind we are building a new hangar which will be dedicated exclusively to this type of production. There can be no sidetracking in this type of choice, we want to end up supplying 100% controlled components, with a zero limit for defects, as today’s car industry requires. We need new spaces, new robotised tools where the operator will only monitor the process, while machines will take care of the complete cycle of machining and testing.

Again, regarding uses in transportation, a certain euphoria can be detected in trade operators for electric cars which should require an even greater use of aluminium alloys, even though the types of use will change.
Electric and hybrid cars are currently going through a growth phase which is modest in terms of numbers, but in the future they will be extremely important for the remarkable increase in the use of extrusions. On our side, we are finalizing a very important order in terms of volumes and commitment, I hope to be able to tell you more during our next meeting. Do not forget that electric cars
mean a greater use of light alloys, but not just in vehicles: aluminium will also be increasingly used in components which service the electric car, from recharging columns to solar panel awnings. It is sad, as we mentioned before introducing the theme of the automotive industry, that this great drive for a further development of the light metal should be conditioned and unfortunately fettered at the moment by the tariff battle, which is a serious element of disturbance.

Was your recent investment on the new 2,800 ton press though of even with the automotive industry in mind?
We had envisaged a certain renewal and reinforcement of the press park; our most recent plant, the 4,400 ton press,
dates back to 2008 and the choice we made was to purchase a next generation plant, the SMS 2,800 hybrid press, a machine with a new conception, half electric and half hydraulic, with faster movements of the container with respect to hydraulic presses, capable of ensuring remarkable qualitative and quantitative improvements, which began the production in March, 2019. There is no doubt that our choice also took into consideration the possibility of obtaining important orders in the automotive sector.

Let us talk about Estral in terms of persons, a 45-year growth process rich in satisfaction, difficulties, changes, what are the elements which should be highlighted?
The most significant aspect of our corporate dynamics was the generation change. We, the youngest, had to earn credibility in front of our parents, by working hard in the company and trying to do it well. Spending all of our days
from early in the morning to late in the evening committed to our jobs, we earned the trust and the position we
have today. Our board of directors is currently composed by five members: I am the President and Managing Director, the other two Managing Directors are Mr Giancarlo Alberti, “the father” of the new hybrid press and my fundamental daily support in the organization, strategic and investment choices, and my father Enzo, our undisputed mentor and provider of important teachings, experience and historical notions. The other two board members are my cousin, Mr Mauro Cibaldi, President of Deral and President of Centroal, and Mr Pietro Giulio Vincoli, my partner along with his father, Mr Armando Vincoli, who for the past 30 years have shared with us our daily joys and difficulties. 81% of Estral S.p.A.’s share capital is held by Casa
De Colli S.r.L., the Cibaldi’s Holding, the remaining shares are held by the Vincoli family’s Futurinvest S.r.L. Holding. 75% of Deral S.p.A. is controlled by Estral S.p.A. and 25% by Futurinvest S.r.L.; 70% of Alubrixia S.r.L., our warehouse that allows us to offer stockpiling with just-in-time services, is controlled by Estral S.p.A. and the rest is subdivided among Casa de Colli S.r.L. and Futurinvest S.r.L. I would also like to mention Estral’s 40% participation in Casal, a representation company specializing in sales abroad, managed by Mr Ivan Casaluci. The Estral S.p.A. group is today managed by a generation whose average age is less than 50, and it is clear that the generation change is a strong distinctive element of the current organization, not only from the management point of view, but also from the standpoint of the entire human component of the company. In fact, during the past few years, about 70 employees retired and had been replaced by young resources. At the same time many new young colleagues were inserted in the company, so that Estral, with over 80 new recruitments in a short while, went from 220 to 300 employees.
Including Deral and Alubrixia the group’s employees reach the current total of 350. I do not wish to sound rhetorical, but for us the human factor is central, and this was one of the first certainties which my father passed on to me. 350 persons, pride, responsibility, the desire to participate
and exchange views every day, to share information and grow together: this is our real strength. The strength of a company based in Brescia, which has grown in Italy, represents our territory and our future.

What can you tell us about your revenues and the economic results?
Revenues are important but they are strongly influenced by changes, which sometimes can be very significant, in the value of raw materials. For this reason I prefer to talk about volumes and about the good profitability of the company, and our clearest and simplest identifying datum is that we estimate Estral’s overall production capacity to be around 35,000 tons of extruded profiles per year.
Today the economic cycles in our sector are very fast, four to five years. During the years from 2011 to 2014 we went through a difficult cycle, then we went back to better volumes, revenues and profits from 2015 to now. In this moment people are talking about a new worldwide crisis, the first 9 months of 2019 were positive, while the 4th quarter of this year is starting to be affected by the negative trends at a global level, aggravated by the downturn of the automotive industry and in general by Germany’s performances. There is talk about a decrease in production of extrusions in Europe of more than 20%, as far as we are concerned right up to today we are working in full swing: thereis no doubt that we are faced with a change in trends which is in some cases very marked, but I do not perceive specific reasons to be worried. We should get accustomed more and more to changes of pace as cycles are part of our jobs, we should be faster in conquering market segments which are new to us and to support the correct production volumes with the highest possible margins.

And what about the product mix?
We already mentioned something regarding large extrusions, including structural parts, for transportation and constructions. Regarding the other innumerable final applications of extrusions, I would like to add that in general, when we decided to enter niche markets, we had to consider the volumes as less important, safeguarding margins. Very complex products that other companies were not able to produce, are now the feathers in our cap. Apart from price, the quality and the possibility of being one out of few suppliers able to provide sophisticated and complex products allow us to look at the future with a certain optimism. I would like to add that in our job attention to changes in fashions or habits is a determining factor.

In a few words, how could you depict the medium term future of an extrusion company like yours?
During the past few years we witnesses the reprise of corporate investments and the foundation of new competitive concerns: we too increased our production capacity with our brand new 2.800 ton hybrid press. For this reason we shall be increasingly committed to designing innovative solutions to maintain our position on the market. Our choice of producing complex dies will definitely help us, as doing so requires expert employees and contributors who can rise to the challenge, we are in a very good position: the quality and validity of our personnel are by all means the real added value of the Estral Group.