From Alloy to Extrusion

Extrusion at HTA: qualified rods and bars, customised extrusions, great attention paid to the metallurgy of alloys. A conversation with Managing Director Simonetta Vecoli on the results obtained last year by the company and on the future outlook of the Pontedera plant

by Mario Conserva

HTA is one of the best-known companies manufacturing extruded aluminium profiles in Italy. Its presence on the market dates back to 1996; it is a member of the All.Co group, a concern of the Vecoli family. The plant takes up an overall area of 75,000 square metres in the Pontedera industrial estate (near Pisa) and is equipped with two presses, a 4800-ton press and a 1800-ton force press; it employs about 80 persons. We met the managing director Simonetta Vecoli with her son Gianmarco Guerrini, third generation in the company and in charge of plant management, alloy metallurgy and production. We discussed with them the situation of the company and its future outlook, at a time which is altogether positive for extrusion.
“HTA is the most recent plant in the All.Co group, it was created in 1973 by my father Luigi, and it is the one dedicated particularly to extrusion for industrial purposes, for mechanics, transportation, large profiles, alloys with a superior mechanical strength and with metallurgical and technological qualities defined by the users’ requests. We started from the raw material, by accurately selecting the chemical composition of our alloys, which we produce in our integrated group foundry and tailor to our demands, to produce reliable and guaranteed products. The demonstration of our success is the fact that we export over 60% of our production of extrusions to the most demanding Northern European markets”.

Which are the most characterising elements of your production?
“Ever since the beginning of HTA’s activity”, Simonetta Vecoli specifies, “our aim has been to move forwards, towards new materials, state-of-the-art machines and technologies, a production mix based on the high quality of billets made of selected alloys, which we developed following studies carried out in close cooperation with universities and metallurgical research centres, studies which are ongoing. Last year for instance we started off a new metallurgical project, which will not only allow us to further improve our internal controls, but also to develop more accurate research work on new extrusion alloys. Basically, we are ready for any type of demand and we are available to work along with the client to select the correct alloy based on the use it is meant for. Our production of aluminium alloys is aimed mostly for uses in the mechanical and automotive industries, or transportation in in general, the rest of the production is subdivided into other industries such as building and construction, furniture, electronics, electrical appliances”.

What was 2017 like for HTA and what forecasts do you feel you can make for the near future?
“Last year was marked for us by a rather sharp upswing both as regards the quantities produced and the type of product mix, which allowed HTA to reach overall returns of 2.3 million euro. We consolidated our strength on the most qualified market of medium-high mechanical strength alloy rods, at the same time we strengthened our presence above all in the markets of Northern Europe for larger profiles in mechanics and transportation. We are fortunately in a position which allows us to select our clients, with the aim of establishing long-lasting producer-user relationships in terms of actual partnerships. Looking ahead, for now this year has confirmed the satisfactory trend of the past year, the well-known issue of tariffs and sanctions brought a lot of restlessness and uncertainty on the market, then the situation gradually went back to near-normality, we should hope that this tariff turmoil, which is more political than commercial, will end as soon as possible. Regarding sanctions against Russian metal, it must be said that in Italy there isn’t a very large presence of Rusal billets, so we probably had less problems than other countries. In detail, last year with our two presses we reached a production of 22,000 tons of semis. 70% of the production of the 4800 press was made up by qualified rods, most in special alloys of the 6000 series, while the 1800 press was entirely dedicated to the extrusion of customised profiles. 60% of our production was exported, almost exclusively to Europe, the rest went to the domesti market. 2018 should be equal or slightly better than this year, we evisage reaching total shipments of 25 to 26 thousand tons by integrating productions coming from other All.Co units”.

Regarding the technical and technological aspects of the plant and of production, which action did you take and what are the new initiatives?
“We are constantly busy with optimizing alloys”, Gianmarco Guerrini explained,” our objective is representing excellence in highly qualified aluminium alloy bars and rods, by means of our capability of guaranteeing chemical compositions and metallurgical microstructures capable of ensuring that the semis and finished products will have mechanical and corrosion resistance properties adequate for automotive uses, for instance, and this means enhancing the product as much as possible. We should particularly mention the different compositions of 6060, 6082, 6061 and 6026 alloys but also special compositions of the 2000 and 7000 series. Only a large extruder with an integrated foundry and with excellent raw material suppliers can guarantee customised profiles in normalized, but optimized, alloys, such as the ones normally produced by HTA and by the group. Looking to the future, the aim is to continue the process which we began some time ago towards Industry 4.0, having already reached excellent results such as the elimination of inefficiencies in several internal processes, complete control of production, rationalisation of logistic streams, and the possibility of using valid information in real time with a continuous communication between the different departments. Regarding the usual work done on renewing plants, after revamping the presses in the All.Co plants in Padua and Pisa, we are now carrying on with an important action plan on the 1800 ton press in Pontedera, which along with the IATF (International Automotive Task Force) certification will allow us to strengthen our position in the automotive world”