Sira Industrie, 60 Years of History with Aluminium and a Leader in Automotive Castings

Advanced technology and creativity for light alloy castings since 1958. Today the core businesses for Sira Industrie are the automotive industry and tailor made die casting solutions for the transportation, mechanical, building and medical industries. We met Valerio Gruppioni, the Group’s President

by Mario Conserva

Sira Industrie, a company based in the Emilia region with headquarters in Rastignano, just outside Bologna, is an exemplary case of a dynamic and far-sighted company which was capable of relaunching its business idea, developing effective competitive strategies and focusing using creativity and flexibility on a new successful model. The company, a long-standing leader in the heating radiator segment, tackled as from the early Sixties and consolidated to this very date in the Group’s product portfolio, is today present on the global market as a leading supplier of full-cycle aluminium die castings meant for the automotive and advanced mechanical industries.
The Group was officially founded in 1958 following the intuition of Gaetano Gruppioni, who decided to exploit the experience accrued in foundries to produce aluminium, bronze and brass alloys, anticipating with determination the great development of this important industrial segment. The company’s first significant turning point for the company occurred a few years later, with a revolutionary global patent for an aluminium radiator, a process which started off on all markets a fast replacement process of the traditional cast iron radiators which at the time were used for building plants. Fine-tuned and registered in 1961 and launched on the market with the advantages of “Made by Italy” product development and dedicated production systems, the innovative production technology patented by Sira laid down the bases for a world-class know-how, which to this date contributes in providing evidence of the Group’s value. Having consolidated the market of heating terminals, with a development aimed particularly at emerging countries, the company then decided to exploit and develop the technical and human know-how accrued in years of activity, focusing on innovation and on the reorientation of its typical product, the die casting, towards more promising and sophisticated segments, especially the automotive market.
We visited the Sira Industrie headquarters in Rastignano where we met the President and CEO Valerio Gruppioni, the second generation at the helm of the company after the demise of his father Gaetano, whose professional development occurred within the Group. With him and with his sister Katia, Vice President, we talked about this extraordinary corporate evolution and about the company’s strategies to consolidate its leadership in different production segments.

Let us begin with this production shift towards the automotive industry, which describes the company’s spirit and character very well.
Indeed, this was a fundamental turning point for Sira Industrie. The process was started off in 2012 with the acquisition of the Almec foundry, a key step which made easier our pathway in die casting for applications in the transportation segment, with a demanding and successful growth rate and a continuous qualitative and quantitative progress. A few corporate data explain this shift better than many words: in 2009 our turnover was 29 million euro, with a product mix including 90% of heating segment products and automotive products for the remaining part; in 2018, with a reversed ratio and 80% of products for the automotive segment, our revenues reached 113 million euro. Basically, despite our position as a leader in the heating segment, we did not rest on our laurels; we questioned ourselves to create the best opportunities of enhancing the competitive advantage deriving from years of activity in the specific segment of light alloy die castings, and we succeeded. Today we supply many European car manufacturers and as from 2014 we set up a fruitful partnership with one of the most important German groups manufacturing castings for structural purposes, Bohai-Trimet Automotive. We are satisfied with the path followed and the changes brought about on the reference markets, endeavouring to understand the changes of the global context. In a matter of a few years, new markets sprang out of nowhere and besides we have to take into account new scenarios in fundamental domains such as the forms of energy production, the streams of raw materials, environmental safeguard, recycling and circular economy, in a social and cultural globalization context which is still very uncertain. It is clear that the future of the group is also linked to the evolution of the markets and demands of our consumers, we decided to be active and proactive players of these changes and to contribute to create value, with the strength of our ideas and of the innovation which we succeed in instilling in what we do.

How is your activity structured today?
Today in our plants we process about 40 thousand tons of aluminium to produce die castings, 80% as we said are meant for the automotive industry, the rest for the heating segment. The Sirpress plant in Nusco, in the Irpinia region (near Avellino) on its own has a production of automotive castings of about 20 thousand tons. In China we operate with two plants, one of which, Sira Aluminum Products in Jinghai, completely converted to automotive production last year, manufactures more than 5 thousand tons of light alloys, while the Emilpress in Serravalle near Ferrara produces about 5 thousand tons of automotive castings, the rest are heating radiators. The latter segment represented our initial core business, where we are still one of the world leaders today, with our BIMETAL product lines in steel/aluminium, in die cast aluminium, in extruded aluminium, electric radiators, design radiators made out of steel. In this segment we created a consolidated structure with offices, production plants and connected companies all over the world, a result we obtained working ahead of the times and trends, and this allows us to proceed swiftly towards a globalization of our production, with an evident competitive advantage with respect to competitors. A case in point is Algeria, where Sira Industrie is one of the few foreign companies which produce locally: our production plant, a joint venture, operates as from 2018 in synergy with the Group’s European productions. Our production plants are found in Italy, China and Algeria and this makes Sira Industrie one of the leading world players in the industry in full expansion in the most important emerging markets and with the highest growth rates.

Regarding the segment of upper-bracket die castings even for structural purposes, what are your development targets in the automotive sector, on what markets and with what types of products?
In this respect you made a demanding choice, with production cells reaching the highest standards of refinement and automation, machines which are on average more powerful, use of innovative alloys, on a global market where competitiveness is very high.
The use of aluminium components in means of transportation showed a marked increase during the past few years, figures are clear, the average aluminium alloy content per vehicle in Europe reached around 50 kg in 1990 and it should exceed 200 kg in 2025. This trend has very solid bases, because it is instrumental to the lightweighting requirements of vehicles and it is also convenient economically, energetically and from an environmental sustainability standpoint. The trend also implies the opening of new, technically innovative opportunities, since up to a few years ago there was little more than normal aluminium castings for engine blocks, pistons, various types of carters, wheels, while now there is a demand for structural castings, even with thin walls, maybe in much more sophisticated alloys with respect to the typical foundry alloys, and besides the development of the light metal no longer concerns only castings, but it also has to do with rolled and forged products and extruded profiles. As a consequence, considering the extraordinary wealth of human and technological knowledge which we accrued at Sira Industrie in over 50 years in the die casting segment, we chose to aim at a new definition of the company’s industrial operations, with the growth and diversification of machines, products and the approach to new market segments, particularly the automotive industry.

Once more with reference to the automotive industry, there is a wide debate regarding what effects the type of vehicle power will have on the use of different materials. There is no doubt that the envisaged growth of electric cars will bring about a change in the type of demand, aluminium will certainly become stronger, bit the types of products requested will change. How will this trend affect your productions?
We have been managing these changes for some time now, getting ready with more powerful machines, we have 42 presses, recently a 2500 and a 3500 press were delivered to our plants, and two more machines of this kind will be delivered in 2020; it is clear that we see a future teeming with good prospects. I consider the choice of aluminium in the transportation industry to be irreversible in the medium term, since it can reasonably be defined a winning choice, I believe the car market will keep on growing, with a closer focus on high-performance products and expecting from aluminium components, the best part of which will be die castings, increasingly advanced properties.

Let us talk about globalization and synergies: these topics are not new to you, we might recall the 2016 agreement between Sira and Immergas finalized at distributing new solutions for household climate in China, oriented towards sustainability and energy saving.
Our group was always far-sighted, with careful strategies; regarding the Chinese market, we moved to begin with by increasing our production site and with due research and development actions on technologies and products, thereafter creating partnerships with Italian market leading companies such as Immergas. Undoubtedly the 2016 operation was a highly relevant step which brought us to be one of the leaders on the Chinese market, to start with, in the production and sale of integrated household heating systems, and today we are looking at an automotive market with a prospect of over 20 million vehicles. In the context of our group’s factories, the two Chinese sites in Tianjin, with our first plant, opened in Jixian in 2003, followed by the second in the Jinghai industrial estate, represent two strategic production hubs, whose history and reputation are an invaluable asset for the Sira Group. I proudly remember that our company was included in the list of Italian Green Tech companies because we were able to satisfy the requirements envisaged by the Chinese Government’s Energy saving and pollution reduction plan with reference to waste water and solid waste treatment as well as emission reduction. With a capillary branch including over 250 Sira Points in the Chinese provinces, it is clear that we made Sira products available in vast areas of that great country; product quality and the effective sales action ensured the success of previous operations and make us feel very confident about the future.
Regarding the automotive industry, besides he European, US and Far East markets, we are considering for our development the North African market too, with a base in Algeria, exploiting our enormous corporate competence in segments where few global players can boast of a know-how comparable to that of Sira Industrie. I would like to underline that this is a significant choice along a path which is very familiar for us, the one leading to innovation; our vision of the market was always that of anticipating the sector’s development with new ideas, new technologies and products and a continuous improvement of quality.
What role may the national system have in enhancing on the worldwide market such globalization operations as the ones you carried out?
A great contribution to the success of our initiatives was undoubtedly provided by the collective technological culture regarding aluminium, especially regarding the light alloy foundry segment, built in our country during the past years. We are certainly not the only ones who took advantage of this wealth of knowledge which is often forgotten. Within the value chain, in our case and in similar ones, interesting partnerships, competence integrations and synergies have taken place among leading companies in the segment of plants and equipment which are complementary to the press, enhancing the segment’s Made in Italy quality. This mechanism works and creates significant added value, few other competing countries may boast of such a heritage which will be increasingly useful in the future. I consider the choice of Bologna as the venue for the next Metef show in March, 2021 very positive; the even normally hosts a sizeable portion of the foundry, aluminium, automotive and manufacturing industries, and the companies of the value chain will have many opportunities to meet and create synergies.

To conclude, Sira Industrie has many irons in the fire and envisages the use of lots of aluminium. With what spirit will you face the industrial challenges of the years to come?
We always pursued our aims seriously and knowingly, integrating internal resources with the best partners in the different segments, industrial design & engineering, metallurgy, integrated robotics, environmental engineering, home automation, in a quest for technological excellence, with stakes which are continuously raised. I think with this spirit the future should be very interesting.