A conversation with the company’s Managing Director, Giovanni Fregnan: from the arrival of Quantum Capital Partners to the strong relaunch of the industrial activities focused on an international character, economic and environmental sustainability of production, health and safety in the factory and great attention to the human factor
by Mario Conserva
There is a lot of Italian aluminium history in the rolling mill in Cisterna di Latina, founded in 1964 following the intuition of a group of managers and technicians of what was then the Italian reference point for aluminium, Alumetal, which combined the metallurgical knowledge of Montecatini and Switzerland’s Alusuisse. During these years, light metal was beginning its unstoppable development process in Italy and Europe. The Slim (Società Lavorazioni Industriali Metalli – Industrial Metal Machining Company) plant in Cisterna di Latina, stemming from a joint venture with US company Reynolds and set up by Mr Fustinoni, included the valuable imprinting given by the experience and technology of the Alumetal factories in Veneto. The location of the new plant, in the Roman countryside and far from the Northern Italian industrial districts, was an unusual message signaling the central nature of this type of industry in the national context and became an important milestone for the developments of the new metal in our country, backed by the determination of its founders and the wide range of its productions, which included not only rolled products but extrusions too, with the latter going through an exceptional market phase on account of the development of the building industry. In 1986 the Cisterna plant underwent a first extensive revamping, when Reynolds decided to sell off the extrusion segment in Italy to focus on rolled products, acquiring 100% of Slim. Phases of great corporate changes followed, typical of the industrial aluminium world in those years and in 1998 the company was purchased by the German VAW group.
In 2002, following the acquisition on Hydro’s part of VAW, the Cisterna di Latina plant joined the Norwegian group, which was already present in Italy with two extrusion plants. The Norwegian control, characterized by great and constant attention to the technological quality of the plants, ended in 2016 with the sale of the Slim Aluminium factory in Cisterna to Quantum Capital Partners, based in Munich.
Today the plant is the heart of the SLIM Aluminium Group, which also includes the aluminium rolling mill in Fusina (near Venice), specializing in hard alloy rolled products and sold by Arconic in 2017, and the German plant in Merseburg (near Leipzig), specializing in the production of aluminium foil, which joined the group in April, 2018. We met Giovanni Fregnan, the Managing Director of the SLIM Aluminium Group and of the Cisterna di Latina plant; with its three production sites in Europe, over 800 employees, a production capacity of almost 180,000 tons in flat aluminium semis and revenues which have topped half a billion euro, the group is today in the lead in Italy and among the first in Europe in the field of light alloy rolled products. We discussed the rapid growth of this young group, the concept of enterprise on which the activity is based and the outlook for the future.
“The two recent acquisitions in Fusina and Merseburg”, Giovanni Fregnan explains, “are the result of a strategy which was programmed two years ago, when Quantum Capital Partners decided to purchase the Cisterna unit. In order to grasp better what happened, I would like to highlight that Quantum, founded in Munich only ten years ago, is a very dynamic concern with 5,000 employees and revenues of about 1,5 billion euros, developed along internal and external growth lines. The Group nowadays owns about twenty active business units working in different areas of the manufacturing industry; generally, companies coming from international groups, which by joining Quantum have found new life and new energy in a multi-sector group which provides great opportunities for local talents and communicates a great desire to develop and to create networks between enterprises. With these premises the picture is clear, we started off with an industrial plan defined in 2016 with the initial acquisition of Slim Aluminium and after two years we became Slim Aluminium Group, which is in practice the leading asset in the aluminium field for Quantum, with other production units in Germany and in France which deal with special high tech tubes, remelting and heat exchangers. Even the lines along which we are acting are very precise, as from 2016 a clear discontinuity with respect to the previous industrial policy. That policy made sense in the context of a multinational company such as Hydro, but not with respect to our objectives of building an important reference point in the industrial segment of aluminium rolling, with a very wide range of innovative and competitive solutions and on the cutting edge of sustainability. The group today has an interesting logical structure: starting from Cisterna, the unit produces a wide range of rolled products meant for the main final uses such as thin and semi-thin products for packaging, food and beverage, cosmetics and household uses, coils and sheet for the automotive, mechanical, building and constructions, furnishing and lighting industries, discs for pots and pans, heat exchangers, and much more, with semis in a wide choice of alloy with thickness varying from 6 microns to 6 millimetres”.
Is the fast expansion of the SLIM Aluminium Group, which occurs at the rate of one acquisition per year, therefore part of the Quantum strategic plan?
“We began to work on the Fusina acquisition in January, 2017; there are interesting contact points between this unit and the Cisterna plant. The origin has the same matrix, the Veneto region aluminium district, and, even though both developed with the industrial culture of multinationals, we share the passion for excellence in “made in Italy” processing of our beloved metal. Besides, the rolled product mix is totally complementary. The Fusina plant actually specializes in the production of hard alloys semis, provided as sheets and plates in large size and thickness up to 120 mm, with excellent mechanical properties and corrosion resistance, used in overland transportation systems, in yachting and shipbuilding, in engineering and in structural industrial applications.
With the recent acquisition of Merseburg plant we finally obtained an important element to complete our offer in the high technical and qualitative content segment represented by aluminium foil for pharmaceutical and food packaging, special products meant for our clients all over the world”.
In terms of product mix and market penetration, what elements make your production units stand out?
“Cisterna is our largest plant, with 450 employees and a production capacity of 90,000 tons per year. 50% of the products manufactured by this unit are sold in Italy, the rest is exported, mainly to Europe, but we also have good customers in other continents. Fusina has over 300 employees and a production capacity of 75,000 tons per year; as I mentioned, it is specialized in special products, mostly in 5000 and 6000 alloys, and it exports more than 80% of the output to various parts of the world. Merseburg is a small company with just over 60 employees and a production of about 10,000 tons per year of 1000 and 8000 series aluminum alloy foil, it is in any case a factory with an excellent reputation on Germany’s demanding market, it can machine and manufacture special products meant for premium users, with clients all over the world. Generally speaking we are already preparing our next relaunch phase, both as concerns products and processes. In Cisterna we already have state-of-the-art production technologies which allow us to obtain the best from our plants, while Fusina shows important growth potential in new application segments for aluminium alloy components such as the automotive industry, and we are working especially on projects regarding structural details for electric vehicles. I would like to mention that we are experienced in automotive supplies, in Cisterna we have produced for quite some time tanks for industrial vehicles in 5754 alloys, with rolled products capable of complying with the high mechanical strength, formability and surface quality requisites and above all to satisfy the strict acceptance norms set by vehicle manufacturers”.
Great confidence and enthusiasm may be detected not just from your words, but from the overall feeling present in the factory, among people in the offices and on the production lines; and yet it is not easy to remain competitive in a globalized market such as the aluminium world, with many products subject to strong competition based on low prices, often quite hostile; with what solutions and outlook do you tackle the future?
“This is an interesting question and I shall provide two different answers, a very simple technical one and a more articulate one linked to the concept of company we have in mind in the Quantum Group and of course in the SLIM Aluminium Group. From a technical standpoint, our plants are not all that new as regards their age, but they are updated to the state of the art and they can rely on over half a century of metallurgical and technological knowledge and on a team of technicians with few rivals in this industry. Our professionals know the market, the products, users’ demands, machines’ requisites, this is why we know how to create the right material for our clients. We are such as some rolling mills in Europe and in the world, but this is why, along with aluminium, we can deliver flexibility, service, technical assistance and partnership for new applications. From this point of view I therefore feel confident in stating that we shall be able to remain leading players on our market because we have all the technical and technological means requested by this business.
From a corporate standpoint, our principle is working as a team with a strategy for continuous improvement and an organic action plan based on shared choices, which we shall call briefly Slim 2.0. We rapidly developed a corporate climate to encourage creativity, original ideas, discussion, obtaining the growth of proposals for improvement, the ambition for excellence, a healthy sense of belonging and of passion for the job. The team’s common vision is that of being segment leaders in the use of resources, in reliability, in technical performances and as a consequence in the economic and financial solidity, a stimulating pathway built by all of our staff around a management team fully acquainted with the specific business, both nationally and internationally.
We believe in what we are doing, and this deep consciousness, along with the founding values of our production sites, especially focused on health and safety, drives us to pursue the great objective of becoming Europe’s number one group in this respect and to present ourselves as the excellence in aluminium. As you can see, we do not lack ambition, trust, passion and willingness to improve and grow, this is why we focus very much on the human factor to reach rapidly the objective which within our company we identify easily with the short formula Slim WCM World Class Manufacturing”.