"We are a small company," said Sandro Zamboni, president of M.A.V., a locking device company based in Italy. "We have to be the Ferrari of this industry—not a lot of cars, but very specialized."
With competition from foreign companies offering cheap labor, Zamboni's 35-employee company and the more than 200 Italian subcontractors that exhibited at the SUBFOR show (May 14-15) here hope that their potential buyers will be attracted to quality over quantity. The annual event, sponsored by the Italian Institute for Foreign Trade (www.ice.it), promotes Italian suppliers of metal, plastic and rubber parts, drives, and electronic and electro-mechanical components mainly to medium- and large-sized German businesses in the fields of automotive manufacturing, machinery, electronics, transmissions, medical equipment, and household appliances.
These small, often family-operated subcontractors have updated their technology and relied on their knowledge of specific parts in order to remain competitive. M.A.V. started as Zamboni's family business targeting the mining and shipping industries; the company now designs products using AutoDesk, and outsources them for product testing.
Among those subcontractors that counted the SUBFOR show a success is F.LLI Borroni, a manufacturer of camshafts and crankshafts. Using AutoCAD and the latest design tools and laser machines, the subcontractor currently supplies products to several major European companies including Audi A.G., Gruppo FIAT s.p.a., and Volkswagen A.G. However, with inquiries from Tucson, AZ-based HELIMEDS' President David Kubista, who attended the show in search of just such a crankshaft supplier, the company now has the potential to expand into both the U.S. market and the aerospace industry.
The formula for successful subcontracting seems to be widespread among these Italian exhibitors. "Subcontractors integrate their knowledge," explained Enrico Appiano, R&D consultant for the Regional Center for Subcontracting of Friuli Venezia Guilia (www.subcontract.fvg.it). "Auto manufacturers, for example, don't buy parts, they buy systems. The problem is that this is more expensive. Jaguar bought the entire front part of a car for example; when suppliers of the front part went on strike, Jaguar had to deliver cars without front grills."
Appiano sees subcontracting as the solution for both supplier and end-user. "In economic difficulty, surviving subcontractors realize they need to diversify. Their enterprising spirit helps create new products," he notes.