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5 Italian Mechanical Engineering: Development Trends from Post-WWII till the Present

5 Italian Mechanical Engineering: Development Trends from Post-WWII till the Present

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196



M. Fortis and M. Carminati



3.5.1



The Development Trends of Italian Mechanical

Engineering



3.5.1.1



Post-world War II and Reconstruction



The Italian mechanical engineering industry, especially after WWII finally experienced its first major growth spurt. Once the reconstruction process was over, Italy

entered a phase of fast paced growth especially in the mechanical engineering and

metal products and vehicles sectors. Large infrastructure works were also undertaken for power grids, phone networks, highways, etc. The industrial economy

shifted from being based prevalently on textiles and traditional products to an

industrial set up increasingly characterized by mechanical engineering, capital

goods and products for mass consumption. In other words, in the two decades

following World War II, Italy shifted from, what has been defined by Rostow

(1960), the phase of “technological maturity” to the stage of “mass consumption”.10

The latter includes an adequate development of mechanical engineering products

and means of transport. This took place specifically during the years of the so-called

“economic miracle” (Fuà 1989b, p. 156 ff.).

Before World War II, Italian mechanical engineering industry’s output was

marginal, especially if compared to its period of sustained growth after 1950. The

Corbellini Commission, set up specifically in 1950 to develop a framework for the

sector, concluded that during the period from immediately before World War II to

1951, the mechanical engineering production index increased from 100 in 1938 to

130 in 1951 (De Rosa 1997). During that lapse of time, twice as many vehicles

were produced in Italy. They increased from 59,000 in 1938 to 118,287 in 1951.

The production of tractors increased from an annual average of 4056 during the

1941–1950 period to 8699 in 1951. Typewriters increased from an annual average

of 90,299 to 150,849 in 1951. Sewing machines went from 197,145 during the

period 1941–1950 to 345,310 in 1951. Calculators increased from 30,125 in the

decade from 1941–1950 to 67,543 in 1951. Olivetti was a key player in the latter

sector and was able to export 60 % of its production, a net increase with respect to

pre-war trends.

Post-World War II saw decisive growth in the transport sector and more

specifically in the automobile industry and the railway system. Large sectors, seen

as the “great victims” due to a lack of public contracts, were the construction sector,

naval shipyards and Aeronautics industries. The latter was stimulated by public

demand for rolling stock due to the impressive thrust of railway construction, one of

the sectors most damaged by the war (De Rosa 1997). The motor vehicle industry



Rostow (1960) identifies and summarizes five stages of development: “traditional society”;

“preconditions for industrial growth”; “growth”; “a shift toward technological maturity”; and

finally “mass consumption”. The last three stages coincide with what can be defined, in a general

sense, as modern economic development based on industrialization and the growth of the tertiary

sector.



10



3 Development Profiles of the Italian Industrial System …



197



also took off during these years. Besides the historical Guzzi and Gilera motorcycles, there were other motorcars for transporting goods, mopeds and even

bicycles with little motors. Companies active in wartime production like Piaggio,

which had supplied airplanes, and Innocenti, which had produced ammunition,

re-converted their production systems and began to mass produce motor scooters

(Vespas and Lambrettas, respectively). They soon became the true novelty of that

era.

Italian manufacturers took advantage of Germany’s temporary absence from the

domestic market when it came to machine tools and capital goods in general.

Thanks to a bubbling domestic market and expanding foreign trade, the machine

tools sector grew considerably during the postwar period, especially compared to

pre-war output. The production of machinery for the processing of leather, graphics,

food, chemicals and textiles in 1947 was already greater than in 1938. The domestic

market for machine tools, precision tools, and optical sights, experienced a net

contraction. These industries had witnessed impressive growth during the war

thanks to military contracts for artillery, flight and naval instruments. The decrease

in demand for weapons was partially compensated by increased export driven

growth due to the absence of German competition. Exports increased overall during

the post-war period. In 1947, they were 20 % of national production, more than

double of what had been produced in 1938. The textile sector continued to export

the most. However, the gap with the machinery-mechanical engineering sector was

beginning to close. Exports in mechanical engineering products increased both in

monetary (constant values) terms and in terms of quantity as compared to

pre-World War II production.

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, mechanical engineering output

overall was less than in 1938. Only 40 % of the plants’ potential were used while

the average return of the labor force had decreased by 25 % already in 1948. In the

second reconstruction phase, the mechanical engineering sector’s output was

greater than pre-war output and it would increase even further at the beginning of

the 50s. Nonetheless it is important to understand that different branches within this

sector grew at varied rates and that export led demand remained fundamental.

Naval shipyards continued to contract. Their prices were uncompetitive compared to foreign shipyards (at the beginning of 1948 a ship built in Italy cost around

33 % more than a steamship with the same characteristics built in the United

Kingdom); thus, they were practically nonexistent on foreign markets. Not even

state subsidies, introduced with the Saragat Law in favor of ship owners and ships

commissioned in Italy, were enough to pull the sector out of its crisis. In 1949 as the

state plan for reconstructing the railway infrastructure came to an end, the production of railway rolling stock, especially luggage and postal cars, wagons and

self-propelled railway coaches, decreased. Exports in this sector were penalized due

to a saturated market and uncompetitive prices which were up to 20 % higher than

their European competitors.

The automobile industry was decidedly in better shape. There was continuously

increasing demand, both domestic and foreign, for mostly cars, and FIAT played

the lead role. The motorcycle industry also saw positive growth and impressive



198



M. Fortis and M. Carminati



increases in the production of motor scooters which were readily available and

affordable to consumers with a modest income. As for industrial vehicles, including

tractors, after a temporary standstill in 1947–48, production increased once again in

1949.

The machine tool sector, instead, began to see a downward trend, under the

weight of the Marshall plan and a decrease in foreign demand. German producers

reappeared on the scene, making it increasingly difficult to export textile machinery

(a sector in which English competition was also intense, after the devaluation of the

pound sterling), printing machinery, optical and precision equipment.

Demand for office equipment continued to grow, as did the electrotechnical

industry favored by the construction of large electricity plants. Demand for

household appliances did grow, but the really impressive growth would take off

only at the beginning of the 70s (Doria 1987).11



3.5.1.2



The 50s



The mechanical engineering sector continued to grow during the 50s to the point

that in the first semester of 1956 its production index had doubled with respect to

1948, from 105 to 225 (De Rosa 1997). Famous pre-war industries closed like

Caproni, Isotta Fraschini, the old Breda, and new protagonists appeared next to the

remaining ones. From 1950 to 1959 the number of vehicles produced in Italy

almost quintupled, from 99,857 in 1950 to 470,661 in 1959 to more than 1 million

in 1963. The automobile sector, on the one hand, reaped the effects of improved

standards of living, which permitted increasingly more Italians to buy cars.

Furthermore, new technological innovations (i.e. machine tools) and increased

automation (with the introduction of assembly lines) further contributed to a net

increase in production. Tractors increased from 4491 units in 1950 to 28,264 units

in 1959. The concept was now firmly in place that progress in agriculture would be

possible only through automated processes. Typewriters also increased: 120,168

units were produced in 1950 and by 1959 production had more than tripled to

418,336 units. Calculators saw a fivefold increase during the same decade,

increasing from 47,375 in 1950 to 261,972 in 1959. The introduction of electronics

in offices made mechanical typewriters and adding machines obsolete. They were

substituted by electrical ones capable of more sophisticated operations than simple

additions and multiplications. Sewing machines, mainly for household use,

increased from 306,101 units in 1950 to 478,819 units in 1959. They were in ample

foreign demand especially in the United States.

The most articulated sector was the machine tools sector (torques, drilling

machinery, molding machinery, planing machines, and sharpening tools). Up to

1955, the sector had been characterized by modest growth, but from 1956 it began



11



For an evaluation of the post-war mechanical machinery industry see Doria (1987), which has

been widely used in this section.



3 Development Profiles of the Italian Industrial System …



199



to thrive. Especially after 1961, Italy was considered one of the major European

producers (De Rosa 1997).

Naval shipyards in 1951 were still not doing well (the ships launched barely

represented one third of the production capacity). With the help of new investments

for improving productivity and costs, after a few years, the naval shipyards were

transformed to adapt to the new needs in maritime transport in size and specific

requirements. In terms of tons, the ships launched increased from 123,514 tons in

1951 to 429,774 tons in 1960.



3.5.1.3



The 60s



In the following decade, the number of cars and vehicles produced went from

595,907 in 1960 to 1,477,000 in 1969; during these years FIAT and OM ranked fifth

worldwide after General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and Volkswagen. A large gap

placed them before Opel, Renault, Citroën-Panhard and Toyota (De Rosa 1997). The

number of agricultural machines went from nearly 38,534 in 1960 to 72,742 in 1969.

Sewing machines increased from 493,479 units in 1960 to 861,965 in 1969.

Typewriters decreased slightly from 506,303 in 1960 to 419,044 in 1969.

Calculators increased from 417,601 units in 1960 to 712,098 units in 1969. Olivetti

was still the industry leader and from 1950 to 1966 considerably increased its market

share. In 1950 it produced 78 % of typewriters and 52 % of calculators. By 1966, it

had increased it share to 82 % for typewriters and 76 % for calculators (De Rosa

1997). In 1966 the production of typewriters and calculators slowed down and over

the following years demand became unstable. Demand for machine tools, however,

continued to increase. In 1967 Italy was fourth in Europe for volumes produced,

after Germany, the United Kingdom and France, and eighth worldwide after the

United States, the Soviet Union, Japan and Czechoslovakia (De Rosa 1997).



3.5.1.4



The 70s and 80s



From 1970 to 1985, the number of vehicles produced in Italy decrease from 1720

million to 1384 million, after having peaked in 1973 with its record production of

1825 million units. Tractors increased from 80,488 to 95,803; in 1980 they reached

their record level of 127,023 units. The production of sewing machines halved in

size. More than 1 million units were produced in 1970, it’s record year; after that,

production inexorably declined, falling to 425,314 units in 1985. As regards office

machinery, production literally crashed. Typewriters and calculators practically

disappeared with the introduction of personal computers. The latest available Istat

data show that in 1981 only 3754 units were produced, while in 1970, its record

year, 972,469 units had been produced. Typewriters fared better and decreased

from 521,159 units in 1970 to 482,283 units in 1985.

Machine tools in the 70s underwent major technological transformations.

Demand increased for large machinery greater than 100 tons, such as large engines,



200



M. Fortis and M. Carminati



vertical torques, rotating slicing machines, boring machines, for pressing etc. Since

only companies of a certain size could produce them, it created difficulties for the

rest of the sector, composed of mainly small enterprises. UCIMU (the Italian

machine tool, robots, automation systems and ancillary products manufacturers’

association) declared that the sector had reached its maximum capacity and that it

was increasingly specializing in sophisticated products. In fact, already in 1975 the

machine tools industry ranked fifth worldwide in production and exports (De Rosa

1997).



3.5.1.5



The 90s



Italy, in the 90s, was among the major world exporters of industrial machinery and

mechanical equipment. In large part this was due to its specialized production in the

personal and household goods and food sectors. Machinery for extruding, weaving,

knitting, dyeing, printing, and laundry; and machinery for processing metals, wood,

leather, ceramics, plastics, rubber; as well as machinery for the food industry:

industrial refrigerators: ovens for pasta, bread, cookies, confectionery, pizza;

kneading machines and dough rollers; coffee machines; and meat slicers, were

exported all over the world. By the end of the XX century, Italy, together with

Japan, ranked second after Germany in the world exports of many of these products

(Crepax 2002). The main branches of automated machinery (not including luxury

and sports cars and cruise ships), based on Istat 2001 census, included more than

141,000 companies and employed more than 1,330,000 workers. This represented

27.3 % of domestic employment in manufacturing (Fortis 2005).

In the 90s and in the first decade of the new millennium, some new and

important medium and medium-large size companies appeared in the automated

machinery sector and flourished in terms of increased turnover, employment, and

export led growth. Italian products gained market niches in particular for packaging

machinery, brakes for cars and motorcycles, luxury yachts, machine tools for

processing metals and wood, equipment for industrial refrigeration, and large

boilers and pumps. Many of the products within these specific branches surpassed

German exports in terms of value.



3.5.2



The Strategic Role of Mechanical Engineering

in the New Millennium



Historically, Italian manufacturing has always been rooted in the sectors of personal

goods (textiles-wearing apparel, footwear, cosmetics, jewelry, eyewear, leather

goods) and household goods (furniture, lighting, construction material like ceramic

tiles, glass, cement, concrete, etc.). Yet, over the past decade, there has been a

profound transformation of Italian “Made in Italy” exports. Exports have been



3 Development Profiles of the Italian Industrial System …



201



80

70

60



billion



50

40

30

20

10

0



Machinery



Fashion



Fig. 3.4 Italian exports of fashion and machinery: 1991–2014. Source Compiled by Fondazione

Edison using data from Istat (2015a)



increasingly characterized by mechanical engineering products, and means of

transport other than cars. The impact of fashion, furniture, and food—that is, those

traditional products typically associated with Italy—has been significantly less.

However, the products remain fundamental. Today, mechanical engineering products, even if measured in a more restricted capacity—including only machinery and

mechanical equipment and excluding metal products—export almost twice as much

as the entire fashion sector (i.e. footwear, wearing apparel, cosmetics, eyewear,

jewelry, tanning, and leather goods) (Fig. 3.4).

The share of the mechanical engineering and metal products sector within Italian

manufacturing is summarized in Table 3.6.

Overall, the mechanical engineering and metal products sector, including base

metals and metal products, electrical appliances, industrial machinery, robotics and

means of transport other than cars, is comprised of 106,000 local units which

employ more than 1,420,000 workers. The entire sector in 2014 exported the

equivalent of €164 billion, and the balance of trade was €79 billion. Among the

various branches that make up the sector, the largest share of the entire industrial

chain is that of base metals and industrial machinery. What is more surprising is the

sector’s share of total manufacturing. It represents in fact one fourth of the local

manufacturing units (26 %), almost two fifths of the workers in Italian manufacturing (38 %) and of manufacturing exports (43 %), and four fifths of the trade

balance (80 %).



202



M. Fortis and M. Carminati



Table 3.6 Figures and shares of the metalworking and mechanical engineering industry in the

Italian manufacturing system

Local units

of enterprises

2013



Persons

employed in

local units of

enterprises

2013



Exports

2014

(billion €)



Total metalworking and

106,304

1,420,511

164.4

mechanical engineering

industry of which

-Base metals and metal

69,289

632,314

44.6

products

-Electrical equipment

8740

159,444

20.8

-Other equipment,

23,617

451,254

74.1

industrial machinery,

robotics

-Transport equipment

4,658

177,498

24.8

other than finished cars

Total manufacturing

407,344

3,733,118

382.8

Share of the metalworking

26

38

43

and mechanical engineering

industry of the total

manufacturing system (%)

Source Compiled by Fondazione Edison using data from Istat (2015a, b)



Trade

surplus

2014

(billion €)

79.2



8.6

7.2

50.2



13.2

98.9

80



Fig. 3.5 G-20 countries ranked by competitiveness in foreign trade of electronic components:

Trade Performance Index—2014. Source Compiled by Fondazione Edison using data from ITC

(2015)



3 Development Profiles of the Italian Industrial System …



203



Fig. 3.6 G-20 countries ranked by competitiveness in foreign trade of non-electronic machinery:

Trade Performance Index—2014. Source Compiled by Fondazione Edison using data from ITC

(2015)



As mentioned in Chap. 1, according to the Trade Performance Index (TPI)12 of

the International Trade Center (ITC 2015), Italy ranks second worldwide, after

Germany, for competitiveness in foreign trade in electric components (Fig. 3.5) and

non-electric machinery (Fig. 3.6).

Therefore, notwithstanding critics who consider Italian manufacturing only in

terms of its more traditional sectors with a low technological content, mechanical

engineering represents a significant branch of the Italian production system. In

2014, exports of “machines and equipment” represented 19 % of all Italian exports.

This shows an increased share of the so-called “medium-tech” products, which in

fact are “high-tech”, but are not considered such in the most commonly used

classifications. International comparisons show that Italy continues to be, erroneously, considered a “medium-tech” country. It is considered to have an “unfavorable” production specialization that is too unbalanced in favor of traditional, not

particularly competitive, sectors. This is in part because its “tailor made” automated

packaging machines are classified as “medium tech”, while standard mobile

phones, which cost a couple of dozen euro, are considered “high-tech”.

One of the main motors of Italian foreign trade comes under the heading “machinery and mechanical appliances”. Between 2002 and 2014 total exports of

machines and mechanical equipment (based on the international standard

12



It is recalled that TPI is being examined for a long time by Fondazione Edison. In this regard see:

Fortis (2008, 2016); Carminati and Fortis (2013).



204



M. Fortis and M. Carminati

90

80

70



billion



60

50

40

30

20

10

0

2002



2003



2004



2005



2006



Exports, extra-EU



2007



2008



2009



Exports, intra-EU



2010



2011



2012



2013



2014



Total exports



Fig. 3.7 Italian exports of machinery and mechanical appliances: 2002–2014. Source Compiled

by Fondazione Edison using data from Eurostat (2015)



classifications of trade—reduced to four categories—comprising all equipment and

machinery with the exception of household appliances) increased from €50.4 to

€81.4 billion. Exports of machines and equipment towards EU countries in that

same period grew from €26.9 to €35.1 billion, contracting a bit over the last years

due to a slowdown of the internal European market. Extra-EU exports, however,

practically doubled from €23.4 to €46.3 billion. These figures show how unfounded

the stereotypical view is that Italian firms are not capable of penetrating more

distant markets (Fig. 3.7). In 2014, the Italian foreign trade balance of machines

and equipment was €55 billion, third-best worldwide. Italy ranked second in

Europe, with €182.8 billion, after Germany for total exports of machinery and

equipment. Italian exports (measured in terms of value) in 2014 were more or less

equal to 45 % of German exports, and were €30 billion more than the UK and

France. Northern Italy, if it could be ranked by itself among EU countries, would be

the second strongest exporter of machinery and equipment after Germany, doing

better than the UK and Spain put together (Table 3.7).

Machines and equipment is the only category of the four considered in which

Italy does not rank second for EU exports. Under the subheading generators and

engines, Italy ranks fourth after Germany, UK and France. In the other three categories, Italy is always second in exports with a large margin distancing it from the

other countries. In machinery and equipment for the processing of metals, Italy in

2014 exported €5.7 billion, which is equivalent to almost half of what Germany

exported, yet more than France, UK, Holland, Spain and Sweden combined.

Northern Italy, if considered alone, would be the second EU exporter of machinery



Billion





42.39

25.41

18.18

12.37

8.81

7.49

6.87

6.67

6.28

5.06

4.75

4.75

3.76

2.93

2.50

2.21

1.89

1.85

1.26

1.19

0.75



Power-generating

machinery and

equipment



Germany

United Kingdom

France

Italy

North Italy

Hungary

Spain

Austria

Poland

Sweden

Netherlands

Denmark

Czech Republic

Belgium

Central Italy

Finland

Lombardy

Emilia-Romagna

Slovakia

Romania

Portugal



Germany

Italy

North Italy

Lombardy

Austria

Belgium

France

Spain

Netherlands

United Kingdom

Czech Republic

Veneto

Sweden

Emilia-Romagna

Poland

Slovakia

Finland

Slovenia

Romania

Denmark

Hungary



Metalworking

machinery



12.81

5.68

5.41

2.23

1.57

1.35

1.26

1.17

1.15

1.14

1.02

0.91

0.84

0.62

0.50

0.32

0.27

0.22

0.16

0.15

0.12



Billion





Germany

Italy

North Italy

Netherlands

France

United Kingdom

Austria

Belgium

Lombardy

Emilia-Romagna

Veneto

Sweden

Finland

Spain

Czech Republic

Poland

Denmark

Hungary

Slovakia

Lithuania

Ireland



Machinery

specialized for

particular

industries



Table 3.7 Exports of machinery and mechanical equipment: 2014



45.58

22.14

18.72

14.65

9.59

9.16

7.38

6.95

6.09

5.02

4.29

4.26

3.27

3.20

3.20

2.96

2.81

1.15

1.13

0.72

0.67



Billion





Germany

Italy

North Italy

France

United Kingdom

Lombardy

Belgium

Netherlands

Emilia-Romagna

Czech Republic

Spain

Austria

Sweden

Poland

Veneto

Denmark

Hungary

Slovakia

Romania

Finland

Portugal



General industrial

machinery and

equipment

82.02

41.21

36.15

20.24

14.56

13.83

10.88

10.78

9.31

8.77

8.36

8.27

7.99

5.77

5.68

5.60

3.93

3.40

3.10

3.07

1.91



Billion





Billion





Germany

182.80

Italy

81.40

North Italy

69.08

United Kingdom

50.27

France

49.27

Netherlands

31.34

Lombardy

24.05

Austria

23.89

Belgium

22.11

Spain

19.60

Sweden

18.16

Emilia-Romagna 16.80

Czech Republic

16.74

Poland

15.51

Denmark

13.31

Hungary

12.69

Veneto

11.88

Finland

8.81

Slovakia

6.11

Romania

5.10

Portugal

3.32

(continued)



Total machinery

and mechanical

equipment



3 Development Profiles of the Italian Industrial System …

205



Billion





Metalworking

machinery



Billion





Machinery

specialized for

particular

industries



Slovenia

0.68

Portugal

0.08

Slovenia

Ireland

0.39

Lithuania

0.07

Romania

Bulgaria

0.29

Bulgaria

0.06

Portugal

Croatia

0.25

Croatia

0.06

Bulgaria

Estonia

0.17

Latvia

0.04

Luxembourg

Greece

0.16

Luxembourg

0.04

Estonia

Lithuania

0.16

Greece

0.03

Croatia

Latvia

0.08

Estonia

0.03

Latvia

Luxembourg

0.05

Ireland

0.03

Greece

Malta

0.01

Malta

0.00

Malta

Cyprus

0.00

Cyprus

0.00

Cyprus

Italy and Italian (macro-) regions exports are indicated in bold font

Source Compiled by Fondazione Edison using data from Eurostat (2015)



Power-generating

machinery and

equipment



Table 3.7 (continued)



0.67

0.64

0.58

0.48

0.37

0.33

0.31

0.18

0.17

0.03

0.02



Billion





Ireland

Slovenia

Lithuania

Bulgaria

Luxembourg

Croatia

Greece

Estonia

Latvia

Malta

Cyprus



General industrial

machinery and

equipment

1.53

1.43

0.86

0.70

0.62

0.38

0.38

0.36

0.26

0.04

0.02



Billion





Slovenia

Ireland

Lithuania

Bulgaria

Luxembourg

Croatia

Estonia

Greece

Latvia

Malta

Cyprus



Total machinery

and mechanical

equipment

3.00

2.61

1.81

1.53

1.08

1.00

0.89

0.74

0.56

0.08

0.04



Billion





206

M. Fortis and M. Carminati



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