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4 The Emilia Automatic Packaging Machinery District: History and Keys to Success

4 The Emilia Automatic Packaging Machinery District: History and Keys to Success

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4 The Automatic Packaging Machinery Sector in Italy and Germany


State Monopoly which had acquired the license for their manufacture.

Subsequently SASIB began to produce its own cigarette packing machines based

on the earlier models, a move which was to prove decisive: unlike the AMF

machines, which were covered by patent and could only be sold to the Italian

Monopoly, the new machines could be sold anywhere, enabling SASIB to begin to

build its own market. In 1942 the manufacture of packaging machines was still in

its infancy and development was very gradual, but the first steps had been taken.

The sector offered more interesting and lasting prospects than road and railway

signaling, thanks especially to new agreements with the American AMF with which

SASIB acquired the rights to manufacture all AMF machines and gained access to

its sales network. SASIB thus became AMF’s European production hub for the

tobacco industry. At the same time, besides those produced for AMF, SASIB began

to export its own machines which it continued to develop, consolidating its presence in the industry. Although it continued to operate in the signaling sector, this

was largely limited to government contracts and by the early 1950s had been far

outstripped by sales of automatic machines. In 1957 SASIB was acquired by the U.

S. company and Scipione Innocenti left the company he had founded the following

year (Alaimo and Capecchi 1992).

GD, founded in 1923 by Ghirardi and Dall’Oglio, began as a small-scale

manufacturer of motorcycles, bicycles and spare parts, later making parts for truck

engines, especially in the run up to the war when it was declared ‘auxiliary’ to

re-armament. During the war it made parts for machine guns, engines for the

airforce and army and the Ursus tank. In the late 1930s GD was bought out by Enzo

Seragnoli and at the end of the war, following a suggestion by his cousin Ariosto

(who had previously worked in the electrical engineering department at ACMA), he

completely transformed the company to produce packaging machines for sweets,

cigarette and medicines.

GD right away began to pursue an aggressive strategy. It quickly succeeded in

dominating the sweets and confectionary sector which up till then had been the

preserve of ACMA. In the Sixties GD expanded into tobacco, competing head on

with SASIB, making machines to pack and cellophane-wrap cigarettes (Biblioteca

Salaborsa 2012, www.bibliotecasalaborsa.it). Success in this sector was sealed with

the appearance of the revolutionary 4350/Pack automatic packaging machine which

became the outright leader and led the way for further machines in the coming years

which handled the complete tobacco cycle from individual cigarette manufacture to

complete packs (Coesia 2012a, www.coesia.com).


The District’s Evolution

Up until the Second World War ACMA, SASIB and GD were just three of the

many manufacturers rooted in the tradition of small-scale mechanical engineering

in the Bologna area dating back to the second half of the 19th century (Alaimo and

Capecchi 1992).


M. Fortis and M. Carminati

At the end of the war numerous engineers and other specialists (designers,

electricians, testers, fitters, etc.) left ACMA to found their own companies. Others

took their skills and know-how to existing companies. Still others left ACMA to

join other firms and then went on to set up on their own. Notable among these are:

• GIOVANNI PRECI, a fitter at ACMA, in 1945 set up a company which initially

built machines to make almond brittles and later manufactured packaging


• NATALINO CORAZZA, another fitter at ACMA, started a business repairing

automatic machines largely supported by orders from ACMA, and in 1955

began to produce machines to wrap stock cubes, butter and cheese.

• ARIOSTO SERAGNOLI, an electrician at ACMA, instead of founding his own

company, joined GD which his cousin Enzo had bought in the late 1930s,

converting production entirely from motorcycles to packaging machines, helping to relaunch the firm and go on to become industry leader.

• BRUTO CARPIGIANI, technical director at ACMA until his death (in 1945), in

1942 founded Anonima Riparazioni Costruzioni Automatiche (ARCA), as

supplier to ACMA while continuing to run the technical department (shortly

before his death he also set up an ice cream machine company under his

own-name which became hugely successful).

• ANTONIO MARTELLI, a design engineer at ACMA, in the early 1950s created Costruzioni Automatiche Martelli (CAM) to produce packaging machinery

for the pharmaceuticals industry.

• DANTE MANTOVANI, a mechanical engineer, left ACMA to become a key

designer at Antonio Martelli’s CAM.

• AGOSTINO BILLI set up a firm in 1954 and shortly afterwards began to

collaborate with Carle e Montanari, a Milanese manufacturer of machines to

make sweets and chocolates, with Billi as technical director of its Bologna unit.

The new company later attracted other engineers from ACMA (Alaimo and

Capecchi 1992).

In the post-war period the new companies created by technicians leaving ACMA

served the demand above all from the food manufacturers and, to a lesser extent, the

pharmaceuticals and tobacco industries. But the paper, chemicals and cosmetics

sectors soon saw a need to automate product wrapping, both to combat rapidly

rising labour costs and also for technical and commercial reasons.

The second larger wave of automatic machine manufacturers began in the 1960s

and early 1970s, started by engineers who had themselves left companies founded

by former ACMA employees. This second generation differed from the first in that

it focused more keenly on pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, and less on food and

confectionary, dominated by existing companies.

The second generation of companies included:

• WRAPMATIC, founded in 1960, which produced winding machines for toilet

paper and large reams of paper (Alaimo and Capecchi 1992).

4 The Automatic Packaging Machinery Sector in Italy and Germany


• Industria Macchine Automatiche (IMA) was founded in 1961 by

ANDREA ROMAGNOLI, a mechanical engineer trained at Aldini-Valeriani

who joined ACMA as a design engineer (from 1948 to 1953) and later worked

in the GD technical department (from 1953 to 1960) (Rinaldi 2008). Initially the

company entered the food packaging segment with a machine for chocolate eggs

in 1961. In 1967 it introduced the first machine for making tea bags, a sector in

which the company would become world leader. In the 1970s it began to

produce blister packaging machines for the pharmaceuticals and cosmetics

industries. In 1986 it acquired Farmomac and in 2011 completed the acquisition

of Corazza Group (IMA 2012a, www.ima.it).

• FARMOMAC was founded in 1961 by AURELIO RICCI and DINO LULLINI,

another technician from Aldini-Valeriani, with a background at ACMA, Carle e

Montanari and Zanasi. The company’s first venture into the industry was a

machine for filling perfume bottles (Alaimo and Capecchi 1992).

• Fabbrica Italiana Macchine Automatiche (FIMA) was founded in 1961 by two

former GD engineers (TARTARINI and RABBI). The company’s first product

was a machine for wrapping Easter eggs. This was followed by machines for

wrapping chocolates such as Boeri and Gianduiotti. Alongside food packaging

machines they quickly expanded into machines to wrap yarns and thread

(Biblioteca Salaborsa 2012, www.bibliotecasalaborsa.it).

• ICA was founded in 1963 by GINO RAPPARINI, formerly with CAM, specializing in dosing machines for granular products.

• Fabbrica Macchine Automatiche Ricci (FAMAR), was founded in 1969 by

AURELIO RICCI after his Farmomac experience. The company produced the

first fully automatic blister packaging machine thus launching the blister

industry. In the 1980s FAMAR was taken over by a large tissue manufacturer

and subsequently by a German multinational in the tobacco industry (Famar

Packaging 2012, www.famarpackaging.com).

The third generation of companies, created between the 1970s and 1980s, targeted other segments not yet dominated by existing companies. Among these we

should mention:

• GRANDI R., created in 1970 by RENATO GRANDI, a former Officine

Corazza employee. The company found its own niche market in machines for

filling and packaging large sacks of building materials (liquid cement or sand)

and agricultural products (fertilizers) (Alaimo and Capecchi 1992).

• AM, founded in 1977 by ANIDRITI and MINELLI, two technicians from

FIMA (by this time Nuova Fima), produced machines for packaging rulers and

schools rulers.

• MAB, created in 1980 by FRANCO BARILLI, who left IMA to set up his own

business producing machines for wrapping (commissioned by IMA it-self) and

packaging in boxes.

With the 1980s the growth of new packaging machinery producers around

Bologna tapered off, although it retained its competitiveness on world markets. The


M. Fortis and M. Carminati

most significant change in the structure of the packaging industry was the emergence of large groups of independent companies under a single parent, as in the

case of GD (today Coesia), IMA, Marchesini and Martelli (Rinaldi 2008).

Between 1981 and 1991 the number of firms and workers in the Bologna area

fell, largely in favour of the neighbouring provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia.

This was mainly due to the high density of manufacturing in the town and the lack

of suitable growth opportunities for new firms which chose to move out to nearby

areas thus expanding the confines of the district.

In 2001 the number of companies and jobs began to grow again both in the

province of Bologna itself and across the entire Emilia district. In 2007, prior to the

global economic crisis there were 5 fewer companies in the province of Bologna

compared with 2001, and 12 fewer in Emilia, reflecting the consolidation of the

industry into a smaller number of restructured firms. “The need for continually

increasing investments, especially in innovation, has led companies to become

bigger and adopt more robust forms of incorporation such as limited companies”

(Promo Bologna 2010a).


Factors for the District’s Success

As we have seen, the development from a context of a few isolated firms into a

proper mechanical engineering industry composed of a hundred companies producing wrapping and packaging machinery only began after the war and consolidated throughout the 1950s (Capecchi 1997; Rinaldi 2008). Employment by GD or

earlier by ACMA represented an important source of skills and training for the

creation of new entrepreneurs. New firms appeared primarily as spin-offs of the

mother company, as technicians and engineers left to set up their own businesses.

At least three generations of companies were created in this way, the primary

fountainhead of these initiatives being ACMA, as we have seen. Occasionally

existing firms decided to convert production, seeking out expert designers of

automatic machinery, the most significant case being GD.

The historic reasons for Bologna’s success in making automatic packaging

machines are many and varied. Among them are the engineering prowess and

technical skills that enabled firms to satisfy a broad range of demands for individual

machines and complete lines. Alaimo and Capecchi point out the salient characteristics of ACMA’s machines—features which were largely maintained by its

spinoffs—as vital factors for their success: they were simple machines which could

be operated by unskilled workers; they were small, the biggest being no more than

two metres long and often less than a metre; they performed rapidly and were

extremely versatile—machines designed for a specific function could be used to

carry out many different jobs. A packaging machine could be used to wrap sweets,

tablets, pills or any item with a regular shape. In other cases flexibility was achieved

by producing different versions of a basic model, or variations of the same machine:

in this case machines had a fixed part and a changeable part, or “format”. Often

4 The Automatic Packaging Machinery Sector in Italy and Germany


basic models were adapted for individual customers at the trial stage, introducing

little changes and adjustments ad hoc. This offering of flexible customized machines

capable of rapidly performing complex tasks for different companies was the key to

success for the company (Alaimo and Capecchi 1992) and the entire district.

The demand for specific machines tailored to the client’s requirements also led to

the creation of highly specialized technicians who, besides knowing how to operate

the machine, also understood the technical project and were able to design them or

at least contribute to their design. This explains how it was possible for people

without a higher education to build machines capable of competing internationally.

In almost all of these firms the head of the technical department was not an engineering graduate but a mechanic from the Aldini-Valeriani Institute who in most

cases did not even have a high school diploma (Alaimo and Capecchi 1992). The

presence of the Istituto Aldini-Valeriani in the area played a vital role in the

development of mechanical engineering in the area and the packaging machinery

sector in particular (Farrell and Lauridsen 2001).

Another crucial factor for the Emilia district’s success was the high degree of

collaboration between managers, technicians and a broad range of specialist

workers, as well as the close collaboration between each company and its network

of subcontractors. Companies which served a market often put out a large part of

their production to the numerous small-scale local suppliers who were capable of

carrying out highly skilled machining work. Relations between the client firm and

its subcontractors were so close that sometimes an able worker was encouraged to

set up his own business by the parent company itself which guaranteed a loan for

the initial purchase of equipment and a stable flow of orders over the long-term

(Alaimo and Capecchi 1992).

The foreign literature also recognizes the many strengths that explain the

extraordinary success of the Emilia packaging machinery industry, giving particular

importance to the role played by the lead firms. According to a study “Interpreting

the competition. Italy and Germany states: Behind their success in world export

markets for packaging machinery”, by the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers

Institute: “…The success of the Italian packaging machinery industry in the

international marketplace seems to derive from a unique set of circumstances which

have come together both as the natural result of Italian geography, culture and

industrial organization. And, perhaps most importantly, their success is the result of

deliberate improvements taken by lead firms. […] The answer to our question,

‘what’s the secret?’ appears to lie with the following:

• Geographic concentration in the rapidly growing economic ‘third’ region of

Italy (e.d. Emilia Romagna, Veneto, Trentino, Tuscany, Marche).

• Prevalence of micro ‘family-owned or founded’ firms, exhibiting tightly-bound

operations and an unprecedented level of flexibility.

• Emergence of industrial districts or ‘clusters’ of firms which are not only located

near one another but also engage and cooperate in different stages of the production of the same or related products. Industrial districts featured longstanding

and informal ties; culture of knowledge and technical know-how being handed


M. Fortis and M. Carminati

down from generation to generation; expertise in highly-specialized manufacturing; strong entrepreneurial and experimental environment; interaction

between academics and industrialists to facilitate the diffusion of design and

engineering capabilities; culture of consultation and compromise among the

network of small manufacturers—reinforcing the culture for industrial relations

based on cooperation and competition and helping to foster a sense of community among local manufacturers.

• Reconstitution of clusters by lead firms which created the best of both worlds

through the marriage of management, strategy, and global marketing with the

innate strengths of the clusters while keeping the small firm structure intact.

• With lead firms exploring foreign markets close to end-users, the entire business

group moves along the innovation learning curve and to adapt more quickly to

customer demand.

• The lead firms’ presence in a wide variety of international markets provides the

firms in the group with the necessary order quantities to achieve economies of

scale—hence lower costs leading to better pricing strategies. (PPMI—Packaging

Machinery Manufacturers Institute 2004).



Italy and Germany: The Two Leading Countries

in the Packaging Machinery Industry

Exports and the Trade Balance of Italy and Germany

According to Eurostat Data: 2008–2012

Table 4.1 shows figures for the two main segments of the wrapping and packaging

machinery industry over the period 2008–2012. It reveals the clear supremacy of

Table 4.1 Value of exports and trade balance of German and Italian packaging machinery: 2008–


Exports (million €)

2008 2009 2010



Trade balance (million €)

2008 2009 2010 2011

Cod. 28292180—Machinery for packing or wrapping

Germany 1584 1418 1380 1711 1768 1315 1189 1150


1726 1416 1555 1911 1987 1600 1331 1448

Cod. 28292150—Machinery for filling, closing, sealing, capsuling or labelling

Germany 2594 1650 1514 1571 1897 2481 1545 1410



881 1096 1165 1234 1029



Cod. 28292180 + Cod. 28292150

Germany 4178 3068 2894 3282 3665 3795 2734 2560


2850 2298 2651 3076 3221 2629 2124 2421

Source Compiled by Fondazione Edison using data from Eurostat (2014)














4 The Automatic Packaging Machinery Sector in Italy and Germany


Italy, in both exports and trade balance, in the segment “Machinery for packaging

or wrapping”, and Germany’s dominance in the segment “Machinery for filling,

closing, sealing, capsuling or labelling”.

The data show how both countries were hit by the crisis that began in 2008,

leading to a dramatic falloff in exports, but also that the damage was less severe in

Italy than in Germany. In 2009 Italy saw its exports of “Machinery for packaging or

wrapping” fall by −17.9 % against the previous year compared with a decline of

36.4 % over the same period for German exports of “Machinery for filling, closing,

sealing, capsuling or labelling”. Taking an aggregate of the two segments German

exports fell by −26.6 % while Italian exports fell by −19.4 %.

In addition, while Italian exports in both segments began to grow again as early

as 2010, German exports continued to contract, only recovering in 2011. But even

more important is the fact that by 2012 Italy had already fully recovered and

exceeded its pre-crisis levels, while Germany remained well below this threshold.

German exports for its top segment stood at 2.6 billion euros in 2008, fell to 1.5 in

2010 and rose to 1.9 billion in 2012. Meanwhile Italian exports in its top segment

were 1.7 billion euros in 2008, fell to 1.4 in 2009 and rose to 2 billion in 2012. The

aggregate data show 4.2 billion euros for German exports in 2008 and 3.7 billion euros in 2012, a full half a billion below its pre-crisis peak. Italian exports

stood at 2.8 billion and reached 3.2 billion by 2012, around 400 million euros

more than 2008.

The same goes for the trade balance where Italy is ahead in “Machinery and

equipment for packing or wrapping” and Germany prevails in “Machinery and

equipment for filling, closing, sealing or labelling”. Again by this measure Italy in

2012 amply exceeded its pre-crisis levels, both overall and taking the two segments

separately. Germany, instead, remained below this level both in its leadership

segment and taking the two segments together.

To sum up the historic comparison, over the 5 years period (2008–2012) the gap

between Italy and Germany narrowed steadily both in exports (from 1.3 billion euros in 2008 to 0.4 billion euros in 2012), and in terms of the trade balance

(from 1.2 to 0.2 billion euros).

The latest data for the period November 2012–October 2013 (Fig. 4.1), confirm

the marked narrowing in the gap between German and Italian exports of packaging

machinery compared with pre-crisis peaks. In the period November 2012–October

2013 the gap was 0.4 billion euros, against a gap of 1.4 billion in the period

October 2007–September 2008. The figure clearly illustrates trends in Italian and

German exports of automatic machinery according to the Standard International

Trade Classification (SITC). The segment in question is SITC 74527 (Other

packing/wrapping machinery).

The figure also reveals that while German exports are still well below precrisis

levels, Italian exports have not only made up ground following the collapse of

global trade, but have abundantly exceeded the previous 2008 peak for Italian

exports in the industry.

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