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The inauguration of the factory at Rolo (RE) marked the Italian re-launch of Butler that will enable it to be more competitive on the international automotive equipment market: 13 million euros have been invested in the new 12,000-square-metre factory and the expected growth in revenues is a record 30 million euros.

Mino De Rigo

DELOCALIZE production and break away from a country with problems or re-launch investments aimed at cost-containing innovations and process automation? This was the question that top management of the group, the leader of the automotive equipment segment with its Butler, Ravaglioli, Space and Sirio brands, answered with confidence in its know-how, creative inventiveness and a capacity for the highest production standards that for many years have contributed to making Italy the undisputed leader of the sector. 

At a cost of 13 million euros and with an area of 12,000-square-metres, 4,000 more than the old factory at Rio Saliceto, the new Butler factory at Rolo in Reggio Emilia is already prepared to be doubled in size. It is the most recent investment, and without doubt the most significant because it also goes against current trends, that included an increase in personnel, the strengthening of the commercial network and, above all, came after the renewal of equipment, especially at the production site in Sirio di San Giovanni di Ostellato (FE), the centre for the construction of frames and sheet metal drums for the group’s brands of tyre changers, wheel balancers, inspection lines, lifts and wheel aligners. 


Group synergies 

“We are concentrating on high levels of automation and the rationalization of the  production cycle”  – said chairman Silvano Santi – “but we are also convinced that development and growth on international markets can be increased only by aiming at technological innovation and quality. The decision to invest in Italy rather than abroad is the offspring of a need to completely control process and production standards”. 

It took four years, but now the red bowtie that winks from Butler’s logo can at last be seen on the new factory where high-end machinery is assembled.  Construction work began in 2008 but a prudent decision was taken the following year to halt it because of the troubled economy. The work recommenced in the middle of 2010, as Santi explained: “We felt the crisis in 2009 but revenues returned immediately to previous levels and this year our target is fixed at 30 million euros, with growth expected to be 20% higher than in 2011”. Backed up by annual production capable of exceeding 4,500 machines, Butler, which was founded in 1988 and acquired by in 2005, has 95 employees and exports over 80% of its products. “The acquisition” - Santi said – “gave the company new impetus and it was able to count on its production sites and group synergies to expand its product portfolio, which is now the most extensive on the market. We are located in 150 countries throughout the world and the outlets for our equipment are not only North America, South America and Japan but also Russia, the Middle East and China”, where the increasingly massive presence of European car manufacturers is the driving force behind top level equipment. 


Innovation first and foremost

“We are not worried about competition from emerging countries. They copied our wheel alignment system of a previous generation: we bought it and saw that they had not been able to cancel Space, the original brand name, from the mother board or from some displays. It will take years before they can achieve our technological level, by which time we will be much further ahead”. It is, however, an alarm bell, especially given the outcome of the joint-ventures set up by consolidated local companies in the sector that were excluded as soon as the Chinese partners had acquired the know-how to do it themselves. “If you want to have mass sales on the Chinese market” – Santi observed – “the only option is to produce locally; but if your offer is targeted, you can be present with highly-technological products for which there is a demand. With the gradual increase in levels of technology and quality, costs will inevitably rise for local producers, which will allow us to be competitive again and on an even wider scale. 

"A demonstration of the quality of our equipment was given recently when the group signed an agreement with one of China’s most important automotive equipment producers for the supply of products that are totally ‘Made in Italy’. By deciding to buy from us"  – Santi emphasized – “they recognized that they were unable to make them and came to us to meet a precise demand by the market. Over the years, Butler has developed innovations that have made its products unique. Beginning with Tullio Gonzaga, one of the founders of the company: he created a tyre changer with a pneumatic rather than an electric motor and went on to develop a vertical bead breaker, which is still used in the majority of high-end machines”. 


High-tech tyre changers

Hanging on the walls of the corridors in the technical area of the new factory are 14 registered patents. In the large demo room used as a training centre on the ground floor, there is a display of all the examples in the range with the current top product in pride of place: the A. Concert “butler” for tyre specialists. “It is a totally automatic, leverless machine” – Santi stated – “that cuts operation times by 30%: tyre dismounting and mounting takes 1.10 minutes; but primarily it is an extremely useful machine for garages that have to use external personnel as rapid productivity is ensured. It is a safe system that can be used even by the less expert, it recognizes tyre types and sizes and adapts torque and operating speed”. 

During a visit to the factory at Rolo only one area is off limits: the research and development department. “A. Concert is destined to lead the market for the next five years, but we are already working on new machines, starting with its evolution. Then there are specific applications for working on truck tyres faster and with torque variations”. Lastly, the two most recent contracts concern supplies for the Driver chain and an agreement with Michelin Spain, which homologated the Butler Navigator system for mobile assistance.


• Production cost

Automation, first and foremost. To improve production processes and reduce the cost of labour. The factory at Sirio di San Giovanni di Ostellato, in the province of Ferrara, has about 200 employees who work 4 shifts over 24 hours, six days a week, thereby making maximum use of the equipment in the site’s 17,500 square metres, which also hosts assembly and testing areas. 

“The technologies introduced” – explained group chairman Silvano Santi  - “have reduced labour costs by over 10%. Even if I saved 5 times the cost of personnel in the Far East for example, in the end it would not have been more than 7-8%. This is why delocalizing isn’t needed”. 

In the shed where the metal sheet is cut, the 7 automatically-loaded lasers are controlled via computer by only one employee. The materials warehouse is also automated. The majority of the welding is robotized, as is the work carried out by the machine tools. This is why 5-6,000 light tyre changers, the same number of wheel balancers, about 3,000 alignment lifts and forklifts pass through the factory gates every year. Ready to compete on the markets.

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