INVESTING IN CERAMICS: Building on the Future

A new U.S. headquarters building and several recent acquisitions are helping the SACMI Group expand its products and services for the global ceramic and packaging industries.

The SACMI Group, which is perhaps one of the most well known equipment suppliers in the ceramic industry, has had a busy year. In January 2004, the company completed the acquisition of Laeis Bucher Technology GmbH, a Germany-based manufacturer of state-of-the-art pressing technologies. In April, the group announced that it had acquired an additional stake in Riedhammer, an industrial kiln manufacturer also based in Germany, bringing its total share in Riedhammer to 90%. (SACMI had acquired a 30% stake in the company in 2003 as part of a strategic alliance to combine competencies in complete production lines and advanced firing technologies.) Then, on July 10, the group celebrated the grand opening of a new headquarters building for SACMI USA Group in Des Moines, Iowa.

According to Giulio Cicognani, general manager of SACMI Imola, all of these developments were pursued with one goal in mind-to better serve the group's customers.

"We want to continue to improve our ability to provide customized manufacturing solutions and the best possible service in every location. [With these recent developments], we are building on our customers' futures, as well as our own," he explains.

Acquiring New Knowledge

The SACMI Group was founded in Imola, Italy, in 1919 and consists of more than 50 companies with annual worldwide revenues of over $1 billion. The group began as a manufacturer of equipment for the ceramic industry and continues to produce components for every step of the ceramic tile production process. But it has also evolved into a world leader in the manufacture of equipment for the food processing, plastics and beverage packaging industries. The packaging division provides complete production lines and individual machines for the manufacture of bottle caps and sanitary can lids, "form-fill-seal" machines for food products, and cartoning and cardboard box/tray forming machines.

Ceramic technology, which comprised 80% of the business five years ago, now makes up 55% of the group's operations. But while diversification into other industries has become a key growth strategy for SACMI, the group has also remained committed to the ceramic market.

"Our goal is that any time someone thinks about ceramic production, they immediately think of SACMI," says Cicognani.

With companies such as Gaiotto Automation, Kemac, Keratech, Molds & Dies, Niv and Sama Maschinenbau GmbH in its arsenal, the group already had a formidable presence in the ceramic industry. However, it recently saw an opportunity to bring even more value to ceramic manufacturers through the acquisitions of Laeis and Riedhammer.

"The idea was not to reinforce our traditional business areas-we are strong enough there-but to acquire new technologies and new capabilities," Cicognani explains. "Both of these companies are older companies, but they have cutting-edge technologies in fields that SACMI has not traditionally served. For example, Laeis is very strong in refractories and high-tech ceramics, and Riedhammer is very strong in technical ceramics and whiteware kilns. By combining our knowledge in these different areas, we can become more innovative in all of our markets.

"It's not a matter of simply supplying technologies for the manufacture of tile, sanitaryware, tableware, refractories or high-tech ceramics-but of melding all of our technologies and combining all of our experience so that we can meet anyone's needs, or develop a solution to any manufacturing problem," he adds.

Expanding U.S. Operations

SACMI USA was established in 1994, as a subsidiary of the SAMI Group, to provide support and service to North American companies that purchase equipment for both the ceramic and packaging industries. Headed by Luca Berrone, general manager, SACMI USA soon had additional offices in Newark, Del.; Atlanta, Ga.; Raleigh, N.C.; Marshall, Mich.; Los Angeles, Calif.; and Toronto, Ontario, Canada; as well as in Des Moines, Iowa. As business in North America expanded, the group realized that a strong U.S. headquarters would be vital to ensuring efficient service and support.

"When choosing a site for SACMI USA's headquarters, we looked at accessibility and work force quality," says Berrone. "A strategic location was important for the company to directly serve the needs of the ceramic and packaging industries across North America. SACMI USA's Des Moines location is, literally, at the crossroads of America. Our building is only a few blocks away from Interstates 35 and 80, which are America's most-traveled thoroughfares east to west and north to south. Additionally, we wanted employees with a strong work ethic, ingenuity, loyalty, honesty and an ability to work well with others-and Iowans are well-known for possessing these traits in abundance."

The 65,000-square-foot facility, which was completed in June, cost $4 million to build and includes 3000 square feet of office space, a 5000-square-foot showroom, a 14,000-square-foot machine shop and 43,000 square feet of warehouse space. It is the home of after-sales service operations; more than $4 million in spare parts for ceramics, plastics, food processing and beverage packaging machinery; a full-fledged machine shop ready to serve the ceramic industry's requirements for molds and dies; back-office support for all administrative logistics for SACMI's regional offices; and corporate leadership. But more than just a building, the new headquarters also serves as a monument to SACMI's dedication to the highest possible level of customer service.

"We are strongly committed to the North American market and to an ever-growing customer base in that region. The new headquarters will help us streamline our operations and provide better service to our customers," explains Cicognani.

Investing for the Long Term

For the SACMI Group, service drives every decision, from new acquisitions and facilities to new product introductions. But the company isn't just looking at short-term needs; instead, a long-term vision is what propels the group forward. For example, despite ongoing economic and political problems in Eastern Europe, SACMI recently opened new facilities in Poland and Russia. The group also plans to open a new facility in Dubai in 2005.

"We believe that once things settle down in the Middle East, that area will grow, and Dubai will be the Singapore of the Middle East," Cicognani explains.

Yet another facility is planned for Korea, and additional investments are also planned for the group's U.S. businesses to enhance their ability to supply parts and provide customized solutions.

"It is our policy to bring our service as close as possible to our customers-wherever they might be located," says Cicognani. "We are always looking ahead, and we will continue to pursue new ideas and technologies so that we can give our customers a competitive advantage," he says.

For more information about the SACMI Group, contact SACMI USA at 3434 106th Cir., P.O. Box 7858, Des Moines, IA 50322; (515) 276-2052; fax (515) 276-2084; e-mail ; or . Or contact SACMI Imola S.C.R.L., Via Selice Provinciale, 17/A, Imola (Bologna), Italy; (39) 542-607111; fax (39) 542-642354; e-mail ; or .

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