MARKET | Mar 7, 2017

Information, technology and people at the center: the Agrati Group experience

Interview with Alberto Caprioli, CIO of Agrati, on the value added of data in Digital Transformation of the factory

Tradition and innovation to be combined for ensuring continuity and at the same time taking advantage of technology to improve products. This is the essence of the digital transformation project, in collaboration with Engineering, of Agrati Group Fastening Systems (2,500 employees and an annual turnover of over 640 million euro, over 13 sites producing innovative fixing systems for the automotive sector).

What struck me most when I arrived at the company almost two years ago, – begins Alberto Caprioli, CIO of Agrati Groupwas precisely the bond between tradition and constant research and innovation in terms of the products and services we offer our customers. Our mission is to develop dedicated and innovative fastening systems in partnership with the customer, with a marked capacity for teamwork and with the common goal of creating products that meet increasing market demand.

How has the advent of digital technology changed the benchmark manufacturing sector, what are the benefits and what are the shortcomings of the process of digital transformation?

We are strongly oriented towards providing products and services of excellence through the use of advanced technologies; this primarily allows us to obtain benefits in terms of efficiency, from the calculation of demand to planning of production, from the manufacture of products to customer delivery, with a reduction in downtime and better management of critical issues.

Another aspect of fundamental importance is the quality standard of the products, which must be excellent and guaranteed uniformly at all production sites and for each individual piece produced. To ensure the attainment of absolute levels in terms of quality and safety throughout the entire production cycle, we have started digital transformation pathways considering that there was no other way.

In this sense, ‘reconversion’ of processes is the most critical aspect to deal with, but we believe that this can rapidly generate an important competitive advantage over other companies in the sector; in some processes we expect double-digit improvements in terms of performance and a very quick return on investment.

At the international level in particular, firms are increasingly acquiring greater awareness in the use of the data, to make the most of the potential offered by effective analysis and implement the development of efficient strategies that then have a real impact on productivity. What strategies are you developing?

In-house we have mainly outlined 3 areas of data enhancement which are inter-connected in a virtuous circle.

A first area, defined Integration, in which it is necessary to collect all the necessary pieces of information from various sources and correlate them. In our case, the collection of data is not only linked to the production process, but must be able to take into account the activities of other in-house departments and external partners, basically small-medium niche suppliers which are poorly equipped with information technology solutions.

The second area we have outlined is that related to Planning, that is to the processing and interpretation of the information collected, in order to derive indications in terms of criticality and the resulting definition of corrective/preventive measures for processes in place. While on the one hand the market offers a variety of analysis tools, on the other no one is able to give definite answers that fit their business reality and to be further structured around individual production situations.

The final area is called Execution, that is related to the execution and digital monitoring of business operations, in order to have first and foremost real-time control of all that happens and to feed the Integration phase in an increasingly complete and accurate way. Some examples: extension of digital data collection to all production machines, introduction of use of the QR Code tracking tools and materials, application of RFID tags for in-house handling.

In your opinion, what are the aspects to be improved or implemented in which to invest for competing on the international market?

In a business context like ours, which is international, with many plants scattered around the world, the element that can be a real competitive advantage is undoubtedly the standardization and homogenization of production processes, especially in terms of quality. Far from being trivial, the pathway starts from the definition of one’s own model to be exported, implemented and constantly updated and aligned at all production sites. To date, in fact, this is one of the most important themes and critical issues which we continue to deal with and work on constantly, because being part of the same group does not automatically mean working in the same way or having the same processes.

The other distinctive element in which we are constantly investing, alongside the technological plus, is the organizational element, because we consider it capable of making as much difference in terms of market competitiveness. The tradition, experience acquired and expertise gained by our staff over time are an essential value added of the technological and innovative aspect. In my opinion, the real difference lies in the ability to use and ’bend‘ technology at one’s service and this is possible only thanks to people of proven ability and experience. Technology is increasingly an enabling factor but the value of human capital cannot be overlooked or neglected even in the era of Industry 4.0.