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BI-MU is Italy's biennial machine tool show, held in October in Milan. In recent years, its size and importance have grown significantly. This year's 6-day show featured more than 1,500 booths representing some 2,100 exhibitors, and it offered more than 1 million square feet of booth space in 17 exhibit halls. These statistics put this show in the ranks of the world's major machine tool and manufacturing technology shows.
As a country, Italy is also moving up on the charts as a major machine tool producer and consumer. According to recent studies, Italy ranks third in machine tool exports, behind only Japan and Germany but ahead of Switzerland and the United States. As a machine tool consumer, Italy comes in fourth, behind Japan, Germany and the United States.
The machine tool industry in Italy is characterized by a large number of small, family-owned companies, almost all of them located in the northern part of the country, where industry in Italy is concentrated. A number of these companies have formed partnerships in order to consolidate sales and marketing activities. Even so, there is no one company or group that dominates the field.
The level of machine tool technology from Italy is also very high, especially in the area of high speed milling and full five-axis machining. Linear motors are widely used in the design of the newest models. Multi-purpose machines are another key trend that builders in Italy are actively promoting. (A more detailed review of technology highlights from BI-MU will appear in an upcoming issue.)
In short, Italy represents a source of technology that is not to be ignored. Of course, builders in Italy have not been ignoring the metalworking industry in the United States. Here is where the structure of the machine tool industry in Italy is a bit of a weakness. Because they tend to be small, Italian builders have generally not mounted the sustained and comprehensive marketing effort required to thrive in the U. S. market, but that's a deficiency many of them are taking steps to overcome. Right now, however, the level of investment in capital equipment in the United States is holding back a renewed thrust.
No doubt we'll see the builders in Italy approaching the U.S. market more aggressively after our turnaround. In the meantime, U. S. companies—mold and die shops and aerospace subcontractors in particular—need to keep an eye on innovations in metalworking from Italy. It's not surprising that what they see might be quite surprising.