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Prospering with pipes made in Italy


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Although Emiflex was officially launched in 1981, its founder, today’s CEO Giovanni Lai, had been developing and producing pipes in a basement workshop since 1976. “Although there were many opportunities, the market at that time was, nevertheless, not easy,” he says. “The fact that we were able to establish the first Emiflex production unit in Varedo was down to a lot of hard work.”

One characteristic that has certainly contributed to the company’s success is the fact that Emiflex not only manufactures pipes and tubes, it also designs and constructs the machinery it needs for their production. The company continued to grow – a further production unit making expansion, rubber and dismantling joints, was set up in 1986.

Another decisive event, which helped the company withstand the finance crisis of 2008, and ensure it was able to remain in Italy in the long term, was the arrival in the company of the second generation of the Lai family; daughters Paola and Elvira took responsibility for commercial aspects, and purchasing and customer relationships respectively.

“We kept a close eye on them at the beginning,” laughs Mr. Lai. “However, they soon gained our confidence, and have really brought a lot to the firm. They have implemented many new ideas and turnover has increased significantly. The new generation is much more focused on certification, for example. Although we were already ISO 9001 (Quality) and ISO 14001 (Environment) certified, we have now also gained ASME certification for the engineering, design and assembly of our pressure components. This certification is very strict; it took a whole year to achieve.”

Emiflex serves two market segments. Firstly, it produces pipes and tubes for household use, for example in the kitchen. “Household components have a completely different set of characteristics to industrial products,” Mr. Lai points out.

The company’s vast range of industrial pipes includes solutions for water, oil and gas as well as solar plant tubes, and flexible metal piping for general industrial use. The portfolio includes flexible tubes to dampen the vibrations caused by machinery in operation.

“Many plants are heavily affected by vibrations, and these components absorb the movement and extend the life of the machinery,” underlines the CEO. “They are also useful in regions where there is a risk of earthquakes.”

Although Emiflex has a standard product catalogue, it is also able to produce customized items. “Because we have the know-how to plan and build the machinery we use to produce our pipes, we are able to make products in line with customer specifications,” explains Mr. Lai.

The company boasts a dedicated R&D laboratory, Emiflexlab, where new products, and engineering and planning methods are analyzed. Despite the broad range of industries it serves, Emiflex specializes in the gas sector, where many large players number among its customers.

The company also supplies installation engineers and wholesalers, as well as large concerns in, for example, the steel, chemical, oil and shipyard industries. Up to 20% of Emiflex’s products are exported, primarily to France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany and the UK. Other markets include Russia, Turkey, Egypt, Nigeria and Canada.

The company employs 120 staff based across its two production sites in Varedo and Siniscola in Sardinia, and in 2016 achieved a turnover of more than 16 million EUR. Mr. Lai points out that with regard to Emiflex’ industrial expansion joint market, “we doubled our turnover last year. Now we are really in a position to be able to grow. Our top priorities are new offices and the recruitment of additional staff.”

Mr. Lai had the foresight to anticipate this situation and, a few years ago, bought land on which to build new production facilities. “I am now ready to invest, thanks in no small part, to the support of the new generation,” he says. Emiflex has achieved significant success and thereby retained the made in Italy label for its products, despite the challenging market conditions. Mr. Lai is clear on how more companies could be encouraged to do the same.

“A huge decrease in administrative bureaucracy would help,” he says. “It costs time and money and is a huge burden. Instead I would like to see the government supporting companies which want to keep their production in Italy by making, for example, public tenders less bureaucratic.”

Mr. Lai believes it is the focus on Italian quality which has created the company’s success to a large extent. “We are very much seen as a traditional, Italian firm,” he says. “This has enabled us to exist in this market, even though our prices are not the cheapest. We are craftsmen, and customers recognize and value this type of work. We deliver quickly, which is critical when you are dealing with building sites. Above all, quality and service are important to us. Customers feel supported, and somehow at home with us. I believe that our success is a result of the combination of all these elements.”

And how does Mr. Lai see Emiflex’s future? “Although the pipe and tube market is still difficult, overcoming the crisis gave us strength, and I believe that our creativity, the attention we give to our customers, and the fact that we can make customized products to meet their specific needs, will give us the edge we require to continue to prosper,” he concludes.