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Relaunching a reference player in machine tool engineering


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Founded in 1923 in Pordenone in northeast Italy, SAFOP was recently acquired by an Indian holding company. “The new owners recognize that SAFOP’s history is very important,” stresses Sales Manager Michele Soricaro, who joined the company in 2000 and until 2015 was part of its Service Engineering department. From 2015 to July 2019, he held the position of Service Manager and in October 2019 was appointed Sales Manager by the new proprietor to lead the new organization. From its beginnings as a manufacturer of small machine tools, the company gradually developed its own advanced technologies with a clear focus on quality.

In 1962, it built the first machine with numerical controls, 20 years later came the first machine for ball valves for the oil and gas sectors, and in 1991, SAFOP built the first lathes for processing large components with hydrostatic guides. Today, the company is the market leader in the production of machine tools for train wheels. “The firm’s history to date, combined with the positive energy generated by the new holding company, are very important factors for SAFOP’s future,” says Mr. Soricaro.

“All our products are unique in some way; customers always want special processing options.” Michele SoricaroSales Manager

The company operates in three distinct product areas. The railway industry, specifically machinery for the maintenance and reprofiling of train wheels, is its primary market. The portfolio includes underfloor wheelset lathes which can operate with the wheels in situ, and portal lathes which are used on dismantled wheels. The company’s second business area is the production of lathes – capable of turning parts up to 200 t and with diameters up to 6 m – for the steel, oil and gas, aerospace, shipping, and military sectors. Special machinery, for example grinding and turning machines for producing ball valve balls measuring up to 2.4 m, form the third area of activity.

“Although we have a product catalogue, it is really only a guideline,” explains the Sales Manager. “All our products are unique in some way; customers always want special processing options. Therefore, production is always contract based. We are constantly developing new, more competitive versions of our machinery; the design and test phases are carried out internally.” Up to 75% of SAFOP’s machinery is exported to customers worldwide; key markets include Germany, China, the US, India, France and the Netherlands.

A vital element of the Indian owner’s business plan is a brand-new marketing strategy, which has been named Brandphase. Mr. Soricaro is leading its implementation. “Brandphase is about corporate identity, value proposition and our USP,” he explains. “Our aim is to bring a strong, new SAFOP identity to the market. The most important aspects relate to communication, product quality, and value proposition which incorporates service, close customer relationships and a premium product. These three points are crucial. We are currently implementing the first phase of the strategy, which will result in an increased number of contracts. When that is complete, we will concentrate on the second, operative phase, although of course, in the meantime, we are not neglecting operational efficiency. Our overriding strategy is differentiation in terms of the quality of our work and not in respect of low prices. Our ultimate goal is to add value for our customers.”

SAFOP’s plans for raising its market profile include an increased use of social media, promotional campaigns, and targeted communication with existing and prospective customers. The company will also attend exhibitions in key locations: the Samu Metal in Pordenone, Middle East Rail in Dubai, and Innotrans in Berlin, for example.

So why should customers choose SAFOP? “That is an interesting question,” says Mr. Soricaro. “I think it is a combination of factors. Firstly, the value proposition that I mentioned earlier. I think the quality of our products is at least equal to, if not better than those of our competitors. What also differentiates us is our service and focus on customers. Our machines can be configured in a way that gives our customers a competitive edge in their own markets.”

The outlook for SAFOP’s market, particularly in respect of the railway sector, is currently very positive. With environmental concerns a key topic, the volume of goods transported by rail is increasing, and passenger numbers are also growing; in addition, high-speed trains are quicker and more comfortable than cars and planes. “My analysis of the market is that trends are developing in our favour, but the competition is also becoming more intense,” admits the Sales Manager.

“We have great products and we now need to generate more recognition in the market and secure more contracts. The synergies with the Indian group are strong, and I believe that was the driving force behind the acquisition. Ultimately though, we are a local manufacturer with huge know-how, and I am very proud of that. Our aim is to relaunch a company which has been a strong and sustainable reference player for many years.”

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