The circular foundry


Assofond has drawn up and published its first sustainability report highlighting the description of a transparent field, aware of environmental issues, sound and able to compete as protagonist in the world.

With the President Roberto Ariotti acting as host, the yearly assembly of Assofond (Italian Association of Foundries) essentially represented the opportunity to present the aggregated results that field companies achieved in 2017. In conformity with what assessed in the recent past, industry highlighted again a rising performance in terms of both volumes and of values. Both items so become the expression of a tricolour foundry that has proven to be smart in innovating to consolidate its competitiveness. Not fortuitously, the number one of the association pointed out that few are the concerns for the unfair competition of the low cost manufacturing, «because our enterprises can stand out by staking on excellence and customization». Their lasting exploit is perhaps due to this, too. Last year ended with a production growing by as many as 7.1 percentage points and a turnover exceeding 7 billion Euros, thus indicating the 8.6% business increment compared to what verified in 2016. It is mainly an export success, considering that 64% of this turnover is due to the sales on international markets. «If the exports of the Italian manufacturing industry meant in its whole – reported the trade association in a press release – grew by 12% from 2010 to 2017, those of foundry products achieved a much higher performance, with an expansion that in terms of volumes reached 30%». The noteworthy result was commented also by the president Ariotti who however took the cue to reaffirm the validity – and the irreversibility – of the choice of joining the single European market and currency, in a time when the EU institution is often under attack.

Driving engine of economy

«In 2017, the production scored important volumes – stated the entrepreneur – and the first months of 2018 seemed able to confirm this positive trend until now. Not only. In 2017, the Made in Italy foundry ranked first by growth rate in the entire Europe thanks especially to the sales beyond the borders. This is a further witness that out sector can be considered by full title an authentic excellence of the Italian export. For this reason, too, however, I hope that politics will not surrender to the easy temptations of protectionism and nationalism. We are Europeans to all effects and we will remain Europeans. During crisis years, precisely free market and competition mechanisms have given an important boost to our sector, to improve constantly. Introducing protectionist systems or questioning Euro means hindering the growth course». After gibing at isolationism, Ariotti duly stressed again the reasons for the success of our domestic foundry: «Ours are high added-value products and not mere commodities. We prevailingly export technologies and know how that the entire world envies to us and we must be able to go on proposing them in global markets, in a context of free exchange that is granted by Euro, too». Looking beyond the national borders, it is then possible to notice that the foundry industry plays a protagonist role almost everywhere. On the occasion of the Assofond assembly, they reminded that in 2017 the Old Continent generated an output worth 15 million tons of product, resulting in a turnover that exceeded 40 billions. Besides, it is a pillar of the contemporaneous social and economic structure, as it employs 300,000 people in 4,700 plants.

All-round sustainability

Just in Italy, we can count as many as 1,038 that in 79% of cases are spread in Lombardy (46%), Emilia Romagna, Piedmont and Veneto; the vast majority of them work non-ferrous materials. Concerning the production of castings, the Country ranks among the continental leaders with its 13%; from this point of view, it is preceded by Germany only and it has behind nations with a sound manufacturing tradition, such as France, Turkey and Spain. If we look at the world general outline, the ranking of the Italian foundry remains more than satisfactory: it is tenth and accounts for 2% of the total planetary production. Under the purely economic-financial aspect, it can be therefore defined sustainable by full right. The good piece of news is that today it is sustainable also referring to the environment protection and, even more, it can embody an almost perfect example of circular economy. Both in case of ferrous and non-ferrous, the casting is not only «a durable product that features very long lifecycles». It is especially made of « 100% recyclable material to give birth to new products» and then to an «inexhaustible» virtuous circle. As pointed out also by the professor Stefano Pogutz, professor of Green Management and Corporate Sustainability at Bocconi University in Milan, circularity rhymes with need and opportunity for the Italian foundry. In the sense that precisely the reuse policies and techniques allow plants to make up for deficiencies in raw materials and overcome the provisioning difficulties. This is however just one side of the coin. The other is given by the pursuit of the so-called ‘Zero waste’ target: where waste materials are still reconditioned and exploited «inside the industrial processes of cement works and furnaces; in building and civil engineering». In the Sustainability Report, Assofond highlighted that «from the residues of foundry processes» are also extracted, among the others, «metals like aluminium, zinc, nickel and chrome» and also or this reason «foundry constitutes an essential link of the recycling chain».

Clean investments

Companies can hit the total sustainability target only through dedicated investments aimed at the implementation of the necessary technologies. Once more, the Made in Italy has answered this call with its presence and has provided for allocating adequate budgets. «In relation to 2015 – informed the Association that this year celebrates seventy years since its foundation (1948) – it has been estimated that 28.5% of the expenses incurred by foundries were addressed to interventions of environmental impact reduction: a datum that exceeds manufacturing ones (2%) and the iron and steel industry (4.1)». In the specific case, «the investments made have allowed developing techniques able to increase the use of recovered materials as raw materials for all typologies of melting furnaces», as reported o Assofond. In particular, anyway, «in foundries equipped with electric furnaces, the used scrap percentage rose from the estimated 60% in 2003 to 75% in 2015». Contextually, they appear drastically diminished both «dust emissions in the atmosphere» dropped by even 65% in the 12 years from 2003 to 2015; and the wastes generated per each ton case of castings produced, falling by 26.6% from 2000 to 2015. The investigation analysed then the case – considered «emblematic to illustrate the reuse skills» of the field –of exhausted earths. «If their production has generally dropped by 37% from 2000 to 2015», we could read in the document, «particularly significant is the fact that 95% of the exhausted earths produced in foundry are used as raw material, as replacement of sands and earths coming from extraction activities». This means that «turning to the disposal in dumps » is «almost annulled». Not less important are, in conclusion, the remarks on the water savings. Along the years, Italian foundries have adopted eco-compatible plant engineering solutions that allow them to reintroduce 95% of the waters used in processes into recycling circuits.

We can do more for the environment

Attention to end of pipe interventions and to the mitigation of the impacts on natural resources, but still too little commitment to prevent pollution and to reduce the environmental impact of products. This is what highlighted by the report Sustainability Management Barometer – The sustainability of Italian companies, drawn up in the ambit of the Sustainability Lab of SDA Bocconi School of Management and presented last July at the headquarters of the Milanese University. The study, which involved over 175 Italian companies mainly operating in the manufacturing industry, underlined how our Country’s enterprises are more and more investing in sustainability, even if we still perceive a delay compared to German manufacturing companies, considered as benchmark. Among the technological and operational solutions for the environmental management, the recycling of materials inside the company (69%), the treatment for the reduction of emissions in air (65%) and the recycling of packages (62%) are the practices most adopted by Italian enterprises. «The most diffused interventions are those of end of pipe or cycle end type», underlined Stefano Pogutz, researcher and professor of the master in Green Management, Energy and Csr (Mager) of Bocconi University, «which intervene, in other words, on the treatment of the pollution after it has been produced. The use of interventions for the pollution prevention or the reduction of the environmental impact of products along their entire lifecycle is instead still limited – especially for medium and small enterprises and if compared to what occurs in Germany».

In partial countertendency, from this point of view, the foundry field: the president of Assofond Roberto Ariotti illustrated the sector dynamics in a roundtable attended by the protagonists Luciano Pirovano, sustainable development director of Bolton Alimentari and Lucia Silva, group head of sustainability and social responsibility of Generali. «Foundries – said Ariotti – represent the industry’s hinge and contribute, directly or indirectly, in the circular economy development: first of all, two thirds of our raw materials are represented by metal scraps, which we reuse to create new products. Our technology represents one of the simplest and energy-efficient options to create indispensable components for the production of green energy, like hydraulic turbines or motion transmission systems for wind blades.

The attention to the upstream reduction of the environmental impact characterizes, finally, the commitment of the foundry sector to the sustainability issue: «We are working to reduce the environmental impact of our products during their entire lifecycle, participating in the Effige project, funded by the Life unit of the European Commission, with the aim of introducing the Pef (Product environmental footprint) method inside our companies. In this way – ended Ariotti – we aim at identifying a univocal calculation system of the environmental footprint of our products and at implementing solutions able to reduce it».