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Meeting the future of Sacmi Heavy Clay – the heavy clay industry’s top experts meet up at Lake Garda

New challenges of Industry 4.0 in the heavy clay business

Wednesday was organised by Sacmi with a dual purpose: not only to present the new facility to the city of Verona, but also to provide a great opportunity for leading Italian and international players to get together and examine construction market trends, especially as regards the new scenarios and opportunities stemming from the tepid yet steady recovery. Hence the decision to organise, ahead of the Cosmec inauguration, an international symposium in the picturesque setting of the Poiano Resort Hotel in Garda. The event, entitled "Meeting the Future", was attended by over a hundred manufacturers and experts plus existing and potential customers of Sacmi-Cosmec.

The meeting was characterised by both realism – the crisis of 2009 has undeniably left an indelible mark on the industry – and manufacturers’ confidence in being able to meet the new challenges of Industry 4.0. The event was opened by Heimo Sheuch, CEO of Wienerberger, the world’s biggest brick manufacturer, based in Vienna. The construction market, observed Sheuch, is now an extremely dynamic one that, following the 2009 slump in volumes (which touched 80% in some EU countries) is now seeing signs of recovery both in Europe (with Germany, Britain and Poland leading the way) and worldwide, albeit in a way that falls short of the pre-crisis years. “As manufacturers”, he explained to his audience, rattling off statistics and best building practices, “we must prove to markets and communities that we’re capable of finding solutions through innovation of both process and product”.

Brick buildings without an ounce of reinforced concrete, zero-impact and anti-seismic, urban redevelopment on the residential housing front and in the renovation of historic city centres: these are just some examples of the way forward in what Cresme (the Italian building industry forecasting and analysis institute for private and institutional investors) sees as the as "7th construction cycle", something far more significant – and different from - a ‘weak recovery’. "All the analysis”, explained Lorenzo Bellicini, head of the institute, in a preview of Cresme’s economic and forecasting report to be presented in Bologna on 18th October, “indicates global market growth of 50% over the next 20 years. However, this does not mean that intercepting such trends will be simple, nor that all markets will show equal dynamism and performance”.

In Italy, for example, it’s not so much (or only) the modest recovery of the industry (more than 2% in 2015, a trend confirmed in this current year) that is making the headlines as the revolution in which over 70% of the market is now focused on renovation and maintenance, with new builds struggling to take off, This, naturally, has implications in terms of the quest for new product types, the ability to supply worksites and synergies with plant engineers. On the main international markets, a key area for Sacmi and Cosmec, growth is, instead, a more stable feature but manufacturers need to take into account an altogether different logic.

Algeria, Turkey, Argentina, Russia: these four corners of the world were the focus of the symposium at Lake Garda. From the first – a real lifesaver, along with the rest of North Africa, for European producers in these crisis years –a further surge in the demand for advanced technologies and on-site training and assistance services is anticipated. "Just think”, said Luca Casaletti of Bongioanni Stampi, “that even though this market generates volumes of nearly 30 million tons a year (editor’s note: more than Spain and Italy in the boom years), local manufacturers still have considerable difficulties in finding technology partners and suitable personnel, so volumes are well below potential production capacity". Turkey, instead, represented at the symposium by Gokhan Gorciz, President and member of the board of directors of Tukder, the main Turkish association of brick and roof tile manufacturers (140 associates, 75% of the market), is a country with, despite recent disturbances, a stable economy and steady growth "and will need at least 300 new kilns in the coming years to replace the current, largely outdated ones" pointed out Gorciz as he invited all those present to visit his homeland.

This young country - Turkey will see its population exceed 85 million in 2025 – contrasts with Italy, Germany and Japan, where there are – and will continue to be - more and more over-65s. Then there are markets as diverse as Russia and Argentina, the first still paying for the consequences of the Ukraine crisis (where sanctions and the devaluation of the ruble have severely limited their ability to translate initial expectations into concrete investment opportunities, explained Xavier del Molino, deputy sales manager of Verdes), the second, on the contrary, despite fast-changing market rules and political instability, experiencing a spike in demand for quality products and technologies to supply its growing housing market. "Adjustment of energy prices to international standards and new rules on building efficiency”, stated Angel Di Benedetto of the Latercer Group, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of the internal market, “demand that we make a further qualitative leap in terms of both technology and product”. That means new, denser bricks and new composite materials, for what, whichever way you look at it, will always remain the most environmentally friendly, durable and versatile of building materials.

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