Peter Schweighofer, CEO of CEIFFE Furnaces-An Interview
Our good friend Mr. Peter Schweighofer, CEO of Cieffe one of the largest furnace builders in Italy recently offered this interview with an Italian publication. We felt it interesting enough that we include it today. CIEFE offers most heat treating technologies and this includes vacuum furnace, an example of which is below.
“ If we’re not driven by customers, neither will our cars, ” argued the longtime engineer Ford. A concept that perfectly summarizes the importance of combining the customization of industrial products with the development of solutions designed for a wide audience. It is precisely these principles that today guide Cieffe Thermal Systems , an Italian company leader in the production of furnaces for the treatment of metallurgical products. The company puts innovation and attention to detail at the center of its production process, with the aim of automating a series of fundamental processes for the sector. We talked about this philosophy with CEO Peter Schweighofer, who illustrated the values and future prospects that distinguish this successful company.
How was the Cieffe Thermal Systems business model born?
Cieffe is active in the metalworking industry as a manufacturer of furnaces for the heat treatment of metallurgical products. It is a sub-sector that has not seen major technological changes or new customer needs emerge in the last few decades. Rather, what changed was our approach to the market. The company has always offered a very wide range of products, sometimes without developing a clear and distinct focus. In fact, Cieffe products were designed and sold on customer request. In defining the new strategy, and in adopting the existing business model accordingly, the challenge was to make the right changes to aim for a more dynamic final market environment and shift the scope from a pure pull-market to a pull-and-push approach.
A real revolution. What have your core values been over the years?
We have defined five criteria that are part of our new integrated business model to address the anticipated challenges. First of all, to focus on core competencies and reduce the product range. At the same time we have implemented an adequate IT infrastructure, which also includes an ERP platform at the enterprise level. Another priority has been to standardize and increase the modularization of key components used in a number of our products. We understood that innovation is not only that developed through internal research, but also that conceived through fruitful collaborations with other suppliers. Finally, we have increased awareness in our work, looking for solutions and changes to enter new markets.
By following these principles, what allows you to distinguish yourself from competitors?
We constantly try to help the customer integrate a fully automated and custom designed heat treatment process into his production chain.
The pandemic has put a great deal of Italian industry to the test. What development and relaunch plans have you identified for your company?
Integrated IT solutions and virtual communication have been two key criteria for customers and we believe they will remain the center of attention. It is important to understand whether services and products can be adapted to better address the new demand curves. Furthermore, in the last year the electric car trend has undergone a significant acceleration, which requires us to offer a similar model in our product proposal.
What interventions do you expect from the government to support the mechanical sector?
There are three main challenges, of which the provision of funds is the most important, followed by the adaptation of structural changes within the company to this ‘new normal’. Finally, the incentive to invest in new technologies or at least to adapt old and outdated production equipment to current standards should not be underestimated. All of these aspects address supply and demand equally and will get a positive feedback loop in the ecosystem.
Young people have also proved to be a central resource in this delicate moment of transition. Did it also happen in Cieffe?
Absolutely yes! We have identified several areas where there is a sizable age gap, where the skilled workforce will retire within the next five years. The transfer of know-how is a strategic element for the continuation of the success of our company. However, we are facing two challenges: young people don’t have the same motivation to travel abroad and stay away from home for more than a week or two. Furthermore, it is difficult to find young people willing to work in Colle Umberto because this area offers less attractive infrastructures and does not offer a wide range of leisure activities compared to cities like Padua or Milan.
Together with young people, the female component in the company is also often the subject of debate in some sectors. How much is present in your company?
Currently, 18% of our workforce is female. Except for one resource, all are active in historically more ‘feminine’ positions such as sales, marketing, human resources or administration. We do not have a stated goal to achieve, but we believe we can maintain a balance of 15-20%. In general, it is only the lack of available or suitable profiles for production, engineering and other tasks that motivates this limited percentage.
How do you see your company five years from now?
We aim to become a partner of choice for fully automated heat treatment processes, particularly in the transfer of manufacturing know-how from our European customer base to the Asian market. This is a challenge on which we focus with great strength.
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