After the Under-25s, here are the Seniors: a selection of Solema employees who have raised the company and contributed to the growth of the youngest, motivating them day after day in their training and integration process.
In a recent news we talked about the manpower of Solema starting from the youngest resources: six "rookies", which we defined our Under-25s ( › link ), recently hired by the company but who have already proven to be able to integrate perfectly in Solema environment.
In order to achieve these results you would also need someone dedicated to the growth and training of the Under-25s, following and motivating them day by day, giving them all the means to grow and revealing the tricks and secrets of the job they are undertaking.
That’s why today we would like to talk about the workforce that has been present for much longer in the company: 4 portraits of “historic” employees belonging to the "Seniors", which will tell us about experiences, careers and stories lived during their decennial adventure in Solema.
People who have contributed over the years to the growth not only of the youngest, but also of the company itself, transmitting passion, determination and professional dedication. Precious resources that often operate in the shadows and that comply with the "dirty work", rarely under the spotlights but of fundamental importance.
Today we meet the first 2 Seniors: Claudio Brignoli from Assembly Department and Alessandro Cortinovis, from Production Department.
Claudio, the Solema employee with highest service seniority
Claudio Brignoli has all the qualifications to be the first interviewed among the Seniors: he is in fact our employee with the longest service, having been hired in February 1983 at the age of 15 years. In 38 years of service he has seen all the workers who currently work – and have worked - in Solema and his experience has led him to become a historical memory within the company. In almost forty years, he has never given up working assiduously and paving the way for young people, sharing secrets and tips with them and transmitting the right skills to learn the job.
Claudio, what do you remember about the Eighties?
«In 1983 Solema was still a small, fledgling company with only 4 employees working in the old premises located in Via Verdi in Pedrengo. We were young and we had to face with all the duties because at that time there was no such technology as now, almost everything was done by hand. There were no supervisors, and the owners were often engaged in customer management and they came little in the workshop to teach us how to deal with the peculiarities of work...
I started on lathe and milling machine, with tasks of construction and machining of pieces until assembly and welding, which is mostly what I still do today, although at that time the work was focused only on automation systems for the Graphic Art Industry ( › link ). Starting from 2013, with the acquisition of Roda, the work has also expanded to the Packaging Industry ( › link ).
For the first 5-6 years I worked mainly on the lathe, then I specialized in the machines assembly and since then I have always remained in the Assembly Department that I have seen grow during these years. Currently, between Solema employee and external workers, we are about 20 people in it».
What exactly does the Assembly Department do?
«What we do here is the final stage of the work at Solema and consists in assembling and testing the machines before they are delivered to customers. I’m talking about the final step as to get to assemble the machines, you need someone who first draw them as a project – task of the R&D Department – and someone who produces all the pieces to be assembled – task of the Production Department. Then we, as assemblers, start our work, we have the task of putting together carefully the various pieces, just as you would do with a mosaic».
Thinking about the continuous technological innovations, how has your way of working changed from 1983 to nowadays?
«My way of working has never changed. Let me explain: what has changed is not my attitude or manner, but the machines, which have evolved. I had to cope with changes and technologies, but the passion I put 38 years ago is the same as today. I’m not comfortable with technology, I don’t like computers, but I wanted to adapt to change to keep this spirit alive. The main innovation that technology has brought concerns the management of warehouse, that from entirely manual processing (including warehouse pieces storage and stock monitoring) has been transformed in an automated modular warehouse. I still remember wistfully the years in which we made "everything by hand" checking personally whether the needed piece was on the shelves or not; now the drawers are carefully sorted and divided by alphabetical letters. The organization was less rigorous, but we carried out the work the same.
Everything was simpler and was based mainly on speed and inventiveness, rather than on head and strategy, while now the work has become more peculiar and complex. We relied more on different features, perhaps less rational than today, but things worked just as well – our dedication outweighed that early computerization. I mean, if you haven’t figured it out yet, rather than being in front of a computer... I’d much rather be in the field with my hands and my head dedicated to solve mechanical issues. The passion I put in my job transpires from the simple locking of a single screw».
When speaking of "being in the field," is there any advice you want to give to young people who want to start your job?
«Rule number one is: to learn this job you have to listen to what your more experienced colleagues say. That’s how you learn and grow.
Young people certainly have a sharper and ready mind, they come out fresh from school and want to take on the world pursuing in their own way, always doing a little more than you ask, the inevitable risk is “to overdo”.
When I realize that a young is doing this, I take him aside and try to make him think about this, it’s okay to have initiative and resourcefulness, but we have to tread carefully because in this type of work it is easy to make mistakes.
Not everything you learn in schools is immediately applicable on a workplace. One thing is theory and another is practice. You have also to deal with faults once you are onsite. And I had to do it many times. These days, I’m following a newly hired guy. A few days ago, on a particular job, he had a good intuition to solve a small issue: we got together to reason and the result arrived. This is the achievement of the innovative freshness of a young mind combined with the experience and knowledge of trained hands like mine».
Is there any particular project you’re working on?
«For more than a year we have been working on the development of a particular prototype, called CAST ( › link )in collaboration with Tecnobox Electromecànica, our Spanish partner that designes and builts machines for the automatic assembly of cardboard boxes for the transport of fruits and vegetables.
At the end of 2019 Tecnobox involved us in a great challenge: developing a new machine not yet present on the market that could create boxes noticeably larger than standard ones for the containment and transport of vegetables of considerable size (pumpkins, melons and watermelons), products that in Spain have a greater market than here in Italy.
The prototype of CAST was built and sent to Spain in early 2020 to be subjected to validation tests, but then the arrival of Covid slowed everything down. We have restarted working on this project for a couple of months now and, while validation is being finalized in Spain, we are working on a second machine that will be delivered, again in Spain, around March 2021.
If we consider that this type of box is still made by hand with an important effort both in terms of labour and money, CAST will represent an important turning point in the production of boxes for the transport of big fruit and vegetables. This is a project in which Solema has invested a lot because it can represent a business in a still unexplored segment as that of such large boxes destined to a new and different usages».
In 2 years you will celebrate 40 years in the company. It will be an important milestone.
«Yes, of course, but that day I won’t have any party, I’m not that kind of person. I’ll come to work as if it were an ordinary day. And just like any other day, the satisfaction will be to deliver a complete and perfectly working machine. And the best gift for me is also working in a place where people respect and esteem me. I wouldn’t be in Solema for 38 years if it weren’t so. And if I would celebrate that day, I’ll go on a beautiful trip, a passion I’ve been carrying since I was younger».
Alessandro, column of Solema - Torre de' Roveri headquarters
Alessandro Cortinovis has been working in Solema since January 1999 and is involved in the programming of CNC machine in the Production Department, a role he has always held at Torre de' Roveri branch.
After middle school he attended the Istituto Tecnico Pesenti in Bergamo for a few years with the idea of becoming an electrician. But it wasn’t the right plan, and so he dropped everything to jump into the work environment.
Solema welcomed him, deciding to invest in a resource that over the years has become a pillar of the company.
Alessandro, tell us about your first steps in Solema and what your work consists of.
«When I started, the plant in Torre de' Roveri was only one year old and I was therefore lucky enough to assist and contribute to the growth of it, that currently consists of 15 employees and where I am the one with the highest seniority.
At the beginning I was only dedicated to the manual cutting of iron and aluminum bars, the basic things of a metalworker, then I moved on machine tool, first milling machines and then also lathes; I also started working on computers to communicate better with machines. My work is divided into two parts, one more dynamic, in the workshop and one static, in the office.
The first is linked to the manual work, that consists in taking a metal piece arrived extruded from the foundries, working it with mills and lathes, making holes and shaping it as needed. The second one concerns the office work, that for me consists in checking the drawings coming from the R&D Department and uploading them into the CAM software that turns them into rendering and analyzes curves, holes and processes; these are the prerequisites for the automatic generation of code lines that are sent to machine tools. All things that, years ago, used to be done manually».
Did someone help you at first, or did you learn it all by yourself?
«The headquarters of Torre de' Roveri has always been directed by Raffaello Mazzola, one of the founding members of Solema, key figure within the company and reference person of this branch. And it was Raffaello to be my guide, a kind of mentor for me and for the other guys who have been here. Even today, he is responsible for planning and he is still supervising all projects that come out of this department».
How much did the arrival of computers affect your work? Which software do you use in the department?
«I would say that computers have had a lot of impact. At Solema we have always tried to keep up with the times and technological innovations. When they put me to work on the cutter, I had to learn briefly the Fanuc programming language. At first it seemed very difficult, but then I realized that without the Fanuc I could not grow and make progresses. Then, in 2004, Esprit came, a 3D CAM that integrates the simulation of workpieces.
Last spring Solema was finalizing the purchase of new generation software that would revolutionize the way we work. The arrival of the pandemic has stopped everything, but negotiations for the purchase have resumed recently and training days have already been planned for me and my colleagues.
It will be another help that will speed up the production, as proof of Solema’s will to stay up-to-date, offering the best quality to customers.
Talking about machines, just six months ago a new CNC machine has arrived, dedicated to the machining of aluminum and light alloys, found in a trade fair by our R&D Department. Thanks to a particular rotating head it allows to work the raw pieces on several axes at the same time (before, it could be done on one axle only at a time). This machine is mainly used to work the aluminum profiles (frames) of the machines that will then be assembled in Pedrengo. Its technology allows us to reduce machining times by an average of 64% with a considerable saving of time and consequent benefit for customers.
I would like to add one thing: after some time spent in front of the computer, I feel the desire to shape the metal "with my hands", and then to speed me up, I run to the mill to work on it. I cannot stay too far from the machines: manual work gives me more satisfaction than computers».
In these 22 years is there a work episode that you remember?
«I remember, about 15 years ago, that I was working on a particular piece of aluminum that didn’t want to be lathed as I wanted. I stopped working there for ten minutes and I went out to have a break. And there I had the intuition: try to rework the piece starting from a larger block, to be able to close it with the clamps, lower, only temporarily, and then remove the excess part. The finished piece was just as it was needed, perfect to be delivered to my colleagues in Pedrengo. Raffaello Mazzola, my supervisor as I told you before, when saw the piece and knew how I had got it, complimented me for this solution. Well, saving awes, this time – and only this time – the apprentice surpassed the master – can we say this, no?
This is an episode that I will always remember, as it shows the tenacity that you need while working and the desire to never break down, always looking for an alternative way to get to the final result».
Mechanical engineering schools are among the most popular. Is there anything you would like to tell to the new generation of assemblers and lathe operators?
«The first thing I feel like saying is "don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty". There is one thing I often notice in the new levers, and it is what I call "low feel-like-doing": often young people have the mind turned only to the mobile phone. In the company, however, I’m lucky to have two recently hired guys who really have a roll-up-your-sleeves attitude. They seem to have been working here for a long time, and sometimes they come up with ideas and proposals that leave me speechless.
But others have also passed, maybe in summer internships, that did not have these skills... So the advice I have to give them is to have fewer crickets in head, look less at the smartphone and... work. In this work there is nothing more beautiful than to see how from a piece of rough iron could born a finished one, ready to be assembled in a machine. A bit like what happened to Geppetto when he built Pinocchio».
What are Solema’s main strenghts to convince a customer to give you a project?
«In recent years I have seen a great dedication to work by everyone and the desire of the company to always meet the customers’ demands, even the most complicated. The typical customer that we commonly imagine could simply adapt to the machines that he finds in our “catalogue". But here in Solema we tend to turn this scenario upside down, adapting each time our products to customer requirements. I had often worked on projects in which we were suddenly asked for "that little bit extra", or different from the agreements made, while the work was already in progress. Thanks to the teamwork, we have always been able to fulfill every customer need, always finding the most suitable solution. Take as example, the Graphic Art industry, which is an important part of our work. The book itself is an extraordinary concentration of technical values, conferred by each of the production processes that contribute to its realization (design, printing, binding): Solema machines – which handle this noble product – have to adapt to this extreme refinement. But even in these cases, where possible, our customers use to raise the bar. A more precious paper, a special binding or a new choice in processing are all things that need special adjustments on our machines. And, basically, this always translates into new mechanical parts with a more refined design. Solema’s way of working has always been aimed at the search for innovative systems that meet these particular demands. I believe that willingness and innovation are two important strengths of Solema that make for sure the difference».
Thanks to Claudio and Alessandro. And good work.
Keep following us: in one of the upcoming news we will introduce two other Solema Seniors, Davide Franzoni of the Sales Department and Alex Persico of the R&D Department.
To have more info about Solema write to firstname.lastname@example.org or call +39 035 654111.