The appointment with the Seniors is back: a selection of Solema employees who have experienced the foundation and development of the company and have contributed to the growth of the young, motivating them day after day in their training and integration process.
Today we meet: Valentino Barcella, in charge of the Production Department, Paolo Zenoni, in charge of the Assembly Department, and Camillo Vavassori, in charge of the Electrical Workshop and Warehouse.
Valentino, who as a child wanted to be a lathe turner and is now foreman of the mechanical workshop.
Valentino Barcella, 54, has been working at Solema since July 2010 and has been the Head of the Production Department and Mechanical Workshop in Torre de’ Roveri for three years.
Before joining Solema, every day he would pass by our headquarters in Via Carducci in Pedrengo, hoping, one day, to be able to work with us. Wish granted! After the classic apprenticeship and a period of growth in which he also had the task of guiding newcomers, came the career leap at the helm of a department which includes, in addition to himself, 20 specialized workers.
Valentino, tell us how you arrived at Solema, how your first years were here and how you became department manager.
‘From 1995 to 2010 I worked at a mechanical company not far from the Solema headquarters, where I dealt with everything related to mechanical work, acquiring over the years good experience on all the main machine tools around at the time. Then one day the company closed due to ceased activity and I suddenly found myself on the redeployment list with the need to look for a new job. Two colleagues who worked with me in the same company told me that in Solema they were looking for three workers with our experience. We took turns interviewing and within a few days all three of us found ourselves employed by Solema as skilled workers.
At a very short distance from the Solema headquarters is the mechanical production plant in Torre de’ Roveri, and that’s where my working adventure at Solema began. After a few years I was entrusted with the task of following the work of the newcomers. This until 2021, when the old production manager decided to leave his position and I took over as department manager.’
Did you already know of Solema at the time of the first interview?
‘I knew of Solema because I passed it by every day on my way to work and every time I wondered if one day I would ever be able to work for them... I also had heard of the Mazzola brothers, founders of the company, because they were very well known in our sector, just like the name Solema.’
What exactly does the Solema Production Department do?
‘Our department deals with the physical construction of the components and mechanical parts of all the machines sold by Solema. The working process is this: the design department provides us with the drawings of the various pieces which, once finished and treated, are transferred to the Pedrengo headquarters, where they are assembled in the assembly department, thus becoming full-fledged machines. The pieces that are instead destined for the spare parts market are stored in the warehouse, which is also in Pedrengo.’
Do you make everything internally or do you also rely on third-party workshops?
‘When the designers send us the drawings, my collaborators and I evaluate whether to make them entirely in-house or whether to send them to third-party workshops. Much depends on the type of treatment that the individual components must undergo, such as phosphating, painting, chrome plating, zinc plating, and so on. Depending on the case, we decide which workshop to send them to. If, on the other hand, the component does not require any machining, the production is done entirely in-house. In this case, I personally organize the work by choosing the ideal machine, how many resources to use, and how much time to allocate to the order.’
Any advice you would like to give to young people who want to do your job?
‘Mine is a demanding job that requires a lot of passion to be able to do it well. I say this because, since I was a child, I’ve always had a passion for machines. When I was 12 I often visited a cousin who had a small turning and milling shop, and I fell in love with this job watching him work on the machines. I was fascinated seeing him turning the various pieces and I imagined myself grown up there in his place…
Then, like in all fields, you need to want to work really hard.’
When you arrived at Solema, in 2010, there was only the GraphicArt division. Then, in 2013, the PaperBoard division was born with the acquisition of the Roda brand and its fleet of machines. How did you experience the arrival of this new division?
‘Initially, to be honest, we were a bit taken aback, because the PaperBoard sector, which required the use of Roda machines, needed pieces and components of a completely different type and with different structures compared to the machines used for GraphicArt. But after an initial period of adjustment and thanks to everyone’s commitment as self-taught people, we aligned ourselves and started optimizing the work for the new division too. I remember that our first order for a PaperBoard machine took place around Christmas, so with Raffaello Mazzola and all the others, before saying goodbye for the Christmas holidays, we said to one another: “Guys, let’s rest well these holidays because after that there’s going to be hard work to be done and done well.” And we were right…’
What do you think is Solema’s main strength?
‘Solema’s strength is that it always has a solution at hand, whatever the customer’s request. We always try to satisfy every desire, even if it means banging our heads against a wall over and over. This is what I learned during my experience here at Solema. And it’s something I fully agree with, because it was the secret that allowed Solema to grow successfully for over 40 years.’
Paolo, historical memory of Solema and expert in ‘department start-up’.
Paolo Zenoni, 55, holds the position of Head of the Assembly Department. He was among the very first employees hired by Solema, in 1982, a few months after the foundation of the company.
As a boy he chose to abandon his studies to dedicate himself to the world of work. At Solema he specialized in starting up and organizing the work of new departments. His long career has led him to discover many secrets of the company, thus becoming the historical memory of Solema. And he tells us about the time he worked for 36 hours straight…
Paolo, tell us about your first steps at Solema.
‘After middle school I started an evening school to learn about and be able to interpret mechanical drawings, and at work I put into practice what I learned in the evening at the desk. I remember one day, at dinner, my parents specifically asked me if I wanted to continue with my studies or if I’d rather drop everything and go to work. I chose work, unlike my brother who instead wanted to continue studying. It was actually a colleague of my brother who told me that Solema was looking for someone young to help out in the workshop, and so I met the Mazzola brothers, the founders of Solema, and the next day I was already working in the workshop. It was 1982 and I was one of the very first to be hired at Solema. At that time there were only 4 of us… but the machines we made were already revolutionary.’
And how did you become head of the assembly department?
‘During the evolution phase, Solema needed to expand by moving a series of products to different facilities, and in those moments, I remember that I would take over to start the organization, assembly management, and the first stages of the work. Then, once the work started, I would leave the department in others’ hands, and in this way, I was able to acquire good experience in almost all of Solema’s sectors, or at least those close to my work training. Then, in 1996 I settled permanently in Pedrengo in the assembly department, where I became manager in 2000.’
And then you stopped in the assembly department. What exactly does your job consist of?
‘In the assembly department we follow the entire process of building the machines from start to finish. We assemble the various pieces that arrive from the Torre de’ Roveri workshop and we work closely with the other departments of the company, in particular with the mechanical workshop and the technical office, with which I communicate constantly to avoid having a piece missing just when you need it or to exchange opinions on the technical parts of the machines. I personally supervise all the assembly operations and coordinate the workers in the various phases of the work, giving advice when needed. In today’s young people I see myself when I was a novice labourer and this very memory helps me manage the various problems, but also the satisfactions and goals achieved.’
What was work like 40 years ago? Very different from today?
«In those days we worked frantically and without any kind of schedule. Everything was dedicated exclusively to doing what the customers asked as well as possible. Not that that’s not the case now, but back then there weren’t the distractions of today like answering right away to emails or the phone.’
Is there an episode in particular that you remember?
I remember that time we had to deliver several machines that were part of the same plant that had taken us longer than expected: we worked for 36 hours straight without a break. Those were different times and we wanted to rock the world already. And in many respects, we succeeded. I still have before me the image of the truck that left at 5 in the morning when it was still dark and the sun was starting to rise… In that period, we worked to create innovative and non-standard machines, and when you want to create something new that does not yet exist on the market you have to take into account more hours than expected precisely because it takes time to try and try again, until you find the right recipe. A recipe that has become, over the years, an indelible part of the work at Solema. Then, as now.’
40 years is a long time! You could write Solema’s story if they asked you.
‘True! My long experience at Solema would allow me to tell the story of the company from A to Z. Indeed, many of my colleagues kind of consider me the historical memory of Solema, precisely because my varied experience I mentioned earlier allowed me to learn about details that some of my younger colleagues or new hires do not know.’
From 1982 to today, how has the way you work changed with the arrival of computers and new technologies?
‘When I started, the warehouse wasn’t automated like today; we had several shelves in the department so we marked the things that were missing with pen and notepad to ensure resupply. A bit like a grocery list. But now everything is automated and the way we work has certainly changed, it has sped up; automation has helped us make our work leaner and more profitable, but also easier. But at Solema, even before the arrival of new technologies, we already had a way to work that was very close to what it would later become with the use of computers. My department has benefited a lot from new technologies: for example, when I need to know how far along a machine assembly is, I insert a code into the computer, which immediately gives me the status of the job, and from there I can understand if we are in line with the expected assembly times or if we need to speed up a bit to be absolutely certain to respect the delivery times promised to the customer, thus avoiding waste of time and money.’
Camillo, who is going to reach the milestone of 20 years at Solema next year
Camillo Vavassori, 53, has been with Solema since 2004 and next year he is celebrating 20 years of activity at our company.
Currently he is Head of the Electrical Workshop and of the Warehouse, two departments where he coordinates a total of 15 people.
In his long career he has seen a lot of young workers pass by and to those who want to come to work for Solema he says: ‘By coming here, you hit the jackpot! Because you will find a united family and plenty of room to grow. But trust must be reciprocated and deserved!’
Camillo, tell us about your first steps at Solema and when you took on the role of department manager.
‘Before joining Solema, I worked at other companies in the area, first as an electrician and wirer of electrical materials and then as a workshop manager. In 2004, the last company I worked for closed its doors. At the time I had already collaborated a couple of times with Solema and then I learned that they were looking for someone with my skills. I applied and was hired as an electrician. Two years later, in 2006, the manager of the electrical workshop became general manager and asked me to replace him. That was my first job as a department head supervising and organizing all the work related to the electrical machine sector, including the maintenance of machine tools. Then, a few years ago, Solema needed to improve the organization and efficiency of the warehouse and I was asked if I felt like I could do it. It also involved taking charge of the entire logistics sector, so a demanding and high-responsibility job, but I accepted without hesitation.’
How does work look like in the departments you are in charge of?
‘The two departments, even if quite distinct, communicate a lot with each other. In the electrical workshop we take care of the production and operation of the electrical panels of all the machines and lines produced by Solema. Each machine requires its own specific job: there are machines, such as the Magic Box, that have a single and compact electrical panel, but there are also some lines, such as the Packaging Line, made up of more machines that need more space, since there are more conveyor belts, so they need several electrical panels. We at the department take care of building and making these panels work as well as they can, sometimes customizing them with customer requests, with particular electrical diagrams that require the relative machine board that must be set up on the single machine. In the warehouse we take care of stocking all the finished pieces that arrive from Torre de’ Roveri. To organize and speed up these operations, for some years we have been using MODULA, innovative lifts that automatically pick up the goods on several floors. We also manage all the segment relating to spare parts, a sector that here at Solema has had a recent surge thanks to the SPARE PARTS website , a tool dedicated to companies having difficulty finding commercial items such as electronic and pneumatic components, or components of dated or discontinued machines. In stock there are about 30,000 items divided into categories, from electronics to transmissions, from pneumatics to small parts.’
In your departments there is a continuous flow of young people in apprenticeships or internships waiting to enter the world of work. What advice would you give to those who want to come and work at Solema?
‘First of all, I would like to say one thing: if you are hired by Solema, you have to know you hit the jackpot. Here you will find a big family willing to help you and no one will ever breath down your neck. You will have freedom of action and infinite room for growth. However, you must demonstrate that you deserve all of this, you must be a vacuum cleaner, a sponge, and absorb as much as possible of everything you are told and taught, but at the same time you must know how to listen and speak, always put yourself into what you do, and demonstrate that you are interested in the job, being proactive and willing to learn and, perhaps, ready to fail and try again.’
With regards to your departments, is there any particular project you are working on?
‘We are working to make our machines even safer. The issue of safety in the workplace is very dear to Solema, and we above all who deal with electrical systems are constantly looking for increasingly safer but at the same time high-performance and fast solutions. So, thinking about the future, Solema is trying in every way to keep up with the times because we have seen that if you stop, you are lost. As far as shipping and logistics are concerned, we have set ourselves the goal of becoming a customs office ourselves by mid-2024, creating a huge advantage for customers in terms of saving money and time.’
In these almost twenty years of working for Solema, is there a moment in particular that comes to mind?
‘One thing I will always remember is the event organized last year for Solema’s fortieth anniversary. The company, after inviting customers and suppliers, decided to open its doors to the families of the workers as well. This is proof of how open the company is towards its employees. A really nice initiative. So, for the first time my wife and children were able to see where I work and spend most of my day. The event was also a moment of integration between the various employees, especially between newcomers and those, like me, who have been with Solema for a lifetime.’
What are Solema’s weapons to convince a customer to entrust you with a project?
‘The thing that distinguishes Solema from the others is the artisan nature of the work. For us, each customer is the most important customer and everything they ask of us we try in every way to tailor it perfectly, as if we were creating a bespoke suit. To do this you have to remain a craftsman, even if you are known all over the world. But it is precisely our craftsmanship that has allowed us to be famous everywhere. And if sometimes we are unable to satisfy the customer 100%, we do it 90%, trying to work every day to reach that remaining 10%.’
For more information about Solema, write to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 035 654111.