Case Study

Pressurized fluid transport components specialist deploys comprehensive and integrated design, data management, simulation and manufacturing solution; gains process advantage in highly competitive market space

Intertraco

Intertraco promotes excellence, productivity and innovation through technological agility

Lean and agile

Intertraco SpA (Intertraco) is a specialist in fluid connectors, which are the metal components employed to convey fluid under pressure. In a global scenario dominated by large corporations, Intertraco is a mid-sized company doing business in the medium-to-high-end market range, acting as a business partner rather than just a component supplier.

Located in Suzzara, Italy, near Mantua, Intertraco has been growing steadily by focusing on a small number of high-value customers who share similar business models and long-term goals. “Some 80 percent of our turnover comes from less than thirty customers,” says Stefano Bertazzoni, managing director at Intertraco. Bertizzoni and his sister, Stefania Bertizzoni, have been guiding the company since 1979. “We are often in competition with big-name brands; yet, in many organizations, we have replaced our larger competitors as a result of our capacity to provide an equivalent or better product, combined with a leaner and more flexible relationship.”

The result is an organization with three manufacturing sites in Italy (Suzzara, Gallarate and Saronno), a subsidiary in Germany, a warehouse in Miami (for the North American market), 150 employees, €44 million in revenues in 2011, and a 92 percent export share across Europe, Oceania, South Africa, North America and the Far East.

From distributor to specialist

After starting off in the late 1970s as a distributor of mechanical and hydraulic components, Intertraco increasingly focused on the production of components for pressurized fluids, both through direct investments and the acquisition of a supplier in Gallarate, Italy, near Varese.

Another essential step toward becoming a thriving fluid connector specialist was the integration of its metal couplings production program with a full range of high-pressure flexible hoses. “For 12 years now, we have been partnering with Bridgestone of Japan as their exclusive distributor in Europe for their range of high-pressure flexible hoses. These are complemented by other hoses made to our specification and with our own brand for the European market.”

Bertazzoni notes, “A turning point in our history was the transition from the production of parts to the development of our own product collection, articulated in different families.” Today, Intertraco’s offerings include a broad, diverse range of couplings and fittings; flexible hoses of different types and materials, and quick release couplings, swivel joints and adaptors. Delivered both loose for sales to distributors and assembled for OEM customers, these products are mainly installed on earthworks machinery, fixed hydraulic equipment, mining equipment, offshore rigs, and forestry and agricultural machinery. Bertazzoni adds, “Our customer portfolio includes brands such as Sandvik, Caterpillar, Liebherr and Bosch Rexroth. The latter used Intertraco to produce the hoses for the Mose lagoon protection system in Venice, Italy.”

When the company first considered new processes, management, guided by Bertazzoni, recognized the need to adopt innovative tools. “We design and manufacture items that can be considered simple; they are basically lathe parts, symmetrical objects that rotate around their axis, so a 2D design system was more than adequate. And actually, traditional design with AutoCAD fully supported us for a decade, from the early 1990s. Drawing in 2D was quick and easy. However, as our business model evolved, we realized that, by adopting innovative machinery and advanced systems for project design and management, we could shorten cycle time significantly and become very efficient, fast and capable of responding more promptly to market demand.”

A confident choice

Technology investments were driven by management, with Stefano Bertazzoni himself as “main sponsor,” supported by Intertraco’s chief financial officer, Davide Fava, who is in charge of the company’s information technology (IT) systems and has been since inception. “Management was in the front line for the introduction of 3D design software,” says Fava. “When we had to handle thousands of drawings, we realized they could be grouped into families. We could redesign the parent parts of our components as 3D blocks, investing a little more time at the beginning, then realizing an extraordinarily faster and more efficient editing process.”

Management reviewed solutions from the product lifecycle management (PLM) domain, selecting Solid Edge® software, a comprehensive hybrid 2D/3D CAD package from Siemens PLM Software. The company now uses Solid Edge extensively to model and modify all of its products. “At the beginning, we were confronted with the typical resistance by users who were comfortable in old habits with tools that were working,” recalls Fava. “However, we were very confident in our decision to go with Solid Edge, so we accelerated the transition to avoid a long period of coexistence between different systems.” He notes that it was an inevitable phase, but that his team quickly got on board: “Today, all our users approve of the choice we made. Among important benefits, Solid Edge helps us respond to the weekly requests of OEM customers who ask to receive the 3D models of our couplings to see how they fit into their machines. This is not inconsequential, as other suppliers do not offer this opportunity, so we have an advantage in terms of sales.”

Efficient management and testing

The implementation and use of Solid Edge showed Intertraco managers a potent way to significantly improve productivity. They soon identified further opportunities in PLM and finite element analysis (FEA). “When we evaluated Solid Edge, I collected information about available PLM solutions,” says Fava. He noted that management deemed it essential to be able to meet sophisticated requirements for versioning and change management, as well as be able to quickly respond to tracking requests and feedback from customers. Fava explains, “Beyond CAD, we were strongly driven to adopt Teamcenter as an access portal for all corporate users. Beyond engineering, our purchasing and sales departments must have a single point of access to our intellectual property and information assets, and Teamcenter proved to be the best match for this requirement.”

Fava explains the reason for the selection of Teamcenter® software, preconfigured for rapid deployment and fast return on investment, from Siemens PLM Software: “Management is promoting a new business maxim across the organization: the customer, not the product, is king. This maxim has translated into a new approach, whereby everyone must refer to Teamcenter as the single and secure repository for all information. We’ve assigned the appropriate access permissions throughout the company. For example, we implemented Teamcenter on the shop floor, so that production managers can use check-in and check-out functions to view the information they need. They can readily see exactly what was developed in engineering, accessing up-to-date product releases and versions, and then give feedback to the engineers.”

Intertraco’s second area of interest was finite element modeling (FEM). The company has a research and development (R&D) center where all couplings (loose or assembled on hoses) are tested for performance and reliability. Traditional test procedures required the construction of a prototype for physical tests to verify the impact of modifications on performance, after each modification to the drawing of a part or a construction material. “In the past, when we changed a radius, for instance, we had an idea of the consequences,” says Fava, “but for an exact evaluation, physical testing was necessary, obviously not on one piece, but on a number of parts. Now, with Femap, the CAD model accurately anticipates the impact of each modification on product performance, after which the test is just aimed at checking the FEM calculations.”

Intertraco engineers have already verified the effectiveness of this process, especially in static tests for coupling explosion, where laboratory results confirmed the accuracy of Siemens PLM Software’s Femap™ software within a 2 to 3 percent margin. Fava explains, “As we designed new couplings, Solid Edge and Femap helped us identify critical issues and understand which portions of an object could be thinned out, while strengthening weak spots. Based on what we have seen so far, we are very pleased. We are encouraging our engineering department to make the most of Femap, because we believe this tool will enable us to introduce several enhancements easily. With Femap, for instance, we can calculate all load losses on quick couplings, and answer specific questions from our customers.”

Direct workflow from machine tool to PLM

Intertraco also implemented Siemens PLM Software’s CAM Express in anticipation of the construction of a new mechanical workshop in Suzzara, designed to augment the company’s Gallarate site and other existing production assets. Intertraco engineers are now testing new machines, which they plan to equip with more advanced control systems. These will be used to monitor each piece in-line, with a dimension reader that feeds data to statistical process control (SPC) software and interacts with the machine’s processor. Based on the results, the company will define investments for the new Suzzara unit, including the number of people to be employed in relation to the equipment fleet.

“We have already implemented CAM Express on all machine tools in Gallarate, implementing statistical control in production with real-time remote visualization from Suzzara,” says Fava. “With production across two factories, we need a consistent approach. Furthermore, if either workshop introduces enhancements, these will be immediately available to the other unit. With integrated CAD, CAM and CAE, we will have common assets not only for software, but also for the machining programs of each part, whereby everyone contributes to continuous improvement and benefits from enhancements developed by others.”

A strategic choice

Intertraco has implemented several modules from Siemens PLM Software, including Solid Edge, Teamcenter, Femap and CAM Express. These out-of-the-box productivity tools are very affordable and are targeted at meeting the needs of mainstream manufacturing organizations.

However, the selection of Siemens PLM Software as a technology partner was also based on the evidence that, increasingly, machine tool manufacturers are standardizing on Siemens control systems. Bertazzoni explains, “We chose the full Siemens package because we consider it strategic to invest not just in solutions, but in the companies behind them. In this case, it’s Siemens with their PLM Software business and Novasystem, Siemens PLM Software’s partner that has been supporting us in this ambitious project from the very start – with implementation services, consulting and training – to the full satisfaction of our engineering department.”

Collaboration has been instrumental in Intertraco’s highly successful and especially productive implementation. “For our team, the experience with Intertraco was very important, because we could support the company through a major transition of their manufacturing process,” notes Graziano Bergonzi, PLM division manager at Novasystem. “It was a great satisfaction for us to see how the implementation of PLM technology helps companies in their innovation process and makes them more competitive in the market. Another positive aspect is that we had the opportunity to support Intertraco in the integration of all data and processes, from design to verification and production, serving the company with the specific expertise and skills of our specialists in CAD, CAM, FEM and PLM.”

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