The trip from hell to carnival in Venice

Italian machine tool makers rise to meet technology challenge

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So here I am standing in front of the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, letting out the biggest sigh of all, at the start of what can best be called the trip from hell. Believe it or not, this trip started last December in Boston when my flight to Milan was cancelled two days in a row as a result of a fierce coastal storm that dumped up to 30 inches of snow on Logan Airport over two days. In all I spent 17 hours at the airport, including two aborted boardings and one recall from a take-off.

It took several weeks to reschedule the trip. All was set for a late February departure. However the airline had another surprise in store—a flight cancelled due to snow in Milan with an additional 90-minute meltdown of their computer, which snafued the airline's domestic and international flight schedule for that day.

After three futile round trips to the airport, much schedule juggling, innumerable e-mail and telephone communications with my hosts, and aggravating re-ticketing procedures, I finally arrived in Venice, two months, one day, and two hours late, but at last here. Talk about irony, it's carnival in Venice. Walking, and water taxiing, this fabled city, in late Winter sunshine, admiring the throngs of Venetians costumed for the pre-Lenten holiday, was a treat that assuaged the pent up frustration brought on by the cancelled and delayed flights. This is evidenced by my smiling countenance to the left.

What brought me to Northern Italy was an invitation to visit the world's leading supplier of laser tube cutters, with an additional visit to a world-leading producer of exhaust systems for motorcycles and farm tractors. Both of these are profiled starting on page 6 of this issue.

Of course, an added treat was the occasion to sample the great northern Italian cooking at a number of restaurants offering traditional cooking.

Fortunately for me, three of the sites visited share fabulous vistas of the foothills of the Italian Alps, and two of them share views of beautiful Lake Como, which is nestled in these "Pre-Alps," as the locals call them.

Regular readers of this column are, I'm sure, waiting for the well known segue into technology. How about this one? The magnificent snow-capped mountains surrounding Lake Como, especially the three called the Horns of Canzo, Mount Grigna (I and II at 7000 feet), and Mount Resegone (saw-tooth ridged at 6200 feet), are a climber's paradise, presenting challenges to those who accept the formidable task of scaling the sheer cliffs of the latter, but enjoy the exhilaration and reward of arriving at the summit.

Both the BLM Group and its subsidiary Adige Sala have risen to the challenge of countering what they see as a negative global perception of the Italian machine tool technology, as they offer advanced automated tube processing equipment. Their plants are modern, bright, remarkably neat and clean, and well laid out, each with an extraordinary equipment showroom featuring all their tube processing systems. What is more, their production floors are full of tube cutting and bending systems in various stages of assembly, prior to shipment to worldwide customers.

Laser tube cutting, long an accepted operation in Europe, is just now experiencing a strong growth phase in North America.

These companies have attained the pinnacle of their technologies in tube bending and laser tube cutting, and by so doing have raised the bar for other systems suppliers serving the global market. Product innovation, respect for their customers, and dedicated employees are behind the success of these companies. And, in this era of provincialism taken by some countries, isn't it refreshing to see hard work and product savvy pay off.

David A. Belforte

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