Assomac Director, Roberto Vago, outlines the final results of Simac Tanning Tech and the challenges that the industry will have to face to confirm its international presence.

Roberto Vago

“Last September’s Simac Tanning Tech (STT) marked the beginning of a new era,” says Roberto Vago, director of Assomac, the Association of Italian Manufacturers of Footwear, Leather Goods and Tanning Technologies, which organised the event. The Director continues, “it was a courageous edition, the first to be held with the physical presence of the entire supply chain – Micam, Mipel, Lineapelle – and that sent out a strong signal regarding the desire of the entire industry to restart and, for Italy, to continue to want to be an international leader.” If in the past these events were moments of meeting, today, in the case of STT, they are also important moments of information regarding the different technological evolutions, both in terms of the product and process. “This is a crucial issue that both politics and companies must consider. Today, it is no longer enough to offer the market reliable, high-quality individual technologies, we need certified systems that, thanks to digital innovation, are increasingly capable of ensuring the measurability and traceability of production processes. The issue of the future, which we must start preparing ourselves for, will involve being able to define with certainty, certification and security where and how a product is born, what its life cycle is, and what its sustainability prospects will be at the end of its life.” Sustainability is increasingly the key issue: what implications does this have for the industry? “It is predicted that 9.5 billion people will inhabit the Earth by 2050. Obviously, the number of shoes and fashion accessories will grow accordingly and will grow regardless of whether we make them beautiful or ugly. Consumption will rise, particularly in the fashion and food industries. The key is to optimise production complexes and, therefore, obtain quality products with lower waste, reduced energy consumption and above all, with a limited use of resource. From the point of view of our companies, however, I would say that the fair marked the evident presence of a selected number of customers looking for technical solutions (and not only) for all-round sustainability. Furthermore, it should be noted that leather is no longer the only vital element in the industry’s production cycle, but one of the many materials used in the supply chain. For a variety of reasons, including the price, which has almost doubled in the last six months compared to the period at the beginning of the pandemic, when it had fallen to an all-time low. It will be important for us to keep the focus on this material, but also to open ourselves to alternatives.” How should the production model change in order to adapt to the changed scenario? “China, which we have been accustomed to calling ‘the factory of the world,’ is now proposing itself as a builder of solutions. It has decided to create its own internal quality standards and export these models to the world. This has consequences both on the Chinese domestic market and on the countries that China is able to influence – such as Africa for example. If, until now, standardisation in this field has been one of the issues that has seen us excel at an international level, and has seen us as protagonists in defining both safety and quality standards, the new Chinese course could undermine our leadership and, by exploiting regulatory dumping, raise new barriers not only against Italy, but also against the whole of Europe. The Chinese have announced that the new ‘Made in China’ will become operational in 2025. Practically tomorrow morning. This is much shorter than the 12 years it took us to metabolise the REACH regulations. When that happens, Italian-made products risk being put in considerable difficulty. This is why ASSOMAC has revised the message it wants to convey to the market. No longer just ‘Made in Italy,’ but a more complete ‘Made with Italian Technology.’ This is the mantra we have inserted in the association’s new website, shifting the focus from the product to the process. To answer the initial question: we must transform ourselves from machine manufacturers to system manufacturers. Integrated systems capable of providing a unique, innovative and complete service to their users. The only way to avoid losing out is to make the Italian technological offer more articulated, complex and complete, involving the upstream and downstream supply chain. Remaining mere machine manufacturers exposes us too much to the risk of being crushed by Asian competition.” How will STT transform itself to meet the changing market? “I believe and hope it can be a meeting point not only for traditional technology. I hope it will become an inclusive trade fair, capable of broadening its horizons to include neighbouring themes and industries that help our industry to grow and develop. We will be focusing on the ‘phygital’ model, given that more and more operators will only move in response to specific needs: a digital and physical mix that will have to be reinvented, as there is no predefined model. Using new tools, after all, is the only way to continue to play a leading role in the markets. It is no longer enough to just pick up your briefcase and go, we must equip ourselves with new solutions that can serve our interlocutors in the best possible way.” What aspects must Italian companies take into account in order to remain market leaders? “There are essentially two. The first is the age aspect. Today, those who guide, manage and develop new production systems and models have an average age of less than thirty, especially in Asian countries. People with digital skills that are completely different from those who dealt with the same issues in Europe even just a few years ago. Taking this into account should make Italian companies reflect on the human resources to be involved in their companies. The second aspect is not to take our leadership in the industry for granted. We are good at creating technological solutions, but we must, day after day, again and again, continue to maintain this leadership by focusing on digital technology and sustainability, the two themes at the heart of the new evolution and transformation of production systems of any kind.” Not having the size of Chinese companies, our companies will have to learn to collaborate: do you think that Italy is ready to overcome the usual individualism? “I believe it’s a one-way street: either we get together – and the formulas can be varied – or no one is saved. There is a word, which has been abused lately that puzzles me: ‘resilience.’ According to my technical training, the word ‘resilience’ is used to determine the physical characteristic of a product: its ability to adapt to the conditions in which it finds itself. In shape-memory materials, adaptation then implies a return to its original shape or condition. In my opinion, this is the negative part of the term that it would not be fair to apply to our industry. If, on the one hand, our companies have proved to be very resilient, because they have adapted to the environmental conditions of the pandemic, on the other hand, I would urge them not to believe that they have to go back to how and where they were before Covid. I’m afraid that would be a very big mistake. It’s a one-way street that we have taken: we have gone down it for a thousand reasons – and we could argue for hours about who is to blame rather than who is responsible – the fact is that we can no longer afford to go down this path backwards, we just have to move forward and take advantage of the opportunities for evolution that are offered to us.”