Exclusive: Behind the scenes at Cama’s robotics revolution
Playing a central role with this year’s World Confectionery Conference, the Cama Group’s packaging machinery systems are continuing to make strides with a key focus on advanced robotics delivering sustainability gains. Neill Barston meets sales director Alessandro Rocca at its newly-created headquarters near Milan, Italy
As we explore the new manufacturing base of Cama group in the Lecco area north of Milan, there seems a genuine sense of purpose amid its teams busily assembling packaging equipment lines. (See our exclusive video interview with the company here).
While many companies in the sector traditionally shut down over at least some of the summer, the Italian firm is determinedly keeping its production lines rolling on as, it has done throughout the entire two years of the Covid-19 pandemic. With the business recently celebrating its 40th anniversary, its teams remain focused on delivering a dynamic range of automated packaging systems and solutions for a number of industries, including confectionery and bakery market segments.
Its success to date is based on a focus on quality machinery for its customers, as well as innovation flowing through its a dedicated robotics division for its wide-ranging packaging systems. In a crowded field of global players, aiming to stand out from the pack certainly poses its challenges. But having this year broken the €100 million sales turnover barrier, there’s a sense the company – which will be making its return to participate in the World Confectionery Conference, is proving resilient under global pressures.
Like any other company in the sector, it is contending with logistics challenges including a cross-sector worldwide delay in electrical components, and is pressing ahead with an ambitious programme of expanding its global operations.
As its teams explain, the full delivery of its new multi-million flagship site, a short distance from its existing core site at Garbagnate Monastero, stands as a major priority over the coming 18 months.
After initially unveiling the scheme for its bold facility in the Molteno area in 2019, totalling around 25,000 square metres for its production staff and offices, there’s a key sense of anticipation over its potential. Notably, the new location, which is fast taking shape north of Milan, is being developed with a strong sense of sustainability in regenerating the site of a former milling business.
According to the firm’s recently appointed new group sales director, Alessandro Rocca (pictured main image), he believes it will herald a significant new chapter in the company’s history. “This is a huge investment for us. It is an exciting period for us having a new headquarters, offering more space for our ourselves, our machinery and for customers, and it will mean that production will be all based here rather than at our former headquarters which is already full, and another site that we have,” he explains of its proposals, which will accommodate up to around 300 employees and further teams of sub-contractors, who are clearly working hard to deliver the company through its transition phase to its new site.
Notably, Rocca acknowledges that there will be plenty of work ahead in bringing all its plans to fruition, but as we survey the state of the newly refurbished building, there’s a clear sense of vision that its significantly expanded assembly areas will prove game-changing.
“There have been challenges getting our site built – “It hasn’t been easy, as we started work a year before the pandemic, but then during Covid-19, we were forced to slow down for several reasons, but for the past eight months we completed work on it, and we shall be phasing final completion of it over the next 18 months,” he asserts with a genuine sense of pride in its development. Moreover, he notes the company’s comprehensive range of machinery is designed around enabling flexible solutions for its customers – which include some of the biggest names in the global confectionery manufacturing sector who have come to rely on its systems.
As the firm’s sales director reveals, the sweets, snacks and bakery segments are particularly valuable areas of focus accounting for around half of its present operations. This is increasingly focused on the delivery of complex turnkey lines to provide a total equipment solution for its customers. Consequently, as the demands of its high-profile companies increase over time, it is continuing to deliver technical enhancements to its series of packaging lines that are designed with Industry 4.0 principles of advanced robotics and wider automation at their core.
Robotics has spread everywhere into our machinery. We have a very good division devoted to this, which has increased its activity a lot since the early days. So, the number of robots is increasing year on year, and we try to apply them within in packaging machines, as well as our other lines such as in wraparound and cartoning systems. “We’re very proud to have our own robots, as using our own technology enables us to use the same software solutions across our portfolio. That’s an important thing for us,” he explains, adding that the company is in the process of adding to its latest robotics systems in response to heightened customer demand.
Similarly, the business is also training its focus on vision monitoring systems linked to its robotics capabilities, which the sales director says are evolving at a notably rapid rate, made possible due to the fact that at least five per cent of its turnover is continuing to be devoted to R&D.
Furthermore, the company is continually developing systems across the full spectrum of the packaging machinery segment, from forming and closing systems, case wrapping systems, through to its twin-axis robotic loading machinery lines, equipped with product grouping devices, package phasing conveyors and single or multiple heads. Indeed, one of its latest projects took centre stage recently at the major IPACK-IMA in Milan event, where the company showcased a key line with a battery of 12 flagship Triaflex robots designed to pick up product ranges and place items in trays, delivered with full Industry 4.0 systems functionality, underlining its focus on seeking to create a technological edge for manufacturers. “I am very proud to be working for a company that’s in the top three within the secondary packaging arena.
“We’re competing with other European businesses, but we believe that our quality of equipment and technology are developed to an especially high degree. “Our local market is only a small part of our business, as we’re exporting worldwide to the US, Asia, India, China, France and Latin America, which is another exciting thing for us. We have six subsidiaries, and with every country being slightly different, it is a question of having to take into consideration a lot of factors. That is what makes it both exciting and complicated, but it’s what I love to do,” explains the director of his pivotal role, which he says offers a host of tests as he ventures to examine projects around the world. “It’s the most important thing, to see customers lines running well,” he enthuses, explaining that in addition to its core global accounts, there’s a sizeable number of local small and medium-sized customers who are all equally valued.
That’s perhaps a very Italian principle of the company seeming particularly engaged with its customer base – and one of the key reasons that its team says it has enjoyed repeated orders for its fast-operating, flexible machinery during four decades in business.
“We’re invested in customers for the long-term, to have technical discussions with them in order to make improvements. Our mindset is not just one of simply selling equipment and then that is it, which is something our customers recognise.”
As Alessandro adds, while the pandemic posed its tests, the company is determined to fulfil its order pipeline. He says among many recent highlights was a key project in Hawaii for a large chocolate packaging line, which he says was especially challenging to deliver, yet satisfying to accomplish.
From there, he says there have been some interesting ventures for the business in the US, including an installation for a US food processing group which involved the work of a new segment of Cama that looked at the early stages of assembling products for the customer. “We’ve also had some big orders in Asia as well, which are areas that are giving us some real success working with partners over there, and we have now found there are some companies in that region that are now ready for our solutions,” he says of its activities.
He explains one of its most striking breakthroughs has been in devising an enhanced factory acceptance testing service. This utilises augmented reality featuring smart cameras close to a machine’s primary operational elements, which give customers real-time video access to the equipment’s tests.
Another area of notable strength for the business is its dedication to working with customers on devising appropriate packaging, for confectionery, especially given the sector’s ever-growing focus upon creating sustainable solutions. “Factory Acceptance testing (FAT), will really improve through having our new site with all our different aggregates for the machinery all in one place. “As turnkey suppliers, we are able to assist customers with the space that we have, in seeing how their whole lines will work, which will bring a big benefit to them,” he notes, stating that it is already able to operate with sophisticated projects of significant scale for its key clients.
Turning his attention to the state of the market, Alessandro concedes that while the business is making progress, there are broader market forces impacting on the company. With conditions being notably turbulent in some quarters of the world, notably the ongoing war in Ukraine, the key issue of ensuring supply of specialist parts is something of a concern to its teams. He says: “The biggest challenge we’re facing now is the global shortage of electrical components. It’s affecting everyone in the industry – we have machinery waiting here for orders, which can impact on customers, which is an area of difficulty.
“While I like to be optimistic, I do not expect a lot of improvements on this in the next year. There are ways to try and mitigate this through buying alternative components, but everyone else is trying to do this as well. I can’t say we’re unaffected, but we’re surviving,” he adds of the present log-jam in the system which has resulted in the company setting up an entirely new department to handle the trading complexities that are now a daily reality. Despite a complex business trading backdrop, he adds with its new facilities, there is plenty of hope for a strong future for the company’s aspirations placing technology-based solutions at their heart.