Biesse has always had a central role in my family,” Roberto Selci, CEO of Biesse Group begins.
“Within the span of a single generation, my father skilfully created a company that is a global leader and that was recently defined as a ‘pocket-sized multinational company’.”
“With help and support from my mother, who shared his vision, he set new standards in the machining operations sector.”
“That’s been my background ever since I was born, so I can’t help but have Biesse in my DNA.”
The company was founded in the coastal Italian town of Pesaro in 1969, when Giancarlo Selci began operations with a small rented room and two lathes.
It has expanded enormously from its initial remit to create woodworking machines into a multifaceted company capable of providing customised and advanced technology solutions across glass, metal, stone and plastic.
Its client base includes companies from multinationals like IKEA to bespoke producers who are making furniture, windows, doors and building components.
Biesse has often been at the vanguard of woodworking machines, launching Logic Control, the first computer numerical control (CNC) wood drilling machine in 1978 and Logic, the earliest CNC wood processing centre, five years later.
It continues to place a premium on innovation. “We try to foster an entrepreneurial culture,” Roberto explains.
“We share our vision with others on every level, bringing innovation to the way we work, not just to the products, but to our continuous search for excellence as we help our customers remain competitive.”
Roberto still considers his father, Giancarlo, the most influential figure in his career. “He always kept his eye on the future,” Roberto says.
“He built a company that focused on both product and management excellence. I learned from the enthusiasm he always put into his work and the way he interacted with, and lived alongside, his collaborators.”
He also admires his father’s natural leadership ability and his inclusive style, where he inspired people to improve their skills and encouraged their input.
“I strive to make decisions as he did, guided by passion.”
Today, Roberto is at the top of the group with his father. He also works alongside his wife Alessandra, who sits on the Group’s Board of Directors.
“Her strong leadership is grounded in human and professional relations,” he says.
“She safeguards and feeds the family dream, driven by a company that has risen to become the number one player in the sector.”
An International company
The end of the 80s saw Biesse take its first steps into the international market as it opened a branch in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The success of this facility encouraged the company to continue its foreign expansion and Roberto later established another branch in Singapore.
There were plenty of learnings that came out of this process, he says.
“During my time in America and Asia, I gained management experience that was later foundational for my role as Sales Director.”
Roberto took over the reins as CEO in 2003 and has accelerated this push, including setting up a facility in Bangalore, India.
The business has expanded its product range to include drilling, sanding, nesting, edgebanding and glass-cutting machines. It is now largely export based, with 85% of sales taking place outside Italy.
Roberto says this has created new opportunities. “New cultures create new challenges that need to be converted into opportunities for growth.”
“New cultures create new challenges that need to be converted into opportunities for growth.”
Crossing international borders comes with its own challenges, however, and Roberto says Biesse carefully studies the cultural norms and market standards of any new territory it enters.
It seeks to strike a balance between catering to the vagaries of the local market and staying true to its established brand values and what he terms the “Italian mindset”.
Embracing internationalism has been good for the company.
“The fact that we are now present across the globe helps us view markets, products and needs from an international perspective and provides us with a rich cultural heritage.”
“This is what we need in order to anticipate changing customer demand, allowing seemingly distant markets to influence one another.”
Biesse can draw on almost 50 years of experience in machining and offers its customers highly personalised manufactured products.
Its client base is an exacting one but Roberto says Biesse is up to the challenge and can cater to “even the most demanding architects and the most highly automated industries”.
A team of sales engineers, who have deep knowledge of the industries they service, and can understand how best to customise the machines for different industries and specific workplaces, are an important part of the personalisation process.
While some other players in the field offer bespoke solutions and personalised service, and others reap the benefits of extensive distribution networks and the economies of scale enjoyed by a large company, Biesse can offer its customers the best of both worlds.
Its large-scale manufacturing facilities mean its output rates highly in terms of reliability, but it can also manufacture machines to meet specific ergonomic targets, noise and pollution-reduction requirements, or that can integrate smoothly into the customer’s supply chain.
Moreover, it has an extensive catalogue of proprietary technology it has developed in-house that spans wood, glass, stone, metal and composite materials.
Its products seamlessly integrate mechanical, electronic and software elements, meaning they require less monitoring and operator input than its competitors’.
Its 2017 acquisition of Avant, which has expertise in software for machining lines and working cells, added to its proficiency in this area.
Developing products in this vein is a trend entirely driven by the customer base, Roberto explains.
“Our customers are the real protagonists of the experimental process. Their needs and demands provide us with new technical and design challenges that help us update and continuously improve our machines and tools.”
“Our customers are the real protagonists of the experimental process.”
The biesse DNA
“Innovation is our past, present and future,” Roberto says. “It is embedded in the group’s DNA.”
“We innovate so as to bring new standards of technology to the market, to plan manufacturing lines and facilities for major industries and to provide software and solutions that make work simpler for our customers.”
Biesse’s commitment to modernisation goes far beyond lip service as it invests around 4% of yearly revenues in its research and development department to stay at the cutting edge.
In recent years, this expenditure has led to advances in innovation, the internet of things, cloud computing and real-time information sharing, all of which have been incorporated into its machinery.
One guiding principle at Biesse is ‘Thinkforward’, an approach that informs every new machine it is developing and every project it undertakes.
“It’s what drives us to anticipate the future,” Roberto explains. “It’s about raising the bar in technological innovation and digital transformation.”
An example of Thinkforward in action would be the group’s bSuite software, a series of plug-in software programs facilitating the planning of manufacturing processes, edgebanding, and the design of windows, doors and furniture.
“Thinkforward is about raising the bar in technological innovation and digital transformation.”
Much of this innovation is driven by an R&D team that has allowed Biesse to constantly reinvent its product offerings.
Recent developments from the mechatronic division have included technology to incorporate smart spindles in its machines.
These spindles allow end users new capacity to collect, store, process and distribute information. This has a range of uses in sectors such as robotics, automotive and aerospace, among others.
Viet Opera R is another interesting product to come out of the R&D department. It is a robotic sanding machine that has achieved a level of precision never reached by any comparable technology.
BPad has also raised the bar, enabling users to wirelessly control CNC machining centres.
The Dynamic Lock technology – a pivoting suction cup that allows for machining very small pieces of glass – is another example of Biesse finding solutions to address its customers’ pain points.
The Intermac division, created by Giancarlo in 1987 to produce and sell systems for machining glass, stone, and metal, has also introduced several notable innovations.
At the 2017 Vitrum trade show, a leading forum for new glass machining technology, it launched the Radius Revolution to great acclaim.
This technology opened up previously unknown possibilities for double-edging grinding systems, allowing for faultless finishing of the radius or chamfer.
Unlike previous iterations, this system was designed to provide this finishing without either a manual operator or the use of additional machines.
Roberto says the platform, available as an app for mobiles and tablets, is central to Biesse’s modernisation.
“It has revolutionised the machining centre market by enabling our customers to make the most of the fourth industrial revolution,” he says.
“The key value of SOPHIA is its predictive nature; it has the ability to anticipate issues and identify solutions.”
“It allows Biesse to take proactive steps to contact the customer before a problem manifests, preventing machine stoppages and costly wasted time.”
Created in partnership with management consulting company Accenture, SOPHIA allows Biesse customers to easily access help for machine maintenance and order replacement parts quicker than ever before, with its predictive abilities helping users avoid the hassle and waste involved in work stoppages.
The app is a powerful tool for Biesse customers to extract the most value out of the cells, machines and lines they have purchased.
It is part of the group’s embrace of the new wave of technology.
“We believe in the potential offered by Industry 4.0 and are making significant investments towards the creation of products and services that will help the manufacturing world evolve and grow.”
“The digital factories of tomorrow will be able to trace and identify every component, enabling automatic feedback and the creation of process statistics. We are moving from mass production to mass personalisation.”
This shift has altered the very business model Biesse is based on. Where it was once purely concerned with producing machines, it is now a more holistic operation and equally interested in technology and services that allow end users to utilise its machines optimally.
This forward-looking approach has already seen it win the Digital Technology Award for Italy at the 2018 European Business Awards and named an exemplar of Industry 4.0 by leading Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
Strong supplier network
As manufacturers of highly complex, multi-element equipment, it is vital that Biesse has reliable access to high-quality components to maintain its standards.
Roberto says its approach is to view partners as enduring collaborators. “We foster relationships that extend beyond mere sales transactions to something that benefits both us and our partners.”
The extensive screening process involves selecting partners who not only have the technical qualifications but are a good match for Biesse’s guiding principles.
Then the group uses tools to evaluate each supplier in terms of its safety record, product quality and ethics to determine if it could be a viable long-term supplier.
Once relationships are in place, Biesse emphasises shared objectives, clarity and complete transparency. “We rely on suppliers who provide quality,” Roberto says.
“This paves the way for a process that is efficient and sustainable and leads to long-lasting partnerships. We believe in the value of loyalty.”
“We’ve worked with our suppliers to simplify standardisation, allowing us to focus the best opportunities on a limited number of partners.”
“We rely on suppliers who provide quality. This paves the way for a process that is efficient and sustainable.”
The ongoing dialogue between the company and its suppliers includes valued partners keeping Biesse designers up to date on trends.
This unusually high level of integration has also allowed the group to improve the sustainability of the supply chain.
Suppliers have also benefited from the company’s reliability and financial strength, and having Biesse as a regular purchaser has facilitated many smaller enterprises obtaining the credit they need to reinvest in their businesses.
Every year, Biesse gathers together its international dealers and commercial partners for ‘dealer academies’ – weeks of learning that include guided tours of the Pesaro factories, hands-on instruction in using the machines, and discussion of newly developed marketing strategies and tools.
“We believe that continuous learning is the key to a successful future,” Roberto says. “We help our dealers with their work and we equip them to always offer maximum added value to our customers.”
At the most recent dealer academy, attendees gleaned insights from Biesse’s product specialists, all of whom have more than two decades of industry experience.
They also had training highlighting the advantages offered by the SOPHIA cloud-based software management tool, and how customers can benefit from its real-time information on machine performance and availability, as well as its capacity for remote diagnostics.
Roberto says the dealer academies are invaluable for staff working in Biesse’s branches as well as the group’s commercial partners.
“Training focuses on product innovation and sales tools; our courses keep track of the technological evolution of products, services, sales and marketing tools, to help our dealers with their work and to always offer value for our customers.”
Not only do the academies see attendees develop new skills, refine their product knowledge and increase their industry experience, they are also valuable opportunities to network and build relationships.
“It’s an excellent opportunity to share important business and industry perspectives and to get to know colleagues from all over the world.”
Biesse has been refining its training packages in recent years and has invested in marketing and communications strategies to get the most out of its resources, both human and technological.
“We have perfected a recipe,” Roberto says. “It includes the following ingredients: a strategy that focuses on the region, competent people, courage, reasoned investment, execution.”
“It’s a recipe we continue to perfect every day, since we know we can achieve even better results.”
Biesse continues to expand its international footprint and has established a number of overseas campuses.
Its first campus outside of Italy was in Charlotte, the US which is “probably the biggest of its kind in North America,” Roberto says.
More recently, in 2017, it opened its first facility in the United Arab Emirates, taking up residence in the government-administered Dubai Silicon Oasis free trade zone.
Meanwhile, the Indian branch is also going strong, with a new production unit in Bangalore that boasts more than 20,000 square metres in addition to a functional showroom.
Furthermore, the Biesse Group Oceania Campus was successfully launched in Sydney in 2017.
Again, it represents a major investment in the company’s international outreach and will bring the company closer to its customers in the region.
“The Sydney campus is one of the most recent strategic investments of Biesse Group, demonstrating the value of the Australian market for our company,” Roberto notes.
The facility includes a 5,000-square-metre tech hub, with almost half the floor space devoted to a high-tech showroom.
More than 20 different types of technology solutions will be on display and Roberto says Biesse experts will always be on hand for customers.
“It’s human contact that makes the difference,” he notes. “We increasingly aim to be a large group that is digital in its technology, but human in its relationships.”
“‘Living the Biesse Experience’ in our campuses means that customers not only experience our machine demonstrations, but they also experience high-level learning sessions and inspiration to improve their own competitiveness.”
“We increasingly aim to be a large group that is digital in its technology, but human in its relationships.”
Recent industry forecasts have suggested China will become an increasingly important market for woodworking machines in coming years and Roberto says the group “wants to be a leader” in the country.
“We continue to invest in branches, people and the distribution network. We are exporting to China and developing technological solutions for Chinese manufacturers.”
He believes Biesse’s flexibility and commitment to helping local manufacturers develop the competencies they need mean it is well placed to succeed there.
While the group has had a presence in China for several years, Roberto points to the investment in its Dongguan branch as evidence of its decision to strategically focus on the business in the country.
Biesse has long been international in nature and its chief competitors are foreign or multinational groups.
Roberto says medium-sized Chinese manufacturers are increasingly entering the market for entry-level machines, but Biesse’s superior products give it a sizable competitive advantage.
“Our technology, which has amply proven itself abroad, is a step ahead,” he says. “We are working to improve every process for each piece of our technology in order to provide our customers with turnkey solutions.”
In recent years, Biesse has added significantly to its staff numbers, growing from a total of 2,700 people worldwide in 2013 to its current employee count of more than 4,000.
96% of the staff are on permanent contracts, meaning there is also considerable stability among its workforce.
The company has also introduced its ‘Future Lab’ initiative, which establishes targeted career pathways for 100 young team members.
The program gives its youthful cohort the opportunity to take part in workshops and leadership training, as well as giving them a forum to voice their career ambitions and ideas for the company.
“There is a strong sense of belonging and pride among our employees,” Roberto says.
“We offer a stimulating work environment with real opportunities for professional growth.
We believe in continuous training and act in tangible ways to raise the level of satisfaction with our collaborators and to improve the internal atmosphere.”
“There is a strong sense of belonging and pride among our employees.”
Biesse has also embraced the Japanese philosophy of kaizen. Roughly translated as ‘good change’, it involves continuously pursuing incremental rather than radical change and is based around teamwork, discipline and morale.
Kaizen also involves the use of quality circles and feedback mechanisms to encourage workers to identify problems and workshop solutions among themselves.
While the philosophy has recently gained some traction in management circles in Western countries, Biesse introduced kaizen into its factories as far back as 2007.
Incremental improvement has led to dramatic financial growth; from 2016 to 2017, Biesse’s net revenue grew 11.6%, reaching €690.1 million with a 12.9% EBITDA.
Roberto says this was on the back of a rise in intake orders and quicker than expected growth of its production orders portfolio.
The Biesse Group owns more than 200 patents. Here are some of its most innovative proprietary technologies:
- Boring unit with independent spindles
- Rounded air cushion surfaces (distinctive to Selco panel saws)
- System used to load and unload strips from machining centres that work with wood
- Automatic blade changes for panel saws
- Automatic tool changes on the cutting tables used to machine sheets of glass
- Infinite rotating C-axis used in waterjet cutting
It has also begun preparing for the public listing of its subsidiary, HSD, the company’s mechatronic division. It is anticipated HSD going public will lead to further growth for Biesse.
Nevertheless, there is no hint of complacency as the group moves forward, and Roberto insists it will continue to pursue a lean structure with every link in the value chain being constantly re-evaluated.
“This approach ensures that everybody is motivated, from the factory to the suppliers and, ultimately, the end user. It means that process flows are streamlined, scheduled and in line with market requests.”
“Simply put, we are still eager to grow and we are investing in every way possible to ensure that growth.”