Italy special: Newly independent Microtecnica pushes into new markets and regions

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They may compete against bigger names in the world of actuation, but two years after becoming their own bosses, Microtecnica's managers are doing their best to establish the Italian brand in new markets and emerging regions. After two decades of ownership by Hamilton Sundstrand, a subsidiary of US giant United Technologies, the 81-year-old Turin-based manufacturer was acquired in 2008 in a management buyout backed by UK investment firm Stirling Square Capital Partners. Since then Microtecnica has continued a strategy of expanding from its traditional base in helicopters and regional aircraft into niche sectors such as unmanned air vehicles and space, as well as partnering on indigenous aircraft projects in the likes of Korea and Turkey.

Independence has given management the flexibility they needed to take the business into new areas and closer to the customer, says Steve Page, the company's British development director. "As a focused, niche company, not part of Hamilton Sundstrand, we can go in our own direction and not the way corporate wanted us to go in," he says. "We have invested a lot of money in ensuring that we can deliver to our customers a point of difference in terms of on-time delivery and quality."

With 700 employees, three facilities in the north of Italy and revenues last year of around E160 million ($224 million), Microtecnica counts itself among the top 10 actuator suppliers in the world, a market in which it competes with the likes of Goodrich, Liebherr and Parker. It also makes thermal and environmental control systems. Around half its revenues come from helicopter and regional aircraft manufacturers - including AgustaWestland, Bombardier, Eurocopter and Sikorsky.

"Since 2005 we have been growing our revenues steadily," says Page. "We are blessed with a number of international platforms, some of which are just at the beginning." He describes the military market as "particularly interesting" for Microtecnica. Earlier this year, it won contracts to develop the environmental control system for Turkey's Hurkus two-seat trainer - the first trainer aircraft to be built in the country - as well as to design and supply a secondary cooling system for the avionics system on the latest NG version of the Saab Gripen fighter.

There have been other notable recent business moves. Earlier this year, Microtecnica signed a "strategic alliance" with Korean flight controls systems manufacturer Hanwha which will see the two companies "collaborating on Korean aerospace programmes as preferred partners for the design, development and manufacture of new equipment and systems". It also in June opened a research and design office in Bristol, UK that will specialise in developing new products in electro-mechanical actuation.

However, Microtecnica will not be competing for the world's biggest civil aircraft programmes. Other than a supplementary cooling system on the A380, it has no major business with Airbus or Boeing. "We leave that to the big guys to fight out," says Page. "We don't want to go there. We are happy with our size and current growth as it is. It's not in our strategy."

At the same time, while Microtecnica has begun sourcing components and working with manufacturers in countries like India and Turkey, it has no plans to move production out of Italy because of the experience and skills of its home-grown employees. "We have some great engineers that the customers know by name and who are very flexible," he says. "In the areas of actuation technology, they don't grow on trees."