AITAL and QUALITAL, the Italian Reference Point for Surface Treatments

A meeting with Giampaolo Barbarossa, AITAL General Secretary, and Riccardo Boi, QUALITAL Director, to talk about the Italian surface treatment segment, its condition and its capability of growing and developing innovative research programs

by Giuseppe Giordano

CIOA, the Italian Centre of Anodic Oxidisers, was founded in 1958. VECTAL, Verniciatura Conto Terzi Alluminio (Third Party Aluminium Coating) was created in 1986. In 1994 the two associations decided to merge forming AITAL, the Italian Aluminium Surface Treatment Association. This adds up to over 60 years of associative activity for a segment whose destiny is tied to its knowledge and the development of technology. For Italy this is an industrial excellence formed by medium-sized companies which are typically dynamic and receptive as regards the market’s demands. Anodizers and coaters always used associative activity as a driver for growth and for the improvement of their products’ quality. QUALITAL is a reference point in the industry, with the management of quality brands, beginning historically, with QUALANOD, the brand which contributed intensely to the success of doors and windows in anodized aluminium.
We talked about the association, brands and innovation in this segment with Giampaolo Barbarossa and Riccardo Boi in the headquarters of the AITAL association and of QUALITAL in Cameri (near Novara), probably less than five kilometres as the crow flies from the historical headquarters of the Istituto Sperimentale Metalli Leggeri (Experimental Institute for Light Metals) which was the cradle of many successful research works on the surface treatments of light alloys and a school for most of us.

The first questions are predictable: how many members does AITAL have? Could you provide an estimate of the segment’s turnover, and where are surface treatment plants mainly found in Italy?
Giampaolo Barbarossa: “AITAL’s associates are roughly 150, subdivided into 90 ordinary members, that is, companies carrying out treatments, and supporting members, that is, companies which supply, for instance, specific chemical products and machinery. Ordinary members include anodizers coaters and decorators. The latter are the manufacturers of decorated finishings, the most famous being the “wood effect”. These finishings recorded an intense development during the past few years, even on account of the growth of suppliers of materials for the decoration process, both powders and sublimation inks.
The geographical distribution of plants shows a sizeable presence even in the central and southern regions, with about thirty plants from Lazio to Sicily. AITAL estimates the segment’s revenues to add up to around 900 million euros per year. Companies employ about 3500 persons in anodizing plants and we estimate employees in coating plants to be about 5000”.

QUALITAL is the Italian reference point for the management of quality labels. Which are the relevant aspects of this activity?
Riccardo Boi: “QUALITAL – The Institute for the industrial certification of aluminium and other materials – has been active since 1975 in the Product Certification domain and manages, among others, three European quality labels, that is, the EURAS-EWAA QUALANOD label for anodized aluminium, QUALICOAT for coated aluminium and QUALIDECO for decorated finishings. During the years QUALITAL obtained many important recognitions. Particularly, as from 1993, it has been approved by ACCREDIA as a Product Certification Body for anodized or coated products
made out of aluminium and its alloys, in compliance with
UNI CEI EN 45011 standard. In 2000 it also obtained ACCREDIA approval for its Test and Research Laboratory, which mainly carries out tests and controls on anodized and coated products according to the requisites envisaged by the QUALANOD and QUALICOAT technical directives. In 2007 our Test and Research Laboratory was listed in the Register of highly qualified laboratories by the Ministry of University and Research (in compliance with the Ministry’s Decree n. 593/2000). QUALITAL constantly follows, at a domestic and European level, the legal developments regarding aluminium finishings: besides, it takes part in meetings with work groups which formed within CEN (TC 139 as regards coated aluminium and TC 132 for anodized aluminium). QUALITAL over the years increased its activity of service aimed at the industry’s companies and currently may confer other quality labels: QUALITHERM for break cut profiles for doors and windows, QUALIGASKET for door and window gaskets and QUALISTEELCOAT, whose purpose is establishing rules for coaters apply protective coatings on steel”.

AITAL and training: I think this is an essential aspect of your activity. What is your approach?
Giampaolo Barbarossa: “Providing training is important, but even the way it is offered is just as relevant. This year AITAL, together with Milan’s Polytechnic, again decided to take part in the organization of the Industrial Short Master on the protection and finishing of metal surfaces. The course, which lasts 10 days, has as its aim the training of professionals capable of understanding and managing of the various issues which arise when the use, safety and working life of metallic materials depend on adequate surface treatments”.

I would like to hear the latest news concerning the two topics which, more than others, urged me to suggest this meeting, that is, your very recent patent for “jet” anodizing and the purchase by QUALITAL of archives containing almost 30,000 technical reports by the Experimental Institute for Light Metals (ISML).
Riccardo Boi: ”The European patent was granted to an invention by our Test Plant Department. The patent was deposited by QUALITAL Servizi but I would like to underline that the designated inventor is Carlo Calcaterra, our long-standing colleague, who also accrued considerable work experience at the ISML.
The patent is highly innovative from several standpoints. Particularly, it does not envisage the immersion of the profile or sheet to be anodized, which is only subject to a “jet” of the oxidizing solution. This patent introduces a possibility of simplifying the plants which could be revolutionary even in terms of spaces and costs. In order to use a technique which is so different from traditional plants which use immersion tanks, many technical difficulties had to be overcome: for instance, maintaining an effective electric contact both at the anode and cathode during the “jet”. We then developed innovative supply systems for the
anodizing solution, to ensure that during the process even complex surfaces such as extruded profiles would be completely covered. The oxide layers obtained using this patented method have been put through several qualifying tests with encouraging results. The process based on this invention is typically capable of dealing continuously with profiles and sheets and therefore, even in consideration of the small size of the plant, may be inserted into a coating line to carry out a pre-treatment capable of improving, for instance, corrosion resistance. We are convinced that what has been claimed in the patent is only the current aspect of this innovative technology but that its real worth lies in the application potential in different segments of surface treatment of light alloys”.

Let us now move on to the ISML reports. Now a copy of the entire collection is in your offices…
Riccardo Boi: ”The story is somewhat complex but it has a happy ending. Some time ago, we asked the Novara Development Foundation, which received what was left of the endowment of the Experimental Institute for Light Metals (ISML), including archives and library, if we could purchase a copy of the entire collection of ISML’s technical reports, dating back from the years immediately before the Second World War to the beginning of this millennium. This is a very interesting source of technical documents which accompanied the dawning and the development of the Italian aluminium industry. The collection also contains the documents relative to the may research projects developed by ISML. We decided to save technical documents which were valuable even from a historical standpoint, which risked to be forgotten in some basement or worse still, to go to waste. The recovery operation lasted some time but now the 30,000 reports are safe in our new offices, directly above our R&D departments. The real quantum leap of the initiative will however take place when the collection will be digitized and accessible online. This passage has a cost which is not negligible, but we are finding the support of entities which are willing and able to finance this operation. I believe that in a short while we shall be able to surf over the thousands of pages of this collection to rediscover the wealth created by the work of an industrial institution which we still miss very much”.