50 Years of Automation for a 4.0 Future

We visited Gefran to get a first-hand impression of the skills acquired by the Italian multinational in over fifty years of activity in the world of automation. The 4.0 challenge is now one of the key points on its path of continuous evolution

Gefran has come a long way since its founder and current Honorary President, Ennio Franceschetti, started his business in a workshop in Provaglio d’Iseo, near Brescia, in the 1960s. Having started off as a manufacturer of electrical panels for plastics processing machines, it has become a listed multinational company specialising in the development of sensors, drives, systems and components for the automation and control of industrial processes. Concrete evidence of this is provided by its 140 million euro turnover in 2019, six production plants in Italy and as many worldwide (in Brazil, China, Germany, India, Switzerland and the United States), 16 commercial organisations and 900 employees. Many are the stages which led to these results. In the 1970s, production of sensors began, in addition to that of process control instrumentation. The following decade saw the start of the globalisation process, with the opening of the first foreign branch in Germany, followed by others in various continents. There were also important acquisitions: Siei, a company based near Varese, which, with its specialization in motion control, is now working alongside the automation and sensor technology businesses; the Swiss company Sensormate, a manufacturer of strain gauges for measuring metal deformation, where one of the main applications is in the sector of moulds and other press components.

GRS-H, the ultra-compact single-phase solid state relay with integrated diagnostics.
GRS-H, the ultra-compact single-phase solid state relay with integrated diagnostics.

Company guidelines

Last year the brand identity was strengthened with the inclusion of the “Beyond Technology” payoff. The focus is on three guiding principles: reliability, dynamism and innovation. “We have solid strategies, a clear vision of what we want to do, and we are strongly committed to the development of our products: this allows us to be a reliable reference point for customers and stakeholders,” Renzo Privitera, Sales Director for the Italian Sensors and Components Division, stated. And despite the Covid emergency, the company has managed to finalize its R&D investments, launching all the products that were on the roadmap for 2020. Equally important is the ability to provide timely responses capable of meeting individual needs: Gefran is indeed large in size, but it has not lost the flexibility needed to develop “tailor-made” solutions together with the customer. It is no coincidence that every year it invests 5% of its total turnover in R&D, keeping the heart of primary technologies in-house. Furthermore, it has launched INNOWAY, a project in partnership with universities and the Lombardy Region: a real experience in which the company makes its budget, resources and know-how available so that a brilliant idea can be transformed into a concrete project.

The transition from analogue to digital sensor manufacturer

Gefran produces position, pressure, temperature, strain and load sensors. For some years now, it has been manufacturing them with digital output so that OEMs and end users can have the information they need for analysis, predictive maintenance and to optimize future machines. In just a few years Gefran has thus transformed itself from analogue to digital sensor manufacturer. “Gefran’s digital sensors provide a set of information useful for understanding machine behavior over time, both for the manufacturer and the end user, thus lowering future operating and design costs,” Edoardo Zilioli, Sensors Marketing Manager, pointed out.

Some top products

Among the next generation solutions, the Multifunction series of universal multiloop PID controllers stands out, available in 2850T and 3850T models. “In recent years we have invested heavily in making PID controllers increasingly user friendly, thanks to colour displays, touch screens with the possibility of displaying images and messages with alphanumeric strings for multilingual information. Other innovations concern connectivity and remote control from a 4.0 standpoint” Paolo Buzzi, Product Marketing Manager Controllers & Power Controllers, declared. The new range of single-phase solid state relays with integrated diagnostics, GRS-H series, for the control of electrical resistors in industrial heating systems, also stands out. Available with current ratings from 15 to 120 A, they feature an ultra-compact and sturdy design. Last but not least, Gefran has enhanced the Hyperwave contactless position transducer range with the WPL (HyperWave Profile IO-Link) series, equipped with IO-Link 1.1 interface, for optimized integration and communication with the new Smart Factory architectures.