DUSSELDORF, GERMANY - Thermoforming machines made by Italy's R.I.G.O. Group srl turn out refrigerator liners worldwide, but the United States proved to be a tricky market. U.S. sales of Italian-made machines were more difficult because the United States does not use the metric system and has different standards than other countries, according to Giorgio De Nichilo, managing director. Differences carry down to the plant level, as individual appliance manufacturers have their own standards and in-line production requirements.
Navigating the market required U.S. manufacturing. Two years ago, Milan, Italy-based R.I.G.O. signed an exclusive licensing agreement for North America with custom machinery maker Detroit Tool & Engineering Co., which began manufacturing R.I.G.O. machines in Lebanon, Mo.
``Now we have two advantages - advanced technology and a machine made in America,'' De Nichilo said during an interview at the company's booth at K'95 in Dusseldorf.
De Nichilo said R.I.G.O. first entered the U.S. market in the late 1960s, selling rotary thermoformers. In 1978, the company introduced an in-line thermoformer. R.I.G.O. and Detroit Tool first got together thanks to Sencorp Systems Inc., a Hyannis, Mass., thermoformer maker that, like Detroit Tool, is owned by DT Industries Inc. Sencorp, which makes smaller thermoformers,had been R.I.G.O.'s North American representative.
Detroit Tool President Curt Jones said his company is a good fit for the highly customized refrigerator market, where companies create their own unique production lines to form the white liners from sheets of polystyrene or ABS.
In Lebanon, Detroit Tool employs 200 people designing and building turnkey, ``one-of-a-kind'' machinery systems and dies and another 250 doing metal stamping.
``We've taken the Italian design. It's been Americanized,'' Jones said. ``We've added a lot of beef, structural steel, to the machine.''
Detroit Tool & Engineering also will make and supply spare parts. The refrigerator market requires large machinery - especially in the United States, where refrigerators are bigger than those in other countries.
De Nichilo said R.I.G.O.'s U.S. thermoformers have a maximum mold size of 80 inches by 40 inches, and a 30-inch deep draw.
The complete system, with a thermoformer and downstream cutting equipment, can measure from 30 feet to 100 feet long and 20 feet wide, he said.
The machine can mold a liner for two compartments on one mold, then cut the sheet in half to make the two separate parts. Or the machine can mold double liners, molding the refrigerator and freezer compartments on a single sheet.
De Nichilo said R.I.G.O. has sold machinery to every major refrigerator maker in the world, including Whirlpool Corp., Maytag Corp., General Electric Co., A.B. Electrolux and Bosch Siemens Hausgerate GmbH.
Sales in 1995 should be about $30 million, about 70 percent to the refrigerator market, he said. Sales were about $27 million in 1994.
In Italy, R.I.G.O. engineers design the machinery system for each customer, then send the plans to a plant in Zingonia, Italy, run by its COMI unit to make big machines.
Another part of R.I.G.O., called P.M.M. in Milan, manufactures cutting and piercing equipment to go with the company's thermoformers. P.M.M. also makes smaller thermoformers for packaging.