JEC Composites Magazine: What is the history of Bucci?
Andrea Bedeschi: Bucci Composites S.p.A., based in Faenza in the famous Italian Motor Valley, covers an area of 22,000 m2 with two production sites and around 250 employees. The company uses cutting-edge production technologies to manufacture composite parts. Thanks to its technical and R&D department, with more than 20 engineers, and a team of process and material specialists, it manages every stage of the product development process, from the initial design to the final inspection. Bucci Composites is part of the Bucci Industries Group, a global leader in two core sectors: industrial automation & robotics and new & advanced composite materials.
The company started by developing components for the racing world, in particular for the Minardi and Ferrari Formula One teams, and was then involved in medium to large series projects for GT cars. Today, the company develops components for the aerospace, naval and industrial sectors while maintaining its core business in the automotive reality.
JEC Composites Magazine: Could you tell us about your background?
Andrea Bedeschi: I am 58 years old, married with two daughters. I have a technical background and a degree in Electronic Engineering. I started my professional career in a company that produced electronic control systems. In the following years, I moved to companies in the mechanical sector dealing with production engineering, production and customer service. Personally, I have been very interested in new materials and their applications since my university studies, a period when I was working on ceramic coatings with a small group of colleagues.
This was not exactly connected to composite materials but I have been fascinated by special materials since the beginning of my professional career. I was able to enter into the field of advanced composite materials in 2004, when I was appointed General Manager of Bucci Composites S.p.A. (which has been part of the Bucci Industries industrial group since 2000) to lead the company’s transformation and growth phase. I still dream of bringing the use of ceramic coatings into reality, especially in the field where we are working at Bucci Composites, and I have some ideas that I would like to see come true in the near future.
JEC Composites Magazine: How have automotive composites developed and the industry changed over the past ten years?
Andrea Bedeschi: The use of composite materials was initially reserved only for the racing sector, especially for Formula One cars. For some years, there has been a progressive increase in the use of carbon fibre also for road cars.
Thanks to process optimization and the know-how developed over the years, Bucci Composites has managed to increase production rates by reducing costs by making carbon accessible to medium- to high-range cars. The composite sector within the automotive industry is constantly growing. However, a distinction must be made between components using generic composite materials and those using advanced composites (mainly those with carbon-based reinforcements). Bucci Composites mainly deals with the latter. For this slice of the market, the situation has changed a lot compared to ten years ago.
The competitive arena has greatly grown both nationally and internationally. This has created a very high pressure on prices and competition that in the past was much less perceived by the sector’s players. While the autoclave production technology was the only one available in the past, production systems that can reduce the use of manpower are now fundamental for approaching large-volume projects. Therefore, the adoption of diversified production technologies allows us to keep pace with market demands. The main production technologies in the automotive sector can be grouped into the following: autoclave, PCM and RTM.
In the past, many carbon fibre components were intended for the motorsport sector or for decorative parts in the GT sector. Today, the GT sector also uses carbon-based composite materials for structural components and body parts (BiW). The push towards the production of limited series allowing customers to have “innovative” cars with a shorter time to market (2/3 years instead of 4/6 years) has further encouraged the use of these materials, which allow the development and production of geometries that are sometimes difficult to achieve with metal and the related equipment. In such conditions, tooling costs and manufacturing lead times can make the choice of advanced composite materials possible, despite the higher part cost.
JEC Composites Magazine: Has the company always focused on the automotive industry?
Andrea Bedeschi: Bucci Composites started by developing components for the Formula One world. The Minardi and Ferrari F1 teams were the training grounds for our engineers and professionals. Subsequently, also due to our geographical position (in the central area of the famous Italian Motor Valley), it was natural to continue our growth with the GT sector. One of the fundamental goals of the recent years has been to diversify by entering in the industrial, naval and aerospace sectors. To date, however, our focus on automotive applications is still predominant.
JEC Composites Magazine: How has thermoset technology developed over the last few years? What are your proposals for car manufacturers? Who are your strategic partners?
Andrea Bedeschi: Thermoset resin systems continue to be the most commonly used materials for Bucci Composites applications. In recent years, there has been a great development of these systems to make them processable in industrially-sustainable times (production cycles of a few minutes) and today, we find several fast-curing systems that can be processed with PCM methods. Also, in the field of RTM, there are various resin systems that combine the processability typical of industrial sectors with the need to have transparency characteristics typical of aesthetic systems. Our chemical engineers have worked hard to make new thermoset resin systems available to the market and much more work will have to be done to identify systems that can make bodywork components paintable in OEM paint shops without having to resort to off-line painting processes as it happens today. The new proposals we can offer to our customer are really interesting.
The first one is the carbon RIM material we just finished testing at TUV in Germany. It is a full-carbon RIM material for the automotive sector. We are the first company worldwide capable of completing the full testing procedure defined by the TUV to qualify the carbon RIM material. The second interesting sector is building and construction. We are delivering structural booms for concrete pumping trucks and also arms for cranes. Bucci Composites works with various partners for its customers’ projects, choosing them based on the type of project and exploiting their specific knowledge.
JEC Composites Magazine: The automotive and transportation industry has the largest share in the global composites market. Globally, automotive manufacturers are facing a severe impact of the COVID-19 crisis and Italy is one of the most affected countries. How do you see the future of the automotive sector and what will be Bucci’s role? Do you have new fields of interest?
Andrea Bedeschi: The automotive world is experiencing a very special moment. The CO2 reduction policies and the arrival of the pandemic have accelerated a process that, in any case, would have been inevitable. The vehicle electrification process can be a very interesting opportunity for the company, which can use the weight-saving and stiffness properties of carbon to positively impact the energy consumption of electric vehicles.
JEC Composites Magazine: As the global demand for cars is declining, the issue of sustainable mobility is becoming very relevant. How do you see future developments? Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are a growing market, are you interested in it?
Andrea Bedeschi: To date, the world of UAVs is undergoing exponential growth. In the near future, we will see a massive use of drones also in the world of freight transport. This growth has aroused our interest, which is why I think it is very likely that we will soon start developing carbon components for the world of drones and UAVs. Another very important and fast-growing sector is that of UAM (Urban Aerial Mobility). In particular, E-VTOL (Electric Vertical Take Off and Landing) vehicles are rapidly attracting interest from large investors and we note a strong growth of start-up companies for a mobility that still requires a strong commitment to legislation that is currently completely absent. The use of composite materials in the UAV and UAM sectors will certainly be a distinctive element (payload), and they know it.
JEC Composites Magazine: Let’s talk about the circular economy. What do you think about this subject that, although very much under the spotlight, is still not cost-effective? Are you supporting projects in this area?
Andrea Bedeschi: This is an important aspect. As the composite sector in general increases its penetration in the various market sectors, the issue of the materials’ recyclability, both as processing scrap and within the end-of-life product, is becoming increasingly important. There are some companies on the market that recover the carbon fibre deriving from processing scrap (dry, impregnated or polymerized), generating a felt of different thicknesses that can be impregnated and used for secondary structures.
From an economic point of view, no major cost savings have been reached yet in the use of these materials, but it is a virtuous mechanism that will soon allow the creation of components that exploit the lightness of carbon at attractive prices with interesting mechanical characteristics. Bucci Composites is developing some applications in the medical and rail sectors that use these materials. We are also actively collaborating with Curti S.p.A. and Hera S.p.A., a public multiservice company, for the establishment of a recycling hub for composite materials.
JEC Composites Magazine: In your opinion, if and when the situation comes back to normal, what will be the new challenges, both in the short and long term?
Andrea Bedeschi: The question is not simple… To date, we still have a very complex global situation that is not yet on the road to normality. I want to see a bright future and I imagine that our standard routine will be back next autumn. The possibility of vaccinating the entire population will be strategic but this passes through the availability of vaccines in quantity. In the medium term, we need to be prepared for a different way to do business. Web-based communication systems and virtual product promotion will shorten the distance but will also change the previous way we managed our activities. Mergers and acquisitions, reorganizations and new product developments will start a new path for the future. Electrification seems to take us to another quantic step for technology as was the case with mobile phones in the 90s. Not only cars but also vans, busses, aircraft, boats and drones will switch to electric in a medium-long term (10-20 years). This will erase the “endothermic engine” era and project us into a cleaner future.