Hi-tech machine building in Bulgaria

MachinesIndustrySouth-East European INDUSTRIAL Мarket - issue 3/2017

Bulgaria has a history of established traditions and experience in the sector of machine building, with a steady growth since 2000.

An industry report by the Invest Bulgaria Agency outlines some of the unique opportunities for machine building that the country offers. These include the qualified work force at affordable price, the availability of experienced engineers, export oriented sector, and easy access for various markets - EU, Russia/CIS, and the Middle East.

More than 50 000 people work in the Bulgarian machine building sector. It is also characterized by appropriate infrastructure for the needs of the manufacturing industry, proximity to the automobile clusters of Central and Eastern Europe, networks of technical universities and colleges, big diversity of international and local companies in the machine building sector, which are successfully operating in Bulgaria.

The producers of components are active in producing high precision and endurance components for various European customers.
The sector has attracted the attention of a number of large international companies who chose Bulgaria as their preferred destination within Easter Europe.

In addition, many successful Bulgarian owned companies operate in the sector and offer competitive products worldwide. This combination of foreign and local companies serves to create a unique environment for productivity, ingenuity, and innovation in manufacturing to thrive.

As far as physical infrastructure goes, Bulgaria is in a favorable position because of its easy access to regional and European markets - it is crossed by five major Trans European corridors. This includes connection via sea to the trans-European corridor VIII, which links the Adriatic and the Black Sea.

The industrial zones in the country are also numerous and suitable for manufacturing companies, while infrastructure development is a particular priority for the Bulgarian government.

The zones offer attractive conditions for establishing production, warehousing, logistics and other activities at a very competitive prices. Investment projects are supported by the Government, the Municipal Authorities and by the various domestic and foreign Chambers of Industry and Commerce in Bulgaria.

Bulgaria is among the main producers of universal lathes in the world, while the production of forklift trucks in the country is a leading sector, ever since it has become specialized in that area as a member of the former economic union, COMECON.

Three decades ago, the Bulgarian producers were generating 20% of the world production with an annual production of more than 80 000 forklift trucks.

Invest Bulgaria’s market outlook is that the machine building sector is expected to significantly grow in the next several years. Currently, the industry employs more than 50 000 people and generates revenues of EUR 1,03 billion, with around 1500 companies operating.

It is closely related to other industries, including electronics and electrical engineering. One important trend is the relocation of some manufacturing activities (assembly and equipment alike) from developed countries to low-cost countries.

The main subsectors within the machine building sector in Bulgaria are the following: Heavy machine building; Metal-cutting and metal-processing machines; Hydraulic elements and systems; Material handling machinery; Agriculture machinery; Vehicle production and spare parts; Ship building and repair; Military equipment.

Bulgaria is characterized by a qualified and experienced workforce, with 50 000 enrolled university students potentially suitable for the industry, states the Invest Bulgaria Agency report. The educational system of the country is particularly well-suited for the needs of the machine building sector.

For the period between 2006 and 2011, the number of students in bachelor and masters degrees increased from 215 000 to 285 000, and 17% of the total number of graduates are stated to be potentially suitable for the industry.

The vocational schools generally offer a rich diversity of production specialties which are appropriate for the sector. The distribution of students in professional schools in manufacturing specialties are as follows: 24% in economics, 18% in electrical and mechanical engineering, 14% in construction, 14% in transport equipment, 9% in light manufacturing, 8% in machine building, 6% in food and beverage, 4% in wood, and 3% in chemicals.

The biggest technical institute for higher education in Bulgaria is the Technical University of Sofia with 8 000 students. They have the opportunity to graduate in specialties taught in three languages - French, German, and English.

The total number of engineers who have graduated the university is 90 000. According to the agency’s report, there is no enterprise or plant in Bulgaria which doesn’t employ graduates of the Technical University of Sofia.