Metal processing industry in Slovenia
Slovenia’s metal processing and machinery industry today is technologically advanced and has come a long way of development after its beginning far back in the medieval centuries. The sector today is highly specialized and focused on high value-added niche products. The metal processing segment sector includes three main activity fields: metalworking, machinebuilding and transport means manufacturing. It represents one of the strongest sectors among the national manufacturing industries, with 34% of employees in the country. The industry generates 31% of export and 31% of income of all production enterprises in Slovenia. “Some of the specialized processed metals and alloys for the most demanding applications are being developed and produced in Slovenia. Tool making and machinery production is moving away from the manufacture of single machines and more towards the engineering of complete, fully automated production lines”, the country’s Business development agency SPIRIT informs.
The metal processing industry, along with machinery production, is amidst Slovenia’s leading exporting sectors and serves as a backbone to the automotive field – the country’s most important export sector. Narrow niche specialization comes together with flexible production processes complying with the highest international standards, the Business development agency reports.
Facts and figures
Among Slovenia’s advantages when it comes to the development of the metal processing industry and the investment opportunities in the sector, are: the high quality products and solutions at competitive prices; the compliance with most demanding standards; the skilled and innovative workforce and the long industrial tradition. In addition, the country’s geostrategic position and highly developed logistics, in combination with the opportunities for R&D and innovation, technological development in close cooperation with partners and the manufacture of tailor-made small series of products, contribute to the excellent current position of Slovenia on the global market of metal processed goods. In 2021 there were over 2700 companies operating in the sector with a total of nearly 56 000 employees. The annual revenue of the segment in 2021 amounted to EUR 10,1 billion.
According to current research data (May, 2022) by the Statistical office of the Republic of Slovenia (SURS), the main product and item groups manufactured in the country, are: industrial knives, logging winches, crankshaft processing machines, premium grade super hardened and resistant steels, lever arch mechanisms, etc. Important export markets are: Germany (accounting for 24% of the total exports), Italy (12%), Austria (10%), Croatia (9%) and Poland (4%). Main export products and items in 2022 include: steel and aluminum ingots and sheets, aluminum die cast products for the automotive industry, castings and alloys, metal fittings, metal tools, water turbines and pumps, truck lifts,
HVAC systems, agricultural and forestry machinery, metal processing machinery, complete product lines for various industries, material processing equipment and industrial robots, SURS and SPIRIT Slovenia inform.
In the machining and metalworking industry the number of companies is approximately 3350, and the number of employees – over 64 600. The revenues of this segment on an annual basis equals EUR 9,3 billion, current statistics show. Key export markets for this sector are Australia, Austria, Croatia, Czech Rep., France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland, UK and USA, the Agency of the Republic of Slovenia for public records and services (AJPES), reports.
The most important export products are: vehicles and auto parts; metal fittings and components; cast and fabricated metal elements; water turbines and pumps; various metal products; metal tools; truck lifts and HVAC systems. There are significant business opportunities for market development, investments and export expansion also in the following fields: metal structures and propulsion elements; metal matrix composites; aluminum alloys and products; sustainable and certified production processes; material processing machinery; agricultural and forestry machinery; turnkey complete production lines, as well as elements for industry 4.0 production.
Sector development – challenges and opportunities
Metal processing is one of the fastest growing sectors of industry in Slovenia. It is characterized by a high growth of sales and added value, the country’s Investment promotion agency claims. The value added per capita reached by the main enterprises in the sector is among the highest in the field on a global scale. The iron and steel manufacturing in Slovenia, which is a key pillar of the industry, is valued at EUR 880,7 million and is ranked 15th in Europe in 2022 (of 18 total EU countries).
“Slovenia’s steelmakers are among the largest producers of stainless and special purpose steels in Europe. Their products are intended for the most demanding uses in aerospace, oil industry, and machine production. They include premium grade high temperature steels, super hardened steels and alloys, corrosion resistant steels stable in acidic or alkaline environments, or special electric steels used in the magnetic cores of transformers and electric motors”, SPIRIT informs.
Besides high quality steels and aluminum in various forms, the sector also offers a wide array of metal products, from various castings for the automotive industry, to furniture fittings, office equipment, taps, hand tools, containers, kitchen sinks, and prefabricated metal buildings. Local companies are the leading manufacturers of industrial knives for most demanding applications. “The forged precision parts made in Slovenia are used by the top car manufacturers. Slovenian made prefabricated metal buildings, metal facades and roofs are present all over the world. They are used in the buildings of major corporations like Coca Cola, DHL, Nestle, Airbus, and in London’s Heathrow airport”, the Business Development Agency also points out.
The metal processing industry in Slovenia is currently marked by intensive research and development (R&D), innovation, flexibility, quality, and efficiency. The country’s leading aluminum producer is, for example, the world leader in low power usage during the electrolytic process and one of the three global leaders in electricity used per ton of produced aluminum, official reports state. “R&D is often carried out in close cooperation between companies and their customers. The companies’ labs also carry out precise testing and quality inspection procedures. The industry has adopted the highest quality standards for their operations and processes. A high level of standardization does not, however, limit the industry’s flexibility: many Slovenian suppliers in the metal industry are able to offer tailor made products closely matched to the needs of their customers”, latest business reports also say.
Machinery and robotics of the future
A strong metal processing and manufacturing industry is the foundation for well-developed machinery and tool making fields, experts say. Today the sector is thoroughly modern, but it is based on a longstanding tradition. Some of the steel mills in Slovenia have been continuously operating for over 400 years. Hand tools production is based on a centuries old tradition of blacksmiths in the Pohorje area. The manufacture of turbines started 170 years ago. A longstanding tradition is not without importance even for the most advanced modern industries, as expert skills, work attitudes, and passion for precision often pass from one generation to another, the Business development agency underlines.
Slovenia’s companies develop and produce machinery for various purposes, including metal processing, the food and beverages industry, pharmacy, logistics, woodworking, forestry, and agricultural machinery. “The turbines made in Slovenia are used in hydroelectric power plants all over the world. Thermoplastic injection molding tools, die casting and tools for transforming sheet metal, developed by Slovenian companies are used by some of the leading global automotive companies. Slovenia’s companies are among the leaders in specialized forestry equipment like logging cranes and forestry winches especially”, SPIRIT further emphasizes.
Many Slovenian companies offer machinery for the metal processing industry, which range from presses for sheet metal forming and powder materials, to metal cutting machines, special purpose machinery for surface treatment, industrial furnaces, and kilns. Other key product groups include industrial washing machines, various molds, welding tools, lifting and handling equipment, and precision machinery for wood processing.
Nowadays the sector is focusing on future solutions. Within the framework of the “Strategic Research and Innovation Partnership MATerials as end PROducts” (SRIP MATPRO), enterprises are jointly developing new materials for use in complex products with high value added and a lot of potential for positioning within global value chains. These solutions include new recyclable materials as a step towards a carbon neutral, circular economy.
Robotics is another key pillar of current Slovenian economy, strongly fuelled by the strong metal processing industry in the country. The development of robots there started more than four decades ago with joint efforts by industry and the country’s top scientific institutions. These include: the Institute Josef Stefan, the Faculty of Electrical
Engineering at Ljubljana’s University, and the then formed Institute of robotics at the University of Maribor. “Slovenian engineers played a pioneering role in the development of robotized palletizing and automated warehouses. A few years ago, Japanese robot makers chose Slovenia as their European base for production and development. Some of the most advanced industrial robots thus came from Kocevje, a small town in southern Slovenia. Another Japanese owned company in Slovenia produces robotized welding machines. Many smaller companies develop elements and solutions for automatized production lines, including software and building blocks for IoT. Slovenian toolmakers are increasingly shifting their offerings from “simple” tool production to the engineering of complete, highly automated product lines, including technical equipment and systems for monitoring and visualization of the items being produced”, latest report information by SPIRIT informs.
Overview of the branch
There are many large-sized enterprises currently operation in different subfields of the metal processing, metal products and machinery manufacturing industry. Some of the leading companies in the branch include: Impol (producer of high-end finished and semi-finished aluminium products); Talum (primary aluminium and aluminium alloys); LTH Castings (complex, high-quality high-pressure die-cast aluminium components); Cimos (casting of light metals); Unior (forging parts, hand tools, machine equipment); Palfinger (hydraulic lifting, loading and handling systems); Store Steel (steel manufacturer); GKN Driveline Slovenija (driveline components, e-drive technologies, all-wheel drive systems); Arcont (accommodation units, containers) ; Ledinek Engineering (woodworking machines, complete lines and plants); MDM (stainless steel and aluminium products); Meltal IS (non-ferrous metals); Kovinoplastika Loz (building hardware, kitchen sinks, toolshop, components); Farmtech (tippers, push-off trailers, spreaders, slurry tankers, flatbed trailers); Brinox (complete turnkey solutions and equipment for the pharmaceutical, biopharmaceutical and food industries) and Livar (iron foundry for gray and nodular castings).
The is a wide network of academy, industry and market development organizations, supporting the sector. Some of those are: the faculties of mechanical engineering with the universities of Ljubljana, Maribor and Novo mesto, the Faculty of natural sciences and engineering with the University of Ljubljana, the Slovenian tool and die development center TECOS, the Metal processing association, part of the Chamber of commerce and industry of Slovenia, the Tool makers cluster of Slovenia, the Slovenian foundry men society, the Institute of metals and technology and the National institute of chemistry.
LATEST issue 3/2023