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Lafert expands to boost sales by more than 50% by 2020

21 November, 2016

The Italian motor-maker Lafert is investing around €4.5m to expand its main production site near Venice by 5,000m2, adding to the existing 23,000m2 of floorspace. The expansion is part of a programme aimed at raising the company’s revenues from €143m this year to at least €220m by 2020. Production logistics are being improved to allow the company to meet demand, which has been expanding by about 10% a year recently. Turnover at the family-owned company has almost doubled during the past six years.

Lafert currently produces around a million motors a year – more than 90% of them being customised, and more than a third badged for other manufacturers.

Davide Bravin, Lafert’s export manager, argues that “customers usually need less than a general-purpose motor would deliver”. Customised motors, he says, “can be cheaper than general-purpose motors, but deliver more. We give customers what they need.”

A third of Lafert’s motors end up in industrial machines, 16% in materials-handling applications including robots, 20% in HVAC applications, 11% in compressors, 10% in renewable energy applications, and 5% in lifting duties.

Italy and the German-speaking parts of Europe each account for about 27% of Lafert’s sales, followed by North America on 17%, and other parts of the world, including the rest of Europe, on 11.9%. As well its Italian plants, Lafert has manufacturing operations in Slovenia and China.

In recent years, the company has been focusing increasingly on permanent magnet (PM) motors and reckons that it now holds about 15% of the global PM market, which is worth a total of $200–300m. The PM market is still relatively small – about 3% the size of the induction motors market – but it is expanding by about 20% a year.

Rather than expose itself to the volatility of the rare-earth magnet market, Lafert relies mainly on traditional ferrite magnets. Luca Trevisiol, the company’s executive director for international sales and marketing, concedes that the performance of the ferrite magnets is not a high as rare-earths, but he adds, “we can do the same in a different way”. For example, making the stator slightly longer can help boost performance.

Half of Lafert’s sales are accounted for by asynchronous induction motors with efficiency ratings of IE2 or IE3, with IE4 PM synchronous motors accounting for 31%. Bravin expects IE2 motors to become more expensive than IE3 machines as their sales decline.

Although Lafert has IE5 motors in its catalogue – one technology where it does use rare-earth magnets – Trevisiol reports that “there is no market for IE5 motors today”. But he points out the potential attractions – IE5 motors can weigh half as much as similarly rated IE2 machines, as well as being more efficient (94.5%, rather than 91.4%) and having a higher power factor (0.99, compared to 0.85). “For an order of about 10,000, we could sell IE5 for less than IE2,” he adds.  

Lafert is investing to expand and improve the efficiency of its manufacturing operations in Italy

Trevisiol claims that Lafert has one of the most complete servomotor ranges on the market, covering torque ratings from 0.2–390Nm, and 10–500Nm in direct-drive versions. It also offers torque motors from 8–500Nm.

One specialist market that Lafert has entered in recent years is gearless PM synchronous drives for lift applications. It now offers these drives in ratings up to 850Nm.

At present, Lafert is not involved in the electric vehicle market. “It can’t be done for peanuts; either you do it or you don’t,” says Trevisiol. “You need a different mindset to deal with automotive companies.”

Although Lafert does offer some specialised drives products, including servodrives, it does not yet have its own general-purpose variable-speed drives. Trevisiol says that the company will probably have to enter this market at some stage, probably though a joint venture of acquisition.   

Lafert is planning to increase its focus on permanent magnet motors. “We believe in PM motors; they differentiate us from our competitors,” says Trevisiol. “We want to explore different topologies for PM synchronous motors.”

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