We have a fan in Italy. Actually, we have a big fan. His name is Ercole Zuccoli and he is the President and Owner of Elettromeccanica Zuccoli – Cablaggi Elettrici ed Elettronici (Electric and Electronic Harnesses). Ercole has been receiving the hard copy of our publication since its inception. We were proud and honored to be able to highlight his journey in the harness industry in this issue’s Profile. We had a wonderful Skype session with Ercole, his son Luigi, General Manager, and daughter Francesca, who was our interpreter.
Elettromeccanica Zuccoli was officially founded in 1970 by 33-year-old Ercole Zuccoli in Mandello del Lario, a beautiful town on the shores of Lake Como. Ercole had just taken over Elettromeccanica Zuccoli – Motori Elettrici (Electric Engines) from his father Pierino, who had become increasingly ill. The business had suffered during Pierino’s illness and had been reduced to two employees.
Ercole did a thorough analysis of the dwindling business. The engines they were making represented a narrow offering in a product that was well into its life cycle maturity. It would have been useless for him to spend money ramping up production in that field. Because he didn’t have the capital to create a product line in another industry, he chose to specialize in the fabrication of an intermediate component as a contract manufacturer. Having read about the large per capita consumption of wire in everything from household appliances to automobiles, he decided to concentrate his efforts on wire processing in support of these industries.
Being a meticulous soul, Ercole analyzed the personnel requirements along with the equipment he would need to reinvent Elettromeccanica Zuccoli with limited funds. He immediately brought on three additional employees knowing the assemblies would require a lot of manual input. He still remembers with excitement the arrival of his first Artos CS 15 cut and strip machine from the USA. It seemed like a treasure to him, and he keeps it as a memento to this day.
Work began coming in at a robust pace. They were building a gas boiler harness that represented 300 units per day, and another set of harnesses for a well-known, high-performance Italian motorcycle manufacturer. He quickly ramped up to 15 employees, all with a great desire to work, learn, and make sacrifices to produce results.
In 1980, Ercole traveled to the USA for the first time. He visited Artos, Eubanks, Kingsley and Lamcor, a harness manufacturer in Los Angeles. His goal with the latter was to learn from a large player in the country that was the trendsetter in worldwide harness production. He came away from this trip realizing that in order to grow and prosper in the industry, his company would have to get serious about automation.
Around that time, Swiss manufacturers were beginning to fill this niche, and Ercole visited the Lotech company in Wallisellen as well as another fledgling company called Komax in Lucerne. He became fascinated with the innovative vision of Komax, and especially the founder, Max Koch. The two spent time in Max’s workshop. At that time, it was located on the second floor of Max’s fathers General Motors dealership. Ercole was so impressed, he purchased a Komax K40 and personally transported the partially disassembled machine back to his factory in his van (see depiction on page x). Ercole was the first to mount two applicators on the K40 manufactured by another new company, Mecal.
By 1987, production increased considerably. The company added three additional Komax cut/strip machines, and a fully automated K43 cut/strip/crimp machine. An Italy based, multinational toy manufacturer outsourced all of their wiring to Elettromeccanica Zuccoli and they grew to about 20 employees. This necessitated the move to a much larger facility just two kilometers south in Abbadia Lariana, but still on the shores of Lake Como.
In 1995, Ercole attended the Assembly Technology Expo in suburban Chicago, and became fascinated with the technology to overmold connectors. He immediately purchased a Nordson WS 200 double-mold machine. The choice was a good one, bringing the capability to overmould connectors to Italy for the first time.
In the meantime, Ercole’s son, Luigi joined the company and eventually took over the organization of production and staff. In 2005, Luigi spearheaded the company’s effort to become ISO: 2000 Certified. That action further catapulted the company’s growth in both customers and sales volume.
In 2006 they purchased a neighboring small harness manufacturer. The owner was a competitor and friend of Ercole who was no longer able to continue his business. The five employees and customers list were melded into Elettromeccanica Zuccoli.
One of Luigi’s great achievements was the corporate agreement he struck with Semar Italia. The company was a client of Elettromeccanica Zuccoli and owned a subsidiary in China. It was a shareholding agreement by Elettromeccanica Zuccoli and Semar China. The goal was to produce lead-acid batteries for toys in China with the special wiring necessary to meet US and European safety regulations. The agreement was signed in 2008 and continues today.
Around 2010, Luigi saw an opportunity with quad ATVs that were quickly becoming popular in other parts of the world. He took advantage of the company’s 40-year experience in the motorcycle market and struck a deal with the importers of these Japanese and the American brands. Elettromeccanica Zuccoli would build the harnesses to make these vehicles compliant with European regulations. In more recent years, the company has done the same with eBike importers, a smaller but growing niche. They take delivery of prototype vehicles and reverse engineer the wiring components to make them compliant. Completed assemblies are then shipped to the importers for final assembly.
In recent years, significant investments have been made to process improvements. They replaced some of the older machines with more modern, computer controlled Komax units. The QC department was enhanced with equipment to do cross-section crimp analysis. That’s essential to verify proper setup procedures for their 400 plus applicators, mostly made by Mecal. Ercole designed and built shelves to house the applicators along with a myriad of dedicated spare parts.
Today, Elettromeccanica Zuccoli employs 41 people and turnover is almost nonexistent. That means a lot to their 80 plus customers, many of whom are large companies or multinational brands.
Last year they celebrated their 50th anniversary with a company gathering, but it wasn’t just a party. The group used it as an opportunity for all team members to contribute their vision of the company’s future. As a result of that interaction, the company installed a 60-kWh photovoltaic system to provide renewable energy to the building as well as charging stations for electric vehicles. The company has already purchased an electric car and plans to update future company fleet with new green vehicles.
Their proximity to such a pristine setting as Lake Como compels the team towards environmental responsibility. Rather than discard them as scrap wood, the company goes to great lengths to make use of shipping crates. They recently built two offices for shop floor managers out of Komax shipping crates.
Covid-19 had a minimal impact on the company in 2020. They had to completely shut down from March 26th to April 13th by order of the Italian government. When they were allowed to open again, they had to stagger shifts and follow strict distancing guidelines in the office and workspace. Despite this, the company grew in 2020, posting a ten percent increase in sales.
As for the future, the company plans to continue their strategy of keeping a keen eye on global economic trends while preparing their capabilities to meet these trends. “We have a saying in Italy,” Ercole concluded, “never take a step longer than the leg.” Thus, they will continue to grow slowly and steadily without getting in over their heads.
About 15 years ago, Ercole looked around his factory and found the surroundings drab and unappealing. Having recently visited an exhibition of American painter Edward Hopper, he was inspired by the portrayals of lighthouses and sandy beaches. He hired a professional painter and had the halls adorned with murals depicting similar calming images.
Ercole personally designed the logo in 1957 right after finishing high school. At that time in Italy, very few companies were identified by a personalized logo. But Ercole wanted his father’s company to have its own logotype, and he wanted to create it himself. He wanted something that would intrigue whoever observed it. He searched for something multidimensional that wouldn’t necessarily be easy to create with conventional drawing tools as there were no computers at the time. He built models various elementary parts he saw in his head – the circle with the electron, the sine curve and the diode symbol. He assembled them all and hanged the parts from the ceiling with fishing line. He took pictures from various angles and perspectives, then chose the one he liked most. The logo he created has being identifying Elettromeccanica Zuccoli for 64 years!