As part of the International Women in Engineering Day, we are celebrating one of our very own engineering heroes and the overwhelming contribution that our CEO of FICEP spa, Barbara Colombo, has made to our business and industry at large. Mrs Colombo answers our questions directly from the offices of Gazzada Schianno, in the province of Varese, where the headquarters of FICEP Group are located.


In 2020, FICEP Group achieved the 5th place in the Ranking of the First 100 Enterprises, in the manufacture of machine tools in Italy. The ranking list was drawn up by TECNOLOGIE MECCANICHE, an Italian magazine and reference for the sector.

We are very pleased with this result because 2020 was difficult for the worldwide machine tool sector with the total production on a worldwide scale having decreased by 20% compared to 2019. 2020 Ficep Spa turnover was equal to approximately 118 million euro (-3% compared to the previous year) and 2020 Ficep Group turnover was equal to approximately 152 million euro (-2% compared to the previous year).

Once again, Ficep’s results confirmed its strong international market presence and its economic and financial strength. Thanks to the commitment of all of us, we contained the damages of the pandemic and received some interesting orders. The situation encouraged us to review the way in which our company operates, including no more business trips, but instead adapting and hosting meetings via web and streaming connection to show machine demos. We made a virtue of necessity, but it is essential to resume relationships in person as soon as possible: they are fundamental inside and outside a company, with employees and with customers.

If I should consider a positive effect brought about by the health emergency, I would say that it made us more conscious of our capacity of being flexible and moving ahead rapidly with digitisation that has been a priority of Ficep’s business strategy for many years.


What inspired you to first get into the engineering industry?

The company was established by my great-grandmother and great-grandfather in 1930. Therefore, already from its start, it had a female stamp. Since we were children, my father considered it important that my brothers and I should visit the company on Saturdays, when we were not attending school, so the factory has always been a family environment for me. I grew up hearing about the company and I took all steps in order to do what I am doing now and I must say, it gives me great satisfaction.

Moreover, I completed my economic studies at Bocconi University with a thesis on machine tool sector as a natural outlet of my training and background. It may seem simple because my route had already been planned, considering that the company is owned by my family. I am very proud of the fact that many female employees of the Group hold important positions in our enterprise


Please tell us about your current role at Ficep and tell us what a typical day looks like for you.

I spend my days at Gazzada Schianno headquarters managing all the financial aspects of the business also,answering e-mails, attending meetings, and now web meetings. Travelling hopefully will come back soon. My day splits up between work (at Ficep), the association activity (UCIMU-SISTEMI PER PRODURRE) and my family. It’s a daily balancing act. The secret of success lies in good time management. My biggest challenge is to continue to manage this balance.


What has been the biggest professional accomplishment in your career, and why?

I think it is the presidency of UCIMU-SISTEMI PER PRODURRE, the Association of Italian machine tools, robots, and automation manufacturers. It is a demanding assignment, which I have accepted after many years of activity within the UCIMU Board – where first I was a member of the Board and then vice-president – and which I am able to perform smoothly thanks to the support of the association.

I would like to stress that this is a role that offers great visibility and it is undeniable that the fact that I am a woman amplifies the effect. The news of my nomination really caused a great sensation, which surprised me a little. A woman leading an association that represents a sector of the heavy industry is still making news here in Italy. The economic suppliment to the most important Italian daily newspaper (Corriere della Sera) dedicated its front page to the event. This said, I am not the only one, as there are three women on the board of the association.


Are you involved in any other career-related activities?

Yes, since June 2020 I have become treasurer of CECIMO, the European Association of Machine Tool Industries. Besides the specific position, being a part of the CECIMO Board is extremely interesting for me, because it gives me the possibility to have a direct interaction with the colleagues of other European countries, with whom it is possible to exchange ideas, opinions, and beliefs.

A united Europe, even within the machine tool sector, may achieve important goals, first of all to face the competition of the industries from other parts of the world, especially the Asian one, in a more appropriate way. Moreover, taking part in the meetings of the European Association means broadening one’s horizons to the benefit not only of business activity, but also of that carried out by UCIMU. In Europe, Italy is ranking the second position in terms of machine tool production, export’s and consumption.


Is there any advice you would pass on to other women who are embarking on a career in the engineering industry?

Without a doubt, the competency brought by women to an enterprise and to an association have added value. Over the years, this will become clear and then it will be simpler and simpler to balance the presence of women and men in an appropriate way. However, the principle for regulating the assignment of positions must always be that of competency.

The sector holds many opportunities for talented and motivated people, men and women. Those women who have a passion for technical and scientific subjects must not be discouraged by prejudices and should follow the courses that they think may be suitable for them. I hope that my experience may inspire young women in general to follow their chosen path.


What are your future ambitions?

With regard to FICEP, my task is to make a contribution to the strategic development of our company. In the past we worked on “the 3Is”. Internationalisation: currently Ficep has 17 subsidiaries all over the world; Investments: during this period Ficep has been investing in new Industry 4.0 machine tools to update its production facilities. Innovation: Ficep has currently more than 40 patents.

Now, our strategy consists of 3Is and one D which means digitalisation. The aim of FICEP is to provide its clients not only with machines and production systems, but also enhanced services - thanks to the OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) approach - such as data analysis, predictive maintenance, remote assistance. As far as UCIMU is concerned, I want to pursue the great work made by my predecessors with the aim to further increase the visibility of the Italian machine tool sector in front of institutions and stakeholders.



What does the future hold for the industry?

According to the forecasts processed by Oxford Economics, 2021 should coincide with the recovery of machine tool world consumption, expected to grow to 62.7 billion euro. In Asia, investment in machine tools should increase by 16.2% to 35 billion euro. In Europe, demand should rise by 13.3% to 16 billion euro. In the Americas, a 14.5% increase should bring consumption to 11 billion euro.

Focusing on Europe, in 2021, Italy should reach 3.1 billion euro, i.e. +10.1% more than in 2020. The growth trend is confirmed also in the two-year period 2022-2023. A further positive indicator is the Italian machine tool order index that, in the first quarter of 2021, showed a 49% upturn. So good news for the future!