The interview: Antonio Prati, Founder, PLP Liquid Systems
Milling and Grain visited PLP Liquid Systems in LugagnanovalD'Arda in Piacenza in northern Italy in December 2018 to meet with the founder Antonio Pratiand his son Marco who is taking over the business.
PLP Liquid Systemsis a business focused on dosing and weighing equipment for liquids in feed, petfood, food and chemical businesses, with complete systems for liquid dose control, continuous coating on finished products, emulsifiers, motorised sprayers, flow meters, pumps, filters, etc. He explains to us from his brand-new factory in the hills south of Piacenza, how a modest family business can compete on a worldwide stage.
What made you consider starting your business and take up the challenge of meeting demand in the feed industry?
I was inspired to start the business when I was working for a petrol company in the mid-1970s. It began with the molasses. I knew nothing about how to apply molasses to feed but had been asked if I could design one by an Italian feed manufacturer.
It was 1978 and I was on my way to the UK when I met an engineer from Royal Royce Engines who suggested I should try to apply an application system that was being used in the engines of airplanes. A simple drawing explaining the concept led to our first SMOG sprayer.
We made and installed the first and that was followed by people asking for more. Over time I had a very close friendship with the engineer I had met and his family. I started the company in 1979 from that little drawing. From that small light of three people we now have a team of 22 people.
How do you manage to provide and service customers all over the world as a small family-run company in a remote village in northern Italy?
Much of the work in the early years was the travel involved in installation of the pipelines.
However, today 90 percent of the projects don't require us on site to do that work.
We do the engineering and design and the installation is simplified and can be done by the customer. If the customer requires assistance we have local contractors who will do the installation for them. But we are providing mostly to feed mills and they understand this technology.
Our machines are 'plug-n-play' and just need to be installed and pipes connected. We can provide remote support via the cloud to customers from Vietnam to Latin America. We have a full-time representative who sell for us in Italy to a range of Italian companies, but we are also looking for agents in individual countries worldwide
Do you usually sell your products direct to the end-consumer, or to additive companies?
Our machines are well known in the feed and wine industries. However, our customers are those related to these industries and are usually companies selling additives. We are not selling direct to the end user.
At present there are three companies worldwide providing this type of equipment. We focus on coating of micro liquids such as fat and powders, dosing into a mixer based on weighing and spraying and micro dosing. Our Dosamix system, for example, is a liquid dosing system using SMOG sprayers which is unique in a liquid spraying system. We also have developed a 'Post Stress Powder Application' (PSPA) system and a MDP easy-batch system. This is some of our product range.
Are you using foreign components in your equipment?
As we are based in Italy,we are proud to say all of our components are made here in Italy. Our machinery is also all connected to the internet and can be remotely monitored with remote assistance.
In what specific regions are your business really growing?
This year it was Vietnam for aquafeed that saw a significant growth, and Latin America, spreading around from Chile to Bolivia and Guatemala. We gain these customers primarily through our own sellers and distributors as part our expanding PLP Liquid Systems network.
We only started business in Latin America two years ago and we have already had great results. For a while we did not have a primary focus on the Latin American market, but as technology advances, it is becoming a key area of business for us.
Where are the future markets for this type of equipment likely to be?
While it is difficult to see good growth here in Italy, I think we have a good chance to grow in other markets.
Our growth has to be achieved carefully as we are a family company. We will always have a technical advantage due to the fact we are based here in Italy. While there is not a new way of producing feed, the big players in our industry always get bigger and we journey together with them. I think being part of turnkey projects will become more common in future.
How do family-owned companies operate globally in your view?
For us we have to stay small and to rely on innovation and research and development to evolve for the future. That's how we have survived and prospered. That's why we are building a small test plant here for developing our spraying units. We are changing a range of small things on these systems all the time to make them better, easier to maintain and to add value to the customer.What we do is not really to invent something that changes the role of making things, it is just changing small things at a time so there is always something better- adding true value to our products.