From feather keys to special and standard products: The evolution of Chiavette Unificate S.p.A.

An interview with Alessandro Maccanti, product manager at CU

Founded in 1952, Chiavette Unificate S.p.A., an Italy-based manufacturer of rod ends and spherical plain bearings, celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. Originally intended to be something different, the company has evolved over time into a one-stop shop for special parts. The initial idea behind Chiavette Unificate was to create a standardized system of production that would save time and money. But, gradually, the company, which belongs to the Nadella Group, began to realise what the market really needed: variations of standard products according to customers’ specifications. We took the company’s 70th anniversary as an opportunity to talk to Product Manager Alessandro Maccanti and learn about the company’s intriguing history.

Mr Maccanti, glad you were able to find the time to guide us through Chiavette Unificate’s 70-year journey — and congratulations on the company’s anniversary! How long have you been a product manager at Chiavette Unificate S.p.A. and what are your responsibilities there?

Maccanti: Thank you very much, the pleasure is all mine. I've actually been employed at Chiavette Unificate as a product manager for 16 years now. Basically, my day-to-day work involves the export sales of CU products. I also provide both commercial and technical support to the foreign sales teams of Nadella Group, to which CU belongs.

The company was founded in 1952 and is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. How has the company's focus evolved and shifted over the past 70 years? What products do you manufacture today?

Maccanti: Chiavette Unificate’s original idea was to provide a time-saving and cost-effective standardized system for manufacturing feather keys — because, at that time, customers often produced these parts themselves according to their own specifications, which was both time-consuming and costly. But to keep the company competitive over the long term, we had to gradually expand our product range and begin distributing our products beyond the Italian market. So, our focus has been on manufacturing large quantities of standard parts — which, essentially, are divided into five product families, with spherical plain bearings and rod ends accounting for over 40 per cent of company sales.

Over the decades, however, Chiavette Unificate has also increasingly devoted itself to manufacturing special parts according to customers’ specifications. This is because our customers often require standard parts that have been slightly modified to meet a specific need. To meet such customer requirements, we offer variations on our standard products in terms of their dimensions, tolerances, material compositions, heat and surface treatments, and threadings. Our ultimate goal is to meet the particular needs of each of our customers, whether technical or qualitative.

What are standard parts, essentially?

Maccanti: The term refers to components manufactured to the technical specifications of widely used and internationally recognised standards. Amongst the most widely used of these are Germany’s DIN standards and the international ISO standards.

What are the production and use advantages of employing standard parts, in particular when it comes to tool engineering?

Maccanti: First of all, producing standard parts means having a much broader range of potential customers. Secondly, it enables you to increase your production volumes. And finally, it results in lower costs due to the large volumes produced by the manufacturers of these parts. For the same reason, standard parts are increasingly easy to find on the market.

How have market demands in your industry evolved in recent years and how have these changes impacted your product development and production activities?

Maccanti: It’s certainly the case that the standard parts market has seen the establishment of an ever-increasing diversity of specifications. Product quality and reliability are becoming more and more important and must be demonstrated and certified, among other things, by increasingly comprehensive documentation — which Chiavette naturally provides to its customers in the most demanding sectors.

What materials are your rod ends and spherical plain bearings made of? What advantages do these materials and material composites offer relative to others on the market?

Maccanti:As I mentioned earlier, Chiavette Unificate has been increasingly focused on custom-designing products to our customers’ technical specifications. So, in addition to employing the most commonly used materials like free machining steel, bearing steel and carbon steel, we have gradually introduced a number of stainless steels, as these guarantee optimal performance in terms of corrosion resistance. And the increasing use of other types of steel — for example, those suitable for heat treatment — can’t be overlooked, either. But the material that typifies Chiavette Unificate production the most is sintered bronze. We use it primarily in the production of our self-lubricating bushings. It’s a unique solution that allows us to create a single product with the best characteristics, in that it’s suitable for vibrations, full rotations and speeds , while also being self-lubricating.

What should customers watch for when selecting rod ends and spherical plain bearings?

Maccanti: Well, the vast majority of rod ends and spherical plain bearings on the market are standard products. So, the first thing you have to do is determine the dimensional standard you’re looking for. Then you need to identify the characteristics of the reference application to determine the most suitable type of product for it. Our top-of-the-line TESCUBAL rod ends are stand-outs, above all, because they’re self-lubricating and consist of a pairing of steel and bronze. So, if you're looking for rod ends with a plain bearing for demanding applications, our TESCUBAL line offers you the best solution.

Looking ahead now, what direction will Chiavette Unificate S.p.A. take? Are you planning to offer new ranges and products?

Maccanti: Currently, we’re working on a new series of clevises made of AISI316 steel — a product that’s increasingly in demand. We’d like to include these clevises in our range as standard items to ensure rapid availability and competitive prices.

How can prospective customers find out more about your products to help them with their purchasing decisions?

Maccanti: They’re welcome to visit our website at www.chiavette.com, which provides complete information about our products. We recommend downloading the 3D technical drawings of our standard products, as they offer an even more realistic picture of the product and facilitate the work of technical departments that customers will be in touch with. And our customer service team is, of course, more than happy to help anyone needing any additional information. It’s important to mention here that the PICARD warehouse is well-stocked with Chiavette Unificate products — which, due to PICARD’s worldwide reach, ensures rapid availability in many countries. And the PICARD team can also provide you with comprehensive information and advice about our products.

We thank Alessandro Maccanti for speaking with us and wish him and his team continued success.