What is application engineering?
First of all, please present yourself to the readers outlining what is your role in FAIST CPS division.
My name is Domenico Carnevale, I am an engineer, covering the role of Application Engineering Manager in FAIST’s Controls & Propulsion Systems division.
I have been with FAIST for 15 years: I started as Product Engineer in the Customer Team dedicated to one of the company's main customers. Over the years I have covered almost all roles in the Customer Team: Application Engineer, Project Manager and Key Account Manager. This path, besides technical and commercial competences, has enriched me with exciting experiences, allowing me to be alongside colleagues and clients from all over the world and to engage with their skills and cultures, celebrating successes together and rolling up our sleeves to solve problems.
Since 2017 I started to coordinate and supervise all the AEs of the CPS division as Application Engineering Manager, thus having the opportunity to work with all the customers of our Business Unit.
Over the last few years, following the technological change that our products have undergone, the application engineering function, like other business areas, has undergone quite a restructuring. In fact, the need arose to focus and divide the activities of Application Engineers by product lines.
Our support, growth and coordination activities aim to always have AEs active on Wastegate electric actuators, on Variable Turbine electric actuators and on the remaining product lines (mouldings, pneumatic actuators, machining products). To date, my team consists of 10 AEs, 5 in Italy and 5 in China: they are at the forefront of customer management, together with Program Managers and Key Account Managers.
Since its establishment, 43 years ago, FAIST changed a lot, growing as a company in numbers but also in terms of strategy, engineering capabilities and production technologies. Can you describe this trajectory from your point of view?
I remember the period I joined FAIST, in September 2006: we used to mainly engineer processes for products that were designed by our customers; our production lines were not capital-intensive and testing capabilities were limited to some static and climatic chamber endurance tests for pneumatic actuators.
However, we already were a lively structure, as we are today. Commercial technicians used to travel to every part of the world; engineers quickly learned from our customers and just as quickly moved from process proposals to product and process proposals; the management combined our work as Customer Team with an R&D department, introducing new technologies and new testing skills, and committing to a structured training plan for all employees.
Over the years during which we had technological stability of pneumatic actuators, we have managed to become a preferential and strategic development partner for our customers, creating the basis for the introduction of the first FAIST products on the market (i.e. position sensor). We consolidated the technical leadership on the products sold and, thanks also to the work of R&D, it has been possible to add new product lines; this time entirely developed, engineered and produced with the FAIST brand.
Parallel to the development of the products there has also been a significant and important development of the processes: when we take a look at the electric actuators lines, we can clearly see how they have been developed consistently with the principles of industry 4.0 and trying to include as much as possible automation systems, systems that allow to combine high productivity with a flexibility not common in this kind of products. Finally, a testing department was created: that allowed us to develop entire internal validation plans using state-of-the-art machinery and equipment.
How was this change received by the customers you work with on a daily basis, and what do they appreciate the most about working with FAIST nowadays?
The path of FAIST’s CPS Division has been very advantageous for our customers, both from the technical and commercial point of view. It is clear that our customers have found in FAIST a supplier and then a partner who is increasingly competent, available, flexible and persistently dedicated to problem solving. It must be said that these strengths start primarily from our management, but are backed by all FAIST employees.
It is also necessary to underline a constant positive characteristic of our organization: the ability to be physically present in the production plants, the willingness to develop customers and take care of relationships, a key point for a business made of persons, and very often young people.
In our track there are obviously also weak points and we are working on them: we can sometimes register some hesitancy in giving feedbacks on complex matters, mainly due to the desire to carry out an always impeccable and precise job but with the risk, sometimes, of becoming less effective and dysfunctional in the schedule of a project.
In recent years, the technological transition has introduced new challenges for the Customer Teams which, in addition to the technical growth to be assimilated, has to manage less flexibility on products and lines, while at the same time being focused on the non-trivial management of production capacities, now dictated by significant investments, which cannot be reduced, as in the past, to ancillary costs.
How has the relationship with the customer changed from before the pandemic to now?
The pandemic has brought new ways of interacting with customers, encouraging exchanges of multimedia content and conference calls. Beyond the advancement in the organization of contents, necessary to present them through these means, this is a situation that I do not like, because it is putting a strain on one of our distinctive features: presence and engagement with the customer.
It is clear that we continually try to make up for the lost effectiveness, and I think we succeed, but the energy and time dedicated to this task are significant and end up delaying other activities.
I have no doubts in saying that visits to the customer are the priority from which we want to restart as soon as possible, COVID-19 regulations permitting.
What do you see as a future development in the automotive world?
This is a very difficult question! I think the internal combustion engines will last for the next 15 years, obviously integrated at various levels of hybridisation. And I believe that diesel will be back, as it has been unjustly demonized.
Full-electric and hydrogen cars seem to me very far from mass diffusion, both for the product itself and for fuel distribution and production networks that can replace current uses and customs.
The technical push for change will certainly be gradual, while some political choices could accelerate the spread of zero-emission cars in cities; the track is traced, it is now a matter of understanding how quickly the market will react and embrace this switch.