SOL S.p.A. was founded in Monza Italy in 1927 to supply oxygen and acetylene for cutting and welding uses to the shipyards in Livorno and Ancona. While its presence in the territory was limited to only two Italian regions till the beginning of 1960, from 1960 till the end of 1980 SOL has rapidly expanded in the Italian market of the production and distribution of industrial gases, and from the end of the eighties started to develop its sales and operations also outside Italy, in Europe.
SOL S.p.A. operates in three areas
- Production, applied research and distribution of technical gases (oxygen, nitrogen, argon, hydrogen, carbon dioxide, acetylene, nitrous oxide), medical gases, pure and special gases,
- Home-care business (mainly oxygen-therapy mechanical-ventilation-therapy and enteral and parenteral nourishment),
- Production and sales of technical gas solution (Oxy-fuel plant, Ozone plants, …), advanced
In 2009 SOL S.p.A. achieved consolidated sales for 462,6 million Euro, with about 1.700 employees and more than 40.000 customers present in all the industrial sectors ( oil and petrochemicals, steel, non ferrous, glass, … industries). The Group includes the mother Company SOL S.p.A., 42 controlled Companies, 5 associated Companies, 4 direct Branches, and operates in 19 European Countries. The production activity can be subdivided in 27 “primary transformation plants” (i.e.: plants which produce gas from
air - oxygen, nitrogen and argon - as well as acetylene, hydrogen, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide), and 35 “secondary transformation plants” (i.e.: cylinders filling, storage, gas and gas mixtures distribution
SOL S.p.A. distributed its products with three different methods:
- Through pipelines or on-site dedicated plants, which supply big customers who require large quantities of gas like for example Arcelor Mittal, Riva Fire in the steel industry;
- With dedicated tank-trucks suitable for the transport of liquid cryogenic gases at very low temperatures: gases are then transferred into appropriate storage tanks at customers’ sites like for example Ferrari, Saint Gobain Glass, Marcegaglia;
- In cylinders of small size; normally gas for welding, pure gases, gas mixtures.
Towards the end of 1980, SOL, differently from other Italian companies of this sector, has considered the
internationalization process as the key-strategy to develop a competitive advantage vis-a-vis Italian and foreign direct competitors.
Besides a continuous, accurate and steady globalization process, SOL maintained strong attention to research and innovation of innovative solution, based on the technical gases application, in the most different sectors, like energy and industry, ecology and environment, food and agriculture, and entered the new market connected and synergic to core-business (the production of gas), i.e. the oxy-fuel combustion equipment market, the home-care market (treatment at home of patients with chronic respiratory diseases) and the welding equipment market.
July 1998 represents an important step in the development process of SOL Group, with its I.P.O. on the Milan Stock Exchange through a capital increase and the offer on the 25% of SOL S.p.A. capital. The financing of expansion plans, growth on international markets, transparency, and the opening in Italy of the markets of capitals are the main reasons behind SOL Shareholders decision to go pubblic. Also with this choice, SOL acts in a different way than its main Italian competitors, which took the different decision to sell a large share – sometimes controlling share- of their capital to the multinational companies of the sector.
The globalization process in SOL therefore turns into a kind of game of chess with the most important international competitors. To be competitive, the Management decides to play initially on highly developed chess-boards (Northern Europe) where international companies are already present but with still large space to growth and subsequently to enter into still virgin markets (the Balkans), with high development potential. The aim is in the first case to compete with a market highly advanced and acquire know-how, and in the second case, to take up unexplored markets anticipating direct competitors. The process has therefore started at the end of ‘80s through the first acquisitions and the building of plants in some strategic areas in middle and eastern Europe.
The growing amount of sales of SOL Group deriving from foreign production (from little more than zero in 1990 to about 40% in 2009) points out the success of SOL international strategy.
Taking into consideration the particular characteristics of gas production and distribution, competition is supported above all by research and development. Since 1977 SOL established a research team with the aim to study and develop new application technologies; this team has grown with the time and strengthened, demonstrating great innovative capacities. During the years, several research projects have been developed by the team in co-operation with different Universities in Italy and abroad.
Third hinge of the company’s growth has been the development of the home-care business. During the 80’s the company’s activity finds a new channel for its development: the assistance of patients with chronic diseases at home. This allowed our company to enter (starting from 1990, through the company VIVISOL) into a new business: home-care. At the moment, with about 70.000 patients supplied in Europe, SOL is one of the European companies most advanced in this business; in 2009 it achieved sales for more than 140 million Euro.
SOL internationalization process is principally aimed to reply adequately to a demand more and more global and to propose its services to foreign groups as a European Global Partner, in order to strengthen its market share in Italy following its actual customers in their new supply requirements and, at the same time, promoting new products and services.
The next challenge for SOL groups Internationalization shall be the enlargement of its activities in Europe and outside Europe, to take part to the extraordinary increase of the global market in the emerging Countries.