Pietro Farina was born in 1949 in Verona, Italy. He holds a degree in engineering and has been spending his life between shopfloors and technical offices. After forty years and several patents, he has decided to meet us in the offices of Sovema Group S.p.A. to talk about what really represents the job of an engineer today.
It’s been more than 40 years since you designed your first battery manufacturing plant. A long time ago …
The first plant that I designed was an innovative system for the standards at the time. I went to Switzerland to study a system which at the time was not known in Italy.
My first trip abroad …
Every invention and every innovative idea makes you more and more eager to move on. You never stop at the initial step. You are forced to proceed until the final realization.
Ingenuity keeps you young then?
There is no age and a manual for inventing things. School cannot stimulate creativity. It takes you to the state of the art. Inventing is something innate. It means going beyond the state of the art.
Creativity exists only when there is freedom to think without any technical limitation. We can say that freedom and creativity are a combination.
Think of Planté’s lesson. He was completely free from any economic and commercial constraints. He came up with one of the main inventions of the second industrial revolution.
I notice a subtle criticism towards the world of “engineers 2.0” …
Technology has brought indisputable benefits, but sometimes there are too many factors at stake.
For instance …
Designing industrial plants in 2018 is completely different from the modus operandi of the last century. We must take into account numerous factors such as the usability and the ability to “market” innovative ideas. Although they are very understandable, they are constraints nonetheless.
Anyone who is good, however, can exploit these apparent limitations to move a step forward.
They are not necessarily limits. They can stimulate one to move forward.
Let’s start from the beginning, you attended the engineering school in Padua and graduated in ’74. How do you remember those years?
At first, coming from a hamlet in the middle of the Veronese plains, it was very difficult to get used to the rhythm of university life, and yet, today, I can say that for me that was a great school of life.
Can you please elaborate your answer?
Often, when we are young, we tend to consider our knowledge as complete, without understanding that sometimes it is necessary to pay attention also to the smallest details in order to be able to claim that we completely master a subject.
In this business, it is not enough to have a general picture of what you are working on. The details are important and are the real watershed between having understood something or not.
In ’76 you began to work. Your projects were interesting from the beginning?
At the beginning, it was a bit complicated. I was a surveyor with a degree in electrical engineering who was in charge of mechanical and hydraulic maintenance. Everything but electronics (he laughs).
And then the factory began to take off …
Americans came along and there was a period of great expansion. Competitors often used to like to go and browse our technologies. I realized that others had some good idea too. They built some decent machines and at a lower price.
I tried countless times to push the idea that we needed some renewal. At the time, Sovema was already undergoing reorganization. I was sent to the company almost by force, so it was hard for me to accept the idea of entering a declining reality.
So you had the opportunity to bring about a change finally?
My idea was to start producing not only to churn out machines, but to provide customers with useful products at competitive prices.
Sovema gave me a lot of satisfaction.
In what for instance?
The greatest satisfaction came in 1996 with the idea of the expanded grids in a continuous manner. It was one of those times that you can amaze the customer. For those who do my job you really reach the turning point, professionally speaking.
It does not happen to everyone but it must also be said that the study is not enough. A series of concomitant circumstances are needed. What I want to stress is that the invention is only the beginning of a journey that can become very burdensome and difficult.
But the idea always serves …
Sure. But it must be said that often the idea you have today cannot yet be realized. The idea must always be combined with techniques suitable for realization.
And what if they are missing?
There are archives. In order to be able to patent something it is necessary that the idea behind it can be realized. Its immediate industrialization cannot be taken for granted, though. Nobody forbids you from continuing studying. Science and technology are constantly evolving and, very often, ideas set aside for years find their realization thanks to this factor.
Any advice for the young generations?
Once upon a time the major concern was granting oneself livelihood. We were content with everything. Today young people have the opportunity to choose and cultivate their talents, perhaps changing country and going to explore realities better suited to their spirits, wherever they are. This is what I would encourage them to do.
The world is changing at a very fast pace but commitment, dedication, and conviction per se always pay off.