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Flair and ingenuity is thriving among Italy's geotechnical and foundation equipment manufacturers, as Paul Wheeler discovered at the Geofluid exhibition in Piacenza last month.

Italy has a long-established manufacturing base with many small family-run engineering firms. But, walking around the Geofluid showground in Piacenza, about 70km south of Milan last month, it still came as a surprise at exactly how many foundation rig manufacturers the country boasts.

A quick tally identified more than 20 companies, ranging from global suppliers such as Soilmec and Casagrande, to small regionalbased firms that might produce annually just a handful of rigs for the highly competitive domestic market. It is a remarkable and impressive capability when compared to the state of UK manufacturing.

Although all the companies will claim to supply internationally, in reality the export market is an important part of the business for around two-thirds of these Italian companies.

Casagrande's Giuliano Feruglio says the capacity of the Italian market to absorb foundation equipment is astonishing - even large crawler drills. And the number of manufacturers is still increasing.

Feruglio believes this is because manufacture of entry-level rigs has become largely an assembly job, putting together the ready supply of Italian-manufactured parts and components.

This year's Geofluid was the fifteenth. The biennial show has become an important showcase for Italian suppliers in the geotechnical market with more than 150 exhibitors ranging from laboratory testing and monitoring equipment, site investigation rigs (derived from 'water well' drilling equipment which was the starting point for many suppliers in the Italian geotechnical sector), right up to very large bored piling rigs.

Geofluid is predominantly a domestic event, although the international element is increasing, through the presence of companies such as Bauer, Liebherr and Atlas Copco.

Many of the exhibitors displayed new products or announced significant news during the event. Casagrande, for instance, revealed that it is to move Hutte's production facility to Italy from Germany in January 2005. The Italian firm purchased the German rig manufacturer in 2002 and says that to benefit fully from the investment, the two companies need to be better synchronised.

Feruglio is mindful, however, that 'there is a lot of added value in German products' and Casagrande will maintain Hutte's foothold in Germany through sales, technical support and dedicated product managers and designers.

There has already been rationalisation of the product ranges to take out obvious overlap. The combined product range comprises 11 rigs, six of which are from Hutte. As a result, some of the smaller Casagrande rigs, including the wellestablished micropiling, anchoring and soil nailing equipment, are to be discontinued.

Meanwhile Casagrande's main rival Soilmec took centre stage as part of parent company Trevi Group's presentation of the new group structure.This includes separating off water well and oil drilling operations from Soilmec, as a new division, Drillmec.

Drillmec's managing director Simone Trevisani also updated Ground Engineering on the status of Italian geotechnical contractor Rodio, which went into receivership earlier this year. Under Italian company law, Trevi has taken on the management of Rodio 'as a rented company' - and has six months to administer its contracts and assess whether the business can be integrated into Trevi.

According to Trevisani, the judge controlling the administration 'is giving every opportunity to reset Rodio in the right direction' Laboratory testing equipment manufacture Controls displayed its new Shearmatic automatic digital shear test apparatus, which is the first piece of kit developed jointly with UK manufacturer Wykeham Farrance, following its recent acquisition.

On the merger, Controls says: 'Wykeham Farrance will benefit from the financial, technological and industrial support, giving a strong boast to R&D activities into dynamic testing systems.'

And according to Controls product manager Elisa Granelli, the new shear test apparatus allows testers to programme in the shear rates and load increments for a two to three day test and simply let the apparatus do the rest - including datalogging. The main advantage is there is no need to provide continuous supervision for the duration of the test.

The axial load is applied through a closed loop pneumatic system controlled by a highprecision regulator, which makes it possible to conduct a shear test at constant volume.

On the Fraste stand, Elena Fracca showed off the company's new MITO range of micropiling and anchoring rigs, which is its first departure from site investigation and water well drilling in the company's 40 year history. Fraste has recently moved into new premises, with an enlarged design team, which means it is now 'logistically and technically possible' to increase production and develop into new sectors.

Fracca also revealed company plans to extend the existing MITO 20 and 40 (which offer 2t and 4t pullback force respectively) product range, with a 6t model to be launched in spring 2005.

Drilling rig manufacturer EGT showed its remote 'global control' system, which allows operators to work remotely from the rig, with a control station connected by an umbilical cord.

Raffaele Savi says this gives safety and productivity advantages and 'is the direction the market will be heading'EGT's rigs also incorporate a new power management system that focuses power to where it is needed, such as in pullback operations or to maximise torque at the rotary head.

IPC, which makes drilling rigs for micropiling, anchoring and grouting, launched its 1200 series model 'to complete its line up'The company philosophy is to design rigs that will allow customers to maximise their daily production - so IPC defines its equipment by the length of the drill rods the rig can handle. The 1200 takes 6m long rods, which sits in between the 1.5m rods of the baby 450 series and the 9m rods of the 1400.

IPC also presented a prototype of its drilling 'brain system' which is presently a diagnostic drilling parameter measurement recorder and maintenance manager. But, promises the firm's Mateo Laghi, within the next year the company plans to launch a system, jointly developed with the University of Rome, that will 'recognise' the ground conditions and automatically optimise the rig's performance.

DMT, the company set up to commercialise the insitu measurement of ground stiffness using the Marchetti dilatometer, launched its new 'seismic dilatometer' This is a rod attachment that sits above the standard dilatometer blade, which contains two seismic sensors, 0.5m apart.

The method involves striking the ground to generate shear waves, which pass through the ground and are detected by the two sensors.

From the delay in the shear wave arrival times it is possible to calculate the shear wave velocity of 0.5m layer of ground between the two sensors. Typically, dilatometer readings are taken at 0.2m intervals, and the seismic readings at 0.5m centres DMT developed the new probe with the University of L'Aquilia, and over the past six months has been involved in extensive validation tests. The probe has been used on six projects to date, operating at depths of up to 40m, below which the signal becomes too weak.

Later this month the company will use the method from a jack-up rig as part of the investigation for Venice barrage.

The testing, says DMT, is very rapid and typically takes very little more time than a standard dilatometer profile - a 30m profile of both dilatometer and seismic readings takes around half a day to complete.

Pump manufacturer Tecniwell brought its new TW600 jet grouting pump that can achieve both high flow rates of up to 1,000 litres/ minute and pressures of up to 900 bar.The trick, says Dr Esposito Cristaino, is the use of a three cylinder 'triple-pump' which can accommodate 125mm diameter pistons for high flows, or can be interchanged with 75mm diameter pistons if higher pressures are needed.

The company also revealed a prototype of its compact TWPAV electricallypowered, trolley-mounted grouting pump designed for internal work, and the TWG11 grout pump that can achieve pressures up to 250 bars, making it suitable for smaller jet grouting applications.

Also at Piacenza, geotechnical instrumentation manufacturer Sisgeo launched a new incremental extensometer, dubbed T Rex, which it claims is accurate to 0.02mm in both soil and rock. DAT Instruments revealed upgraded dataloggers, while foundation tool manufacturer Farandina launched a new underream tool that expands a 800mm diameter shaft out to a 1,600mm bell.

Earthmoving equipment manufacturer Mantovanibenne displayed its novel modular hydraulic breaker that comes in three sizes for breaking down circular piles between 350mm to 1.6m, and square piles between 350mm and 800mm; and Sireg displayed new glass and carbon fibre soil reinforcing products, incorporating a filament wound externally around the carbon-fibre bars to increase bonding without modifying the bar size.

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