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Italian foundations and geotechnical equipment manufacturer Soilmec opened the doors to its Cesena headquarters to hundreds of customers and dealers. Rodney Byles was there as well.

'This kind of event is very important and valuable to Soilmec because we have our guests and dealers with us all the time. They have the opportunity to see and inspect our latest machines and some future equipment and technologies we are developing and witness for themselves equipment being built in our factory.'

This was how Soilmec managing director Simone Trevisani explained the firm's three day open house, held in Cesena, north Italy, last autumn.

More than 700 customers and dealers representing 43 countries attended the event.

'We are able to spend much more time to talk with our guests about technologies, machines, processes and the company than at exhibitions like Bauma, where you have perhaps only a few minutes, ' added Trevisani.

'This event is extremely useful, ' said a guest from Poland. 'It gives visitors the opportunity to meet their counterparts from other countries and discuss, in an informal way, different techniques and inspect equipment and technologies. We can talk directly with Soilmec engineers or even the president of the company, about any problems or applications we may have.'

Soilmec also used the event to introduce a simplied classification of the entire range of upgraded and new products. Machines are now pre xed with letters followed by numbers to indicate operating weight. The letter S is for Soilmec, M for micropile, C for crane and R for rotary. So, for example, the previous model R 312 now becomes the SR 30, which is a Soilmec rotary rig weighing 30t.

The SR 30, together with other new and upgraded models were displayed in new company colours and some were demonstrated from the three main ranges of micro piling equipment, the mid range of rotary rigs and the top range of rotaries and cranes.

Demonstrations included the SM 14 for either micro piling or anchor drilling. Operators showed its exibility, equipped with what the company says is an innovative vibro drilling attachment as a possible faster and quieter drilling alternative to normal top hammer drilling.

This new vibro-rotary technology involves the vertical vibration of a normal rotary head and drill string and bit. The vibration is said to reduce skin friction during drilling to achieve deeper penetration.

'We have tested this vibration rotary on projects and the results have been incredible, ' claimed Simone Trevisani.

The mid and top range of R series rotary drilling rigs have new more powerful Tier III engines and more powerful and faster drilling rotaries.

The SC 100 represented the new modular six model range of SC multi-purpose crawler crane carriers, rigged with a Cutter Turbo Jet attachment. This range is aimed at the insitu improvement and stabilising of soils to create diaphragm walls or panels. It uses two rotary cutters pushed into the ground, combined with the simultaneous injection of preset quantities of high pressure grout, to mix the ingredients together for soil strengthening.

Soilmec UK subsidiary managing director Robin North said: 'Some of the equipment here is completely new to me like the SR100 with Cutter Turbo Jet and the SM14 with the vibrating rotary. It could be very interesting for the UK as an alternative to top hammer drilling where it is mainly a continuous fight auger market (CFA) - about 70-80% of rigs are CFA.

'However, we are seeing a move back towards rotary and some contractors are looking for machines to go to 2m to 2.5m [diameter] with a lot of work going on at about 1m, so there is a lot of interest in machines like the SR 60.'

Soilmec displayed various drilling attachments including bits for installing displacement screw piles. It says the new tools reduce the amount of feed force needed and also considerably reduce the amount of spoil ejected from the hole. The concept is similar for the two main pile displacement tools which use a type of eccentric mandrill on the bit that pushes and compacts the soil against the wall, thereby reducing the amount of spoil ejected at the surface.

'We are currently testing this on projects of our sister company Trevi, ' said Simone Trevisani.

'It is advantageous and vital for us to test on Trevi jobs before we release equipment to the open market, as we can't go on other contractors' sites to test and develop our machines.'

Soilmec is an unusual company in this regard. It is a subsidiary of the Trevi Group and foundation engineering contractor Trevi provides Soilmec with technical and practical bene ts as Trevi only uses Soilmec equipment on it jobs.

Civil engineer and Soilmec president Davide Trevisani started his foundation contracting business in the late 1950s, initially with a simple tripod piling rig. He soon moved into making equipment for his own jobs and as his machines proved successful, rival contractors wanted to buy them. This interest prompted him to form Soilmec in 1969 to design and build piling equipment for other contractors. With the added support of brothers Guialuigi and Cesare this later became the Trevi Group.

To generate the capital needed to fund and sustain expansion, the then private family owned Trevi Group went public in 1999. 'Since going public we have seen an annual average 25% growth of the group from a turnover of about e300M to around e650M now, ' explained Simone Trevisani, the youngest son of Davide Trevisani. 'Soilmec contributes about 30% of group turnover and this year it will be close to e200M as we are doubling production of machines from around 180 to just over 400 this year.'

He said this expansion is the result of a lot of changes during a three year reorganisation of the company, including a mission to increase its customer base, which has led to the development of a full range of equipment and technologies and the formation of the Foundations Technology Academy. This is a training school for those wishing to work in the foundations sector.

Professor of Geotechnical Engineering at the Turin Technical University, Michele Jamiolkowski, attended the open house as a guest speaker. He gave a presentation on nding a solution to stabilising the embankment of Europe's largest copper mine tailings reservoir at Zelazny Most in south Poland and preventing its possible catastrophic collapse.

This was followed by a talk on the installation of piled foundations using Soilmec rigs, which will provide support for the first of the huge gates to safeguard the Venice lagoon from ooding.

He also had a message for his audience, highlighting the gap that currently exists between academics and foundation and geotechnical equipment manufacturers and contractors. 'I represent academia and when dealing with companies like Soilmec and looking at all the new equipment and innovation on display, you immediately realise there is a gap. This is where technology is running far ahead of our academic ability to make the necessary computations and produce designs using these new innovations, compared with traditional and established methods.'

He added: 'As a simple example, the bearing capacity and settlement of a single pile is strongly dependent on the technology used to install it. Therefore, every time a new technology is developed you must adjust the necessary computation. This is what academia is lacking and needs to close this gap. We must be closer to the developing technologies, which we can then support with relevant research.

'We must create joint research between academics and engineers.

If we could work closer with companies like Soilmec, the gap could be cut between academia and advancing technology. I am sure we will then all realise the benefits from that, ' he said.

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