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Thinking ahead

Soilmec has just invested in a new computer system that will further aid the 30-40 strong design team in developing new parts for rigs. The software is compatible with the company's existing stress analysis program and allows the operator not only to view the part in solid 3-D, but also to carry out stress analysis on parts after design changes.

This is just one of the many impressive aspects of the company's operation. It is constantly developing prototypes of new machines that will one day appear in its range of piling and grouting rigs and tunnelling machines.

The uncluttered and strangely quiet production line in Cesena is where the company's largest rigs are produced, with smaller rigs now produced by sister companies in other parts of Italy. Each machine takes a month to assemble by hand, with engines assembled for quality checking, dismantled for repainting and then reassembled.

One major change in recent times, says Soilmec export manager Silvano Brunetti, is that many of the parts are now off-the shelf. This includes using rig bases from Caterpillar for some models and engines, from the likes of Mercedes and General Motors. Part of the reason for this, he explains,

is the support offered by manufacturers that allows customers to get service and parts all over the world. However, Soilmec does still make certain parts that it wants to protect, such as its rotary tables.

One of the main trends in rig design, says Brunetti, has been advances in technology - such as self-diagnostic hydraulic systems - that have allowed development of smaller and more powerful machines, that are more accurate and easily controllable. But he adds that it is not always easy to explain this to customers. 'Some still need convincing that a smaller machine can do the job of a large one.'

Brunetti says that the UK market for new plant is quite strong at the moment and its importance has further increased with the collapse of the South East Asian economy. But on the home front, he thinks the Italian construction industry was 'hit very hard, worse than the UK' and so contractors are not renewing their fleets. He adds that CFA is generally not accepted in Italy. 'Trevi (one of Italy's largest foundation contractors and Soilmec's sister company) has been using the CFP system for four years and no other Italian company has asked about it.'

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