A journey through major works with Sisgeo, a company specialized in the production of structural and geotechnical monitoring instruments
BY FEDERICA VENNI
A history of almost thirty years that has seen a lot of water flowing under the bridge, and for Sisgeo this is not just a manner of speaking. Witness to the “epochal change” that the sector has undergone and is still going through, especially with the digitalisation of tools and methods, Sisgeo is one of the companies in Lombardy that can best describe the evolution and involution of Italian, European and other infrastructures. A leader in Italy and one of the most important groups in the world, this company based in Masate, on the eastern outskirts of Milan, specialises in the design, production and installation of precision instruments that monitor civil and geotechnical engineering works in progress and in operation: bridges, tunnels, subways, roads, dams, railways, buildings and mines.
Its products – including piezometers, inclinometers, pendulums, reading stations and data loggers – combine the tradition of Italian manufacturing with the most advanced technologies and a wealth of experience in the most important international construction sites.
Romano Lamperti, founder of Sisgeo in 1993 together with Domenico Bruzzi, after having been employees of SIS Geotecnica from which Sisgeo took life, is a passionate entrepreneur: just as pride for the work done and planned always pushes him towards new challenges, in the same way his pragmatism does not prevent him from seeing and analysing the obstacles that still arise every time there is the need to build or even just imagine a great work.
“We took over a branch of the company in order to give continuity to what we knew how to do, investing heavily in technology and focusing mainly on international markets. Yes, because construction sites in our country,” explains Lamperti, “when they do get underway, they are a tangle of permits that are difficult to obtain, mountains of bureaucracy to navigate through, and payments that take time to arrive.
So the most important projects that the company has closed or is monitoring are mostly abroad. Many of them have their home in Europe, because it is in the Old Continent that the need for connections between states is growing. The Grand Paris Express is the largest urban connection network, mostly underground, linking the French capital to its hinterland: a gigantic project for which Sisgeo provides the instruments to measure the excavations and the interference they generate with what is on the surface, primarily buildings. For the HS2 high-speed railway, planned in the pre-Brexit period, on the other hand, exclusive devices were used in the section between London and Birmingham: they monitor the behaviour of the ground through special sensors installed in pipes that detect horizontal movement and vertical settlement. And then there is the infamous Turin-Lyon, for which “we have worked well on the French side while in Italy we are at a standstill because of the NO TAV protests”, the Visnove tunnel in Slovakia, the Metro C in Rome: these are just a few examples of strategic European projects. But there is also Australia, with a light rail linking Perth to Forrestfield airport, for which the excavation that passes under the runway was controlled: “In order not to block air traffic, we worked even with the airport active, and our instruments were essential to keep an eye on even the slightest movement of the ground”.
And then Chile, with the supply of instruments for the world’s largest open-pit copper mine, Chuquicamata.
“Also in Chile, we took care of another mine, the underground San José mine, where 33 workers were trapped in August 2010 when the roof collapsed: we supplied the instrumentation that measured ground movements while drilling a lateral hole to feed the miners. It was a great satisfaction that was widely reported in the Latin American press”.
Yes, “because ‘Italians are often recognised worldwide only for their textiles, food and design, but we must remember that we are also a country at the forefront of technology’ where some gaps, however, ‘absolutely must be bridged’, make Italy pay ‘an immense reputational price’ and block the connections not only within our country but also with Europe”.
And since the European Union, in order to be fully realised, needs infrastructures that connect its tourist, strategic and economic poles, we need to get a move on. How? There is no more important opportunity than funding from the Next Generation EU programme, part of which will be used to finance the implementation of a denser, more efficient and safer infrastructure network: “We welcome the fact that there are funds to be spent, but first we need to solve the many problems that still exist: the lack of broadband connections, suffocating bureaucracy, slow and complicated procedures for awarding contracts. It is only by untangling these knots that we can ensure that the companies in our sector do their part and guarantee the construction of efficient infrastructure”.
And safe: “If it were carried out constantly and correctly, infrastructure monitoring would guarantee its safety. Unfortunately, the problem is that, on the one hand, there is still a certain mistrust towards the use of automated and technological tools, and on the other hand, there are not enough trained personnel to use them properly. It’s not enough to put sensors and instruments on a bridge if the data are not managed.
Lastly sustainability: “Creating a functioning rail infrastructure network, for example, can contribute to the development of mobility that has less impact on the environment”.
The recipe, for everything, is to invest in technology: “Our business is always projected into the future, so much so that we are patenting a tool validated in France, which monitors the behaviour of a railway axis and which we hope will be the first in a series”. What is certain is that, despite being truly strategic, specialist monitoring is a sector that is not sufficiently exploited: “There is a lack of training of personnel who know how to use tools and platforms, but above all a lack of continuity. Whoever monitors an infrastructure must do so not only during the construction phase, but the management of equipment must be foreseen throughout the life of a project. This is the only way to benefit from a network that covers a world, not only in Europe, which needs to be increasingly connected”.