From the ashes - Mantovanibenne rebuilds

23 May 2013

The 2012 Emilia earthquake was a seismic event consisting of a series of quakes located in the Po Valley Emilia district of Italy, mainly in the provinces of Modena, Ferrara, Mantua and Reggio Emilia.

Two shocks, with a magnitude of 5.9 and 5.86, were recorded almost simultaneously on May 20 at 04:03, with an epicenter at the town of Finale Emilia at a depth of 6.3 km. On May 29, at 09:00, a new quake with a magnitude of 5.8 was recorded across northern Italy, creating panic across cities in the region. The epicenter was located in the area between Mirandola, Medolla and San Felice sul Panaro – and Mirandola is the location of Mantovanibenne’s home factory. Three other major shocks followed the same day, a magnitude 5.4 at 12:55, a second at 13:00 with a magnitude of 4.9 and a further shock almost immediately after with a magnitude of 5.2.
These quakes resulted in 7 confirmed dead, 50 injured, 5,000 displaced persons or substantial damage to the cultural and economic heritage of the region because of the collapse of many historic buildings, farms and factories.

The resulting damage has been estimated as costing Euro13.3 billion and in Emilia-Romagna alone the estimate is Euro12.2 billion. The area affected covers 967 square kilometers, equivalent to 36% of the whole province and home to more than 230,000 persons. More than 3,500 Italian companies who had facilities in the region lost their facilities as a result of the quakes, with more than 20% ceasing operation entirely as a direct result.

Direct impact

For Italian attachment supplier Mantovanibenne, the impact of the earthquake was immediate – its home factory in Mirandola was substantially damaged by the event, and the entire facility was declared structurally unsound, with workers unable to enter because of the dangerous condition it was in. It also goes without saying that since its employees lived in the region, their personal situation was also in a state of chaos. One example of this state of affairs was that the home of Maurizio Mantovani, 77 year old company founder and his wife, was totally destroyed during the initial quake.

The first days after the quake passed in a daze for those in the region but decisions had to be taken concerning the future, as Paulo Mantovani said: “The first few days were black as we wrestled with the conditions we faced. For a second or two we wondered about whether we should even try to rebuild, but doubts passed very quickly. We knew that the decision was easy – we would go on.”

Mantovanibenne was perhaps fortunate that its manufacturing capability was not completely erased – it still had production capacity in the shape of a Bulgarian facility and its joint venture company in China that were obviously unaffected and could be used to replace the lost production capability.

Building again

Mantovanibenne was fortunate in that it was still had production capacity to two locations outside of Italy in the short term immediately after the quake – a facility in Bulgaria and its joint venture company in Chine – while it embarked on rebuilding its Italian home. Immediately following the intiial quake, the company’s entire facility was declared as being structurally damaged to the point that entry for employees was forbidden. Following a detailed structural examination, it was determined that 30% of the factory would have to be demolished, with the remainder having to be rebuilt and strengthened.

Within a few days of the initial quake, work had commenced in the various factory buildings to upgrade and repair the damage caused to the structures and a plan had been approved for the work. Nine days later, the second quake dealt a severe blow to the already damaged buildings in the region. According to Paulo: “It was terrible. The second quake came at 9.00 in the morning. We had minor injuries but fortunately no deaths but buildings collapsed. My father was in the factory at the time and he said afterwards that he thought that he would not come out alive.”

“I was 20 kilometres away that morning on business in Modena and my thoughts went right away to my family, of course. I do not know how I drove back to Mirandola that day,” said Paolo. “From far away, I could see smoke and dust in the sky so I was expecting the worst. There was panic on the roads.”

After checking that his family was uninjured, he went to the factory to find that parts of the structures had collapsed and some employees had in fact been injured, but fortunately there were no fatalities.

After the initial period of shock, Mantovanibenne developed a rebuilding strategy, with the help of good friends in the industry, such as demolition contractors Despe and Baraldi and others. “We made the buildings safe to enter. After the 29th, in 10 days we were able to move all of our parts stock to a new storage facility in Modena, thanks to our customers, other friends and the local fire department. We could not instruct our employees to enter the buildings, so I went in myself, on my own responsibility, with a forklift to remove the parts.” A part of this determination to rebuild resulted from the fact that 2013 is the 50th year of business for Mantovanibenne and the company owners were determined to celebrate that fact.

As a result of the earthquakes, the region had turned into one of the largest demolition sites in Europe, so the demand for tools and spare parts was high and Mantovanibenne had to be focused to play its part. In Paulo’s words: “We delivered new tools and parts, and everything was done working out of doors. Our first target was to reorganise the spare parts and service side of the business. Secondly, we determined to finish all the equipment we had on order and deliver them to our customers. We had to then reorganise production and our overall strategy. While there was no work for people in Mirandola, we relocated a number of employees to the factories in Bulgaria and China. We were perhaps fortunate we were able to do that. We were also able to place others from our workforce with other sub-contractors in the region around Mirandola who were producing components for us.”

As a result of consultations with structural engineers and surveyors, Mantovanibenne developed a clear picture of what it had to do with its damaged factory buildings. “We knew that 3,000 m2 had to be demolished because it could not be structurally ungraded. The new construction codes say that you have to upgrade the strength by a minimum of 60% but we wen rebuilt with a 100% increase in strength. Basically we kept the roofs and some of the columns – the side walls were removed and replaced with composite panels, with all the columns and roofs being reinforced. A total of 13 tonnes of steel was used in this reinforcement process,” said Paulo. “We have also been able to improve our production process. It is terrible to say it but the earthquakes gave us the opportunity to start again with a clean slate. A lot of our production equipment had been damaged so we have had to replace it with more modern equipment. We are about 70% back to full capacity, we have all the approvals to work inside the factory, and we think that by the middle of June work will be finished and we will be back to full production.”

The plan is for the new factory in Mirandola to produce scrap shears from 2,000 to 20,000 kilos, and crushers, multi-tools and pulverisers over four tonnes. The Bulgarian factory will produce the company’s range of grabs and grapples, with the Chinese facility focusing on the small tools under 4 tonnes, with stocks of these held at Mirandola to meet European customer demands.

Paulo added: “I would like to point out that despite the disruption, we produced and delivered our largest ever scrap shear, at 20 tonnes, to Democom in Belgium, with assembly of the tool conducted out of doors. I was so proud of our people, who achieved this working in the worst of conditions and the worst of circumstances.”

Irrespective of the earthquake and the resulting disruption to business and personal lives, Paulo said that 2012 was still a good year for the company. “We were on target despite everything. It was very difficult for everyone – people were sleeping outdoors because of the continuing aftershocks that shook the region. We had lots of friends from around the world help us immensely – lots of friends were incredibly supportive with equipment and personnel. Even some of the competition got in touch offering any help we might need.”

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