Mapei UTT: Supporting underground sites globally

Mapei’s UTT (Underground Technology Team) division offers an extensive range of solutions dedicated to underground construction applications, including various waterproofing systems and admixtures. Enrico Dal Negro, director of UTT line, explains some of the main considerations when developing these products and shares insights on several important projects as well as the latest innovations for the market.

1). When was the UTT division created and how has the product line grown over the years?

Enrico Dal Negro (EDN): The UTT business unit was created in September 1999, the year I joined Mapei. Initially it consisted of products already in the company portfolio with a cross-section of areas of use and applications, and then it was gradually extended with the introduction of specific products to support excavation and completion of each work.

The first project we worked on was the renovation of the Mont Blanc tunnel following the fire in March 1999. This was a very important project, where we were given the opportunity to demonstrate the versatility and reliability of our products, many of which were developed in a very short space of time.

The line today is more complete and is gradually being extended with new products, driven by our intuition and the demand from both the mechanised tunnelling and traditional excavation markets.

2). Mapei UTT has been involved in a number of major projects around the world. Can you share some of them?

EDN: In our domestic market Italy, we are involved in many projects, thanks to the national investment plan for the coming years in both renovation works and new construction projects. We are working on high-speed rail projects, such as the third Milan-Genoa link and the Naples-Bari and Catania-Messina stretches, as well as the Brenner base tunnel and the 106 Jonica highway.

Overseas, we have done a lot of works in Norway and northern Europe as a whole. We have also seen considerable growth in Canada and the US, and we are constantly working on projects in South America. We are also starting to see more growth in Australia.

As far as Asia is concerned, we work a lot in Singapore and Hong Kong, and we are also seeing strong growth in India.

The projects we work on are quite diverse, from underground railways to mines, from rail tunnels – a sector undergoing particularly strong growth for environmental sustainability reasons – to road tunnels, hydraulic tunnels and sewer systems.

3). In recent years, sustainability has become a main focus for the global construction industry. How much attention is paid to the environmental compatibility of Mapei UTT products?

EDN: Environmental compatibility is a fundamental characteristic of our products. We realised right from the start that this aspect would be highly important for the market and we made very quick progress, including with respect to our competitors. We were the first to establish a reference standard, especially in the field of soil conditioning for TBM excavation works, a sector in which the need for eco-sustainable products is particularly important.

We managed to combine high-performance products and respect for the environment, something that is not always easy to achieve, and this has led to us building trust with our clients. For example, we have the Polyfoamer Eco family of foaming agents, which over the last few years has developed from Polyfoamer Eco 100 to Polyfoamer Eco 100 Plus and then Polyfoamer Eco 1000 Plus, with a progressive improvement in environmental performance characteristics.

We can also say the same for all the products from the line that now come with WGK (Wassergefährdungsklasse) certification, which evaluates the impact a product has on groundwater and classifies the risk of contamination on a scale of 1 to 4, with all our products having a rating of between 1 and 2.

4). The durability of structures is another critical aspect of the industry. What is the approach to this concept across the UTT product line?

EDN: In terms of durability, it is very important that products are used and applied correctly. At Mapei, we have the possibility of offering high-level solutions that are able to minimise their impact in the event of poor use – often because of the difficult environments where the actual work is being carried out – and guarantee, nonetheless, proper durability.

Nowadays, large-scale projects are required to have a service life of at least 100 years, apart from a few exceptions, such as the Brenner tunnel, where a service life of 150 years is required. This long arc of time is due to the high cost of building and repair projects, and also the desire to minimise their social impact, because interrupting a service provokes considerable disruption for its users.

5). Mapei always puts emphasis on innovation and research. What are the most recent and cutting-edge UTT products from a technological perspective?

EDN: Undoubtedly the products from the Polyfoamer Eco family of foaming agents, as well as the admixtures for concrete – which focus on maintaining the concrete’s high performances while looking to reduce cement consumption. With our products we try to reduce their impact on the environment to a minimum.

By ‘low impact’ we mean not only low emission of CO2 during the production phase, but also less impact at the time they are actually applied. And it is here that chemistry is an enormous help in making products more sustainable. In this sense, it is worth remembering that chemistry is not synonymous with pollution, but rather with research, development and the possibility of making people’s lives easier in a sustainable way.

6). Does the UTT division also provide site supports?

EDN: Our support service, which we call Technical Service, starts at the preliminary laboratory phase where we carry out a series of tests based on real site conditions to identify our best proposal in order to meet the requirements of a particular project. We propose our most suitable products along with their relative dosage rates and application parameters.

Once we have been awarded a contract, we go over the tests and parameters again to define certain fine details where required. We then pass to the application phase; we are also present during this phase to make sure the product is used correctly and in the best way possible. We follow sites during each and every phase. The technical service is an important element with highly skilled personnel at the service of clients, who also have ability to develop, if and when necessary, bespoke proposals for a specific site.

Note: This article has also been published in the Jul/Aug 2023 issue of Southeast Asia Construction (SEAC). Click here to read online or here to download the PDF file (pages 40-41).

The interview courtesy of Realtà Mapei International 95.