Jonathan Benítez
Regional Manager Latin America and Caribbean
Waagner-Biro Bridge Systems
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View from the Top

Bridging the Distance Gap in Hard-to-Reach Areas

By Paloma Duran | Mon, 02/15/2021 - 06:00

Q: How important is the mining sector in Waagner Biro’s portfolio and what problems does the company solve for the industry?

A: The infrastructure sector is our main market; however, the mining sector is our largest market in the private sector and the second-biggest in our portfolio. It is a very important sector and plays a prominent role when we are shaping new objectives and business plans.

In the mining sector, projects often face the challenge of having to implement infrastructure in remote or hard to reach locations. We often have cases of clients that need to cross rivers or streams and these challenges have not only financial but also environmental consequences. We not only find the most economical solution to a company’s challenges but we also try to preserve the existing nature around a project.

Another hurdle in the sector is climate change, which has caused changes in rainfall patterns. As a result, mining companies are having to prevent project infrastructures from invading stream or river areas because in the event of a natural disaster they can collapse and affect the project. To offset this risk, we offer modular steel structures, which have a design and configuration that allows for great lengths and a high load capacity. These bridges reach remote locations and are quick and easy to build; for example, a 30m two-lane bridge can be completed in 10 days while an emergency bridge can be built in 24-36 hours.

Q: What differentiates the company’s bridges from others in the mining sector?

A: A bridge can be built in many ways and several companies offer bridges with precast concrete structures. However, concrete does not allow a great reach between supports; it can only reach around 52m and with very heavy structures. Meanwhile, a modular steel bridge can reach 120m between supports, which also helps preserve the environment and increases safety. In the case of a natural disaster such as an earthquake, our bridges provide freedom of movement alongside the foundation, which is designed to maintain the bridge structure.

An important point is that steel as a material is susceptible to corrosion and for this reason, Waagner Biro protects its modular structures by employing a hot galvanizing process, which provides our bridges with a long useful life of around 50 years.

Waagner Biro offers solution for all stages of a project, from exploration to production. Our production process, which uses automated systems and robotic manufacturing cells, ensures all components are of high quality, strength, durability and versatility.

Q: What parameters does the company consider before implementing a bridge?

A: It is a simple process. We only need three parameters: the length that the company requires, the width of the track and the weight of the vehicles that will travel over the bridge. The bridges are usually built with 25 different elements and width, length and weight can be configured in any way necessary. At Wagner Biro, our bridges are configured like a military bridge. We have developed them to be modern Bailey bridges.

Q: What is the difference between a panel Bailey and a steel armor bridge and which one is better for mining projects?

A: We have two types of modular bridges: one uses steel armor and the other is made of steel panel, which are called Bailey bridges. The difference between these two bridges is the length they cover. While steel armor bridges are more geared toward road infrastructure, the Bailey panel is oriented toward remote or hard-to-reach locations and therefore, this is what we mostly recommend for the mining industry.

Q: Which mining companies or projects have implemented Waagner Biro’s bridges?

A: We are finishing the installation of a bridge in Costa Rica, which is the longest modular bridge in the world. It has 121m between supports and it will be inaugurated at the end of February. In Mexico, in the infrastructure sector, SCT is one of our main clients. It has acquired a stock of modular bridges to use in case of emergencies, such as an earthquake. In mining, we have worked with Fresnillo at its Cerro El Gigante project in Guanajuato, where we presented a proposal for the use of bridges in the exploration stages that can also be used in other stages.

Q: What trends have you observed in bridge construction in Mexico and how does the country compare to others jurisdictions?

A: Central America and the Caribbean are mature markets for our steel bridges because they are vulnerable to natural disasters, such as cyclones. Mexico has been complex because it is host to one of the largest cement companies in the world: CEMEX. Therefore, the country has a high preference for concrete because both the public and private sectors rely on local companies that have entrenched cement standards. However, we see a growing openness to steel structures in private projects because in Mexico there is also a very strong steel industry and the country has the capacity to transform itself as institutions such as the Mexican Institute of Steel Construction have promoted the use of steel.

Q: What are the company’s plans for 2021?

A: Within the mining sector, the demand for bridges has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic because project development often depends on the price of commodities. However, we have seen that some prices have benefited the mining sector and as a result, we hope to work on more projects this year. In addition to sales, Waagner Biro wants the bridges we offer to mining projects to also benefit nearby communities because we believe bridges improve people's quality of life. It is our social responsibility to work together in such a way that bridges have a positive impact on the surrounding communities. This year, we hope to work with the mining sector to provide solutions along with the development of infrastructure within communities.

Paloma Duran Paloma Duran Journalist and Industry Analyst