Published 19/12, 2014

Betag-Betontaglio is one of Switzerland’s biggest and most experienced specialist contractors. Having clocked up 35 years in the business of concrete cutting and selective demolition, the company, based in Cadempino, is now going stronger than ever. PDi’s Andrei Bushmarin reports.

Cadempino, which is sandwiched between the mountains and the picturesque Lake Lugano, offers all the natural scenic beauties Switzerland is famous for. It is not for nothing that one of its neighbouring municipalities bears the name Paradiso. It was in this idyllic setting that Peter Hochuli founded Betag-Betontaglio in 1979.

A bank job
It is almost a rule in the concrete cutting business that most people get into it by accident. Peter Hochuli was no exception. And this being Switzerland, the accident, or rather a fortuitous twist of fate, happened in a bank. Hochuli, who was an employee of the UBS banking empire at the time, saw a company use concrete cutting and drilling machinery to re-configure vaults in his branch. It was then and there that he decided to bank on concrete sawing techniques.

The idea man
With only two operators and two pieces of concrete cutting equipment supplied by US based Longyear, Hochuli embarked on his new career as a professional cutter. He could not choose a better time to launch his enterprise. In the early 1980s, concrete sawing and drilling techniques were cutting edge.
Having only five rivals to compete against in all of Switzerland, Betag-Betontaglio soon established itself as the market leader. Hochuli’s previous background as a mechanical engineer and construction site manager certainly played a part in his company outrunning the competition. As did his knack of devising tailor-made machines when conventional equipment failed to live up to the task.

Sustainable growth
As golden as the 1980s were, they were not the only productive period in the history of Betag-Betontaglio. In fact, the company never stopped growing. Even the 2008 banking meltdown did little to disrupt its progress. In the early 1990s, Betag-Betontaglio made the step up to international level, establishing a subsidiary in Varese, Italy.
Specialist contractors rarely venture outside their home region, let alone their country, but the company’s reputation helped it win international contracts on a regular basis. Usually the Swiss contractor performs one or two overseas jobs a year, with the roster of countries where Betag-Betontaglio has already made its cut include Italy, Spain, Greece and Morocco.
On the home front, things are going equally well. Besides the headquarters in Cadempino, Betag-Betontaglio opened another three depots in different parts of Switzerland and expanded its staff to 35 operators. Another five people, including Hochuli and his son Stefano, coordinate the company’s operations.
Betag-Betontaglio commands an extensive arsenal of sawing and drilling equipment, counting 35 core drilling systems, 24 wall saws and six automatic wire saws. High frequency equipment from Tyrolit Hydrostress, Hilti, Pentruder and EDT Eurodima accounts for, at least, one third of the inventory. If a project requires selective demolition, Betag-Betontaglio also has two Brokk robots to call on.

The hydrodemolition angle
With decades of experience in concrete cutting and selective demolition, Betag-Betontaglio is a complete all-rounder. But there is an angle to its profile, a set of special skills, which makes the company stand out, even among the most professional competitors. About five years ago, Betag-Betontaglio won a contract to renovate a parking deck in Lugano with an area of 9,000m2. For this project, hydrodemolition was specified as the most appropriate technique. Never the one to stop learning, Betag-Betontaglio purchased a Conjet 324 hydrodemolition robot from the local dealer for the contract. Following that project, Betag-Betontaglio began to increasingly focus on hydrodemolition and underwater cutting jobs.

The Gela project
In the late 2006, Betag-Betontaglio completed a very challenging job in Sicily, and is a prime example of its expertise in underwater demolition. When waves destroyed three blocks of the breakwater that protected Sicily’s largest refinery in Gela, Betag-Betontaglio was contracted to help replace them. Built in the shape of a semi-circle, the 1.2km long breakwater was about 2.7km off the coast. A 2.5km bridge provided access to most parts of it, but the last 200m were only reachable by boat. The breakwater was built of reinforced concrete sections, each 14m to 20m long and 15m high. Every section contained about 20 cells filled with sand as ballast. The scope of work specified by the general contractor included demolition of the structures above the water with a concrete crusher, emptying the cells of sand and debris, cutting underwater structures at a depth of 9.5m into blocks of not more than 90t, transportation and installation of the new blocks and reconstruction of the parts above the water level. Betag-Betontaglio was tasked to execute the underwater part of the project. The first step involved site preparation in the conditions of extremely limited space. Since the existing infrastructure had been damaged, the electric cables and water lines had to be laid out first. Having set up the cutting equipment, Betag-Betontaglio’s specialists started to wire saw the breakwater’s underwater structures. Due to adverse weather conditions, including two metre waves, the work had to frequently stop. Sometimes water movement was so strong it even tore the wire saw off the rails. To remove the cut blocks, 250mm rigging holes were drilled into them using a fully hydraulic drilling system. Having been mounted underwater by divers, the system was operated by the company’s professionals from the breakwater. Once the cutting was completed, all the elements were hoisted and taken away by a 200t Liebherr crane installed on a workboat. The project was fulfilled to the complete satisfaction of the specifier and allowed Betag-Betontaglio to gain a unique experience in underwater demolition.

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