Roboplant: the automated and green factory producing tunnel segments

Webuild inaugurates in Sicily a robotic 4.0 plant that produces segments used in the construction of tunnels

An automated factory, a sustainable production hub, a new technology to export to Italy and the world, and, of course, a development opportunity for Sicily. The Robo Factory for Tunnel, the factory for tunnel segments built by Webuild in Belpasso, in the province of Catania, is all of this combined.

The segments produced by the plant, used in tunnel construction, are the result of an absolutely innovative production process that incorporates extreme automation on one hand and maximum attention to sustainability on the other. The Sicilian factory, realized by Webuild and Pizzarotti with the collaboration of Politecnico of Milan, presents itself as a global excellence, a frontier in the models used within production facilities, and at the same time, an opportunity to enhance workplace safety and productivity.

Indeed, 70% of all operations inside the plant are automated. Robots and machines take center stage in this environment, where humans are tasked with ensuring that all operations follow the predetermined sequence. This industrial success, achieved by the Webuild Group, is intended to be replicated elsewhere, starting with Italy. In addition to the Belpasso plant, three other plants are currently under construction one of these in Sicily, close to Enna. Once these plants are completed, they could process 3.5 million m3 of concrete to produce segments covering 300 kilometers of tunnels, ensuring a production value of 1.2 billion euros, confirming the incredible innovative scope of this new production model.

Productivity and safety

Productivity and safety are at the core of the philosophy that inspired the design of the Belpasso segment factory. The first consequence of the high levels of automation is the increased productivity of the plant. In a standard factory, it takes 10 minutes to produce a segment, which is reduced to 7 minutes in the Belpasso factory. This result applies only to the first phase of the project, with a second, even more efficient phase to follow. At that point, the plant’s productivity will increase by 250%, producing a segment every 4 minutes.

In addition to reducing production times, the high levels of automation will also lead to a reduction in the workforce. In the first phase, a 43% reduction in manpower is expected, reaching 50% in the second phase, with 5 people engaged in each production line compared to the 10 needed in a traditional factory. Safety for personnel remains a priority, ensured by technology, including the use of laser scanners capable of identifying and reporting the presence of personnel in risk areas at all times.

A factory that does not pollute

Looking at it from above, the Belpasso plant resembles a field of solar panels. The large solar installation on the roof is just one of the measures and technologies adopted to minimize the structure’s impact on the environment. This goal has been pursued through various measures addressing all traditional sources of pollution, from energy to water consumption. The first solution adopted is the solar installation, allowing the plant to self-produce approximately 40% of the energy needed for its operation. Another measure is the use of boilers for steam production with doubled efficiency, thus reducing the impact of these machines. Finally, perhaps the most innovative interventions concern water management, a resource consumed in large quantities by industrial plants. The factory is equipped with a complex system that allows the recycling and use of rainwater, covering 70% of the plant’s overall water needs.

All these innovations contribute to reducing the plant’s environmental footprint, demonstrating how innovation and new technologies adapted to production purposes can contribute to writing new chapters in the industrial history of large infrastructure projects worldwide.