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There is a company from Matosinhos making bridges in 10 days

BERD, a company based in Matosinhos, designs rapidly assembled modular bridges that have been used in post-weather devastation situations


A Portuguese company is making a name for itself when it comes to reacting to the chaos that ensues after the increasingly extreme manifestations of nature due to climate change. Its name is BERD, it is based in Matosinhos and has been standing out internationally by providing quick solutions that ensure mobility when structures as fundamental as bridges are affected.

Thus, the creation of modular bridges, effective and fast to assemble, has been a winning bet for BERD - Bridge Engineering Research & Design - and the company has scored points in countries that have experienced extreme situations as it happened in Peru, with the "El Nino" or in Mozambique, with the supply of a set of 40 bridges to reestablish the connections between several regions affected by the particularly strong floods brought by the monsoons, besides other destinations in several parts of the world.

A project developed by the R&D department of that northern company, since 2015, with a strong imprint of innovation and technology, the specific characteristics of these bridges, built in factory and assembled on site as if they were Lego pieces in a record time that can reach 10 days, deserved the special international award from one of the most important institutions in the area of structures and bridge engineering, the ECCS European Steel Bridge Awards 2022, in a ceremony held in Istanbul, within the 10th edition of the International Symposium for Steel Bridges for a Green Planet.

Everything indicates that this business segment, linked to the response to natural disaster situations, is experiencing the best years to expand. As sure as the existence of global warming, BERD activity, literally pushed by winds and tides, is here to stay. At least as long as warnings against the factors that are causing increasingly extreme winters and summers continue to be insufficiently echoed in practical terms.

"There's no denying it or saying it any other way: for the area of modular bridges, the fact that there is climate change is a factor that expands the market," admits Pedro Pacheco, CEO of BERD. For this very reason it is easy to understand that Portugal, a country with less exposure to this type of risk, has only 5% of the company's activity...

Deeply involved in the foreign market since its inception (in 2006), BERD marks international presence through a route that not only has to do with the sale of modular bridges - which, in fact, only exists in the northern company, as a specifically developed bet, since 2015 - but also with the supply (sale and rental) of high-tech equipment for bridge building.

It is certain, however, that this latest area of modular bridges "which was the target of investment between 2015 and 2018, already means, in the current three-year period, more than 50% of total turnover," according to that responsible reveals, pointing out the countries with the greatest impact on these accounts: United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Peru and Mozambique.

The ECCS award is thus seen as a corollary of this effort. The distinction focused on BERD's modular bridges in Peru "for representing a great evolution in terms of engineering, with a 20% saving in steel consumption compared to conventional projects, with a reduction in the carbon footprint, with 3,240 tons less CO2 having been emitted compared to the average of traditional projects, along with a great aesthetic evolution," says the company, specifying that "the project has enabled the Peruvian Ministry of Transport and Communications to reduce costs by three million euros. The tender won by BERD was worth 17 million euros for an initial order of 125 units, later increased to almost 150 and representing, at one point, close to a third of the total number of new bridges ordered by the Peruvian State since the last "El Nino" climate tantrum.

For Pedro Pacheco, this award marks "the recognition of the activity developed as well as the investment in R&D, which is in the genesis of the company, since its original business is based on the exploitation of a patent in the market. In fact, the dynamism of this business area revolves around the successive addition of value to the basic concept created by the British engineer Donald Bailey in the Second World War, a concept that, for several decades, has been maintained and used with minor changes by all international constructors in the field of modular bridges. In Berd's case, the upgrade of solutions came through engineering experience in the design and execution of steel structures, which, together with an intense investment in R&D, enabled the company to find and make available "innovative proposals for the development and optimization" of this type of offer, with structures that are "lighter, quick to install, easy to transport and highly durable".

The company's CEO explains in more technical detail: "The difference is in the conception of the modules, where we, on the one hand, consider heavier pieces, i.e., each piece can be bigger in dimension, but mainly in the design issue: instead of making transversal legos we make longitudinal legos, which makes the piece lighter, more aesthetic, more appealing and with less consumption of materials; therefore, it is a different conception, a different paradigm of modular bridges. And that's what was awarded, that is, the economic and sustainability impact that this new concept that we developed has.

The Portuguese company has also conquered the leadership in Europe in the segment of self-launching trusses. The trusses are wooden or metal frames that serve as a mold during the construction of an arch.

In fact, despite the strong competition in the sector - where the countries with the most weight are the United States, China, and England - BERD has been able to make its proposals count in the global market, as evidenced by the contest won in Peru and the record of clients and projects in five continents.

In addition to reducing costs and the carbon footprint, the choice of modular bridges over conventional bridges is also due to an essentially practical factor in disaster situations. "I would say that the biggest impact has to do with the time frame: a conventional bridge, designed and built in record time, always takes several months to appear. A modular bridge, on the other hand, can be assembled in 10 days after the disaster!", emphasizes Pedro Pacheco. In the case of the bridges sent to Peru, with spans of 20 to 60 meters, "typically, they had an assembly time of two weeks". For the rest, however, it is important to understand that the comparison with conventional bridges cannot be direct "because what is required of a permanent bridge is not necessarily required of a modular bridge", namely regarding durability, which ranges from 20 to 25 years for the latter, which corresponds to about half of conventional road bridges. As for the weight supported "the requirements are very close", assures the responsible.

Producing grey matter solutions in the engineering and management areas, the company from Matosinhos then has its products manufactured in various parts of the world, in a variable geometry according to cost convenience for the company. "This, of course, has a lot to do with, for example, the exchange rate policy of the various countries and also with the currency," confirms its CEO, adding that, in this sense, "we have very important suppliers in Turkey (where the industrial part of the order for Peru was entirely made), we have important suppliers in Vietnam, but also in Mexico, Germany, and Portugal.

Founded in 2006, BERD obtained an average annual turnover of 10 million euros in the last three years and has its path for the future perfectly identified. "In this triennium BERD is investing more than 22% of its annual fixed costs in research and development (R&D). In fact, the company is currently making the biggest investment ever in its history and that will bring results, on a different scale, within three years," predicts Pedro Pacheco. The increasing bad weather in several parts of the world also seems to want to help?

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