Technological Centre

Francisco Rodríguez López: “Working with CETIM has allowed us to improve our competitiveness and stay in touch with the main innovations in the industry”

Extraco is a construction company that began its operations in 1969. After positioning itself as a reference company in Galicia in its early years, today it is one of the 50 companies in the construction sector of revenue and presence at both national and international levels. Today we learn about its formula for success, its evolution over the years and perspective on the future challenges that the sector will face, through the opinion of its General Manager, Francisco Rodríguez López.

  1. Extraco started its activity in 1969 and has managed to position itself as a reference company in Galicia. What has your experience been like over the years?

The company’s growth and expansion has been progressive since it was founded by Pablo Prada Álvarez; it began as a subcontractor on construction sites, later becoming a main contractor in the elimination of railway level crossings for Renfe. Relying on its own resources (including a large fleet of machinery), the company expanded from Ourense to the whole of Galicia, to later grow in the rest of Spain, with its own offices in Cantabria, Extremadura and Madrid. From 2010, the company began a process of internationalisation that has led it to have branches in Portugal, Panama and Peru, markets in which it has since consolidated its position.

  1. How do you manage to adapt to the continuous changes in the sector?

It has had no choice but to adapt in order to survive, seeking new markets and diversifying the company’s activity, which has opened up to services related to civil works and building. I am referring to maintenance, conservation and operation contracts for buildings and infrastructures, together with motorway concessions. To cite some examples of those we currently have in our portfolio , the company has maintenance contracts for the Post Office and Canal de Isabel II; operation of wastewater treatment plants for Augas de Galicia and road maintenance for the Ministry of Transport, the Xunta de Galicia and several provincial councils; it is present in the concessions for the Santiago-Brión and Ourense-Celanova motorways. In recent years, private entities have also joined our client base, complementing the portfolio of works traditionally provided by the public sector.

In terms of internal organisation, efforts have been made to keep the company at the forefront of the sector, with important actions such as the creation of our own R&D&I department and the modernisation and updating of our machinery, boosting the Asphalt Division with new pavement production plants and paving equipment. Not forgetting the challenge of internationalising the company, seeking new markets outside Spain for more than ten years, with positive results.

  1. What is your vision of the construction sector today?

This is a complex sector, which will face many challenges in the coming years. Starting with the need to find a generational replacement, at all levels: a significant lack of skilled labour has been detected, which could condition the viability of the sector in the medium term.

In the last three years, the rise in the price of raw materials and energy, affected by inflation, the COVID crisis and the war in Ukraine, have also added to the technical and operational difficulties of the works, in many cases jeopardising their execution.

The economic crisis of 2008 left a battered sector, in which companies had to reinvent themselves, focusing on other types of contracts and taking risks in the search for new markets outside our borders, as I mentioned earlier. Those companies that were healthy and were able to adapt or anticipate what was to come came out ahead. Just as the sector was beginning to stabilise, the impact of COVID arrived unexpectedly…

Despite all these setbacks, I am optimistic, because in addition to building new infrastructures, it is absolutely necessary to conserve existing ones, adapting them to new needs and demands. Among these, I would highlight the opportunities arising from the incorporation of new technologies and construction techniques that help to improve the environmental performance of the built work. Aspects such as the development of new construction materials or the implementation of automation systems in the sector will be key elements for its improvement and modernisation.

  1. You created an R&D&I department in 2009, why did you see the need to incorporate this element in your company?

At that time, the company’s directors, brothers’ Prada Valencia, saw it as a commitment to the future. Faced with a sector that was not very innovative and not at all prone to change, they decided to create their own R&D&I department through which to channel the new ideas and innovative initiatives that arose in the company. Although we had previous experience (supported by the Asociación de Empresas de Conservación y Explotación de Infraestructuras, ACEX), the decision was made to create the new department as a tool to improve the company’s competitiveness, something that was not very common at the time in companies of our size. The development of innovation activities, working with leading public and private research centres, has allowed us to maintain contact with the forefront of the sector, adopting the best possible practices, to the extent of our possibilities.

  1. In addition, you collaborate with CETIM through several R&D projects. What are the benefits of collaborating with a Technology Centre like CETIM?

In addition to all the scientific-technological support received, working with CETIM has allowed us to improve our competitiveness and to be in contact with the main innovations in the sector, many of them cutting-edge, adapting them to our needs and scaling them to our idiosyncrasies when necessary.

The projects developed with CETIM in recent years have also allowed us to collaborate with researchers from public universities, improving and optimising our presence in the Galician and national innovative ecosystem.

  1. One of the projects you are involved in is the recently completed KEOPS. How has your experience been in this project?

Very positive. KEOPS has allowed us to learn about the extraordinary possibilities that geopolymers have in the future of the construction sector, in which they are currently scarcely present. Together with CETIM, we have developed new dosages of geopolymer concretes with different applications, which have been disseminated in prestigious international technical forums, such as the REHABEND 2022 and “Alkali Activated Materials and Geopolymers 2023” congresses, held in Granada and Cetraro (Calabria), respectively.

In addition, thanks to CETIM we have established contacts with other research centres and potential partners with whom to continue working in the future in the field of innovation in our sector of activity.

  1. The Galician Construction Cluster, Galicia Constrúe, of which Extraco is a member, has recently been set up. How do you think it can help the sector?

This is an important initiative, one of the objectives of which is to raise the profile of the construction sector, to publicise and disseminate its relevance and importance for the maintenance of our quality of life: aspects such as the safety and operability of our transport infrastructures, or the quality of the water we drink and the beaches we bathe in, to give examples related to water purification, depend on it. Moreover, it is one of the main economic sectors of the community, which deserves to be given due consideration (in addition to being a major economic player, the multiplier effect of investment in infrastructure is passed on to society as a whole). The same applies to related service contracts which, in addition to maintaining employment, have a positive impact on the entire economic fabric of the place where the activity is carried out.

EXTRACO has been one of the founding companies of the cluster, which is currently working on its master plan, seeking a joint strategy for the enhancement of our activity as a sector. We are strengthening ties and cooperation with the other members of the cluster, and we want it to serve as an instrument for channelling our dialogue with the Public Administrations.

  1. What challenges do you think the construction industry will face in the medium term and how will you face them from Extraco?

As I said before, the generational replacement of staff is one of the key challenges for the future, as well as that of training our workers more and better. To these we must add the improvement of the supply chain, optimising its costs, so that they do not represent a substantial increase in the cost of materials.

EXTRACO is participating in dual vocational training programmes, in collaboration with the Regional Ministry of Education, and is a trustee of the Galician Civil Engineering Foundation, at the Civil Engineering School of the University of A Coruña (UDC). These are initiatives with which we aim to attract to our sector potential specialised workers who will join the labour market in the coming years.

We have also reinforced our Purchasing department, centralising supplies in order to optimise the cost of materials for works in progress.

We must not forget the challenges facing the sector from an environmental and energy point of view. Our works must have the least possible ecological impact and consume energy efficiently, as this is the only way to face the challenge of climate change, which will probably condition future projects. We have chosen to reinforce our environmental protocols, incorporating the new requirements that have been demanded in recent years into the company’s daily operations.

It remains to be seen what the influence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be in our daily lives, from the point of view of the physical execution of a work: we are in the initial stages, but everything indicates that its incorporation into the sector will be a reality in the coming years. The same applies to Deep Learning and automated programming, which we have begun to implement in our R&D&I projects, such as the ENDITí project on the analysis and control of critical transport infrastructures, in collaboration with the University of Vigo (UVigo).

  1. Can you tell us about any project or initiative you are working on?

In 2023, EXTRACO joined the “Alianza Galega polo Clima” (Galician Climate Alliance), an initiative of the Galician Regional Government’s Department of the Environment, with which we want to reinforce the company’s environmental commitment, in addition to the implementation of the GHG Protocol (carbon footprint verification) and the company’s energy management certification in accordance with the UNE 50001 standard.

In the R&D&I area, we are developing the ESTRADA project, with the support of CETIM, the University of Santiago de Compostela (USC) and Gestan Conteco as partners. This new project seeks to develop innovative hot bituminous mixtures that incorporate complex polymeric waste in their composition, with a view to improving their environmental performance. The project, co-financed by the CDTI, recently passed the DNSH validation and is fully aligned with our policy of maximum respect for the environment, an aspect that I would like to highlight as one of our hallmarks, along with innovation.

IN DETAIL

Extraco is one of the top 50 construction companies with the highest turnover and presence across the entire Spanish territory, which started its activity in 1969. Over the years, they have successfully adjusted their processes and products to meet the market demands at each specific moment. A testament to this is their commitment to R&D through the establishment of their own R&D department in 2009 and their involvement in seeking solutions for the environment.