VINCI Construction Terrassement

Interview of its chairman, Benoît Denizot: :

Vision and perspectives

The history and life of a company, from “discipline player ” in the field of earthworks to the overall management of infrastructure and development projects

What is the history of VINCI Construction Terrassement in three words?
VINCI Construction Terrassement was formed in 2008, as a result of the merger of century-old earthworks companies – mainly Entreprise Deschiron, from the Paris region, and GTM Terrassement in the Rhône Valley – and acquisitions of regional companies over 25 years.

What characterizes your company? How would you describe it?
VINCI Construction Terrassement has been created while French authorities has developed infrastructures projects. Entreprise Deschiron and GTM Terrassement have operated on all motorway and HSL (High Speed Lines) programs, as well as major hydraulic schemes on the Rhône, large dams or port infrastructure. Clearly, until the 80s we were discipline focused players in the field of earthworks and major works.
Our field of expertise was subsequently expanded to better control our linear infrastructure projects. We have therefore developed other activities: firstly, the usual engineering structures, in a second phase, linear remediation, and finally related activities such as noise barriers, water-proofing etc. We are committed to gradually mastering all of the skills necessary for the overall control of our major projects. We also have an engineering office.

Skills dictated by linear infrastructures

What are your core technical skills?
We have operated around three cores technical skills:
– the initial skill corresponding to our core business, earthworks;
– geotechnics, which is a key element in defining the conditions for re-using materials and optimizing earth movements on the site;
– and engineering and topography, to optimize and guarantee the layout;
All these technical skills, coupled with complementary business skills, enabled us to understand the entirety of our projects as early as the 1980s.
From pure construction projects, we then switched very early on to designand build projects, especially for the needs of the creation of the Cofiroute motorway network, developed by our parent companies, which we carried out in its entirety.
We now have a logic of overall control of our projects, from the evaluation and management of all kinds of risks to the completion of the projects.

Was the expertise acquired during the works therefore paramount?
The experiences accumulated during these major linear infrastructure projects have transformed us: when we say “linear”, it means that we have to cross singular points; roads, rivers, railways, etc. We have had to optimize the scheduling of our projects while reducing the impact in the territories crossed by the infrastructure; this also helped to value engineer the overall design.

Integrated vision of all the roles needed to carry out a project

What is the vocation of VINCI Construction Terrassement?
Today, our vocation is to carry out works in their entirety from input data such as environmental, topographical andgeotechnical surveys, polluted ground to completion by including the whole range of expertise, including communities’ engagement and design. We have the technical capacity to carry out the entire infrastructure of the projects that we are involved in, to guarantee the quality while managing the deadlines. We Have developed our own model through self- delivery. We outsource less than 15% of our core business.

By combining construction and earthworks, you reassert the value of the latter task?
In the field of construction, earthworks are often considered to be an unskilled task that one seeks to subcontract because it is thought that it often just involves digging a hole. In our linear works, we carry out excavations, but also embankments. It is therefore necessary to be able to reuse the site won materials, whatever the constraints, to meet the expectations of modern society: optimizing resources as much as possible. Today, that’s where the challenge lies, and you need the skills to achieve it.

What is your competition in this area?
On the market, there are several types of companies: those, which are very rare, that integrate all of the technical skills and jobs, that are able to technically master the whole of a project, and at the other end of the spectrum, those who are reduced to moving cubic meters.

Management and project management in its entirety

You have been involved, and even led, the South Europe Atlantic High Speed Line project (LGV SEA) with more than 330km of railway platforms, 500 engineering structures, including 24 viaducts, completed in just 38 months. How did this project transform VINCI Construction Terrassement ?
This mega-project has changed the way our company is perceived … an image that was somewhat simplistic, only related to the field of earthworks. Previously, we were measured by the horsepower of our machines or the size of the bucket of our production shovels… Nobody had the vision of a company with high technical added-value that was able to understand a project in its entirety, to ensure control of its entire execution.
What we were doing already!
In this sense, yes, the project has had a profound impact on the VINCI group about our activity. This project was initiated in 2003, signed in 2010 and delivered in 2017. We have been the main linchpin for almost 15 years, both commercially and technically.

The French benchmark in fine soil projects

How are the site won materials reused?
By nature, there are two types of materials: the so-called “fine” soils (soft materials with dominant clay), sensitive to water, and the rocky materials, which are generally not very sensitive to water, don’t change much and can be re-used in a sustainable way.
The fundamental challenge of earthworks therefore lies in the ability to re-use the fine soils in a sustainable way. For this, one needs to know their characteristics in order to be able to reuse them to the optimum of their water content: not too dry and not too wet. If they are too dry, they will be sprayed with water, and if they are too wet, they will be aerated, or even treated with lime or cement, the objective being in all cases to make them non-evolutive and possibly to improve performance.

You speak of the “earth” as a living material …
But the “earth” is eminently alive!
A cubic meter of “earth” with given mechanical characteristics, may have different behaviors, depending on the way in which we work. This cubic meter of earth will also evolve according to the weather, or whether it is morning or evening. It will therefore be necessary to define its own conditions of re-use in each case.

What is the purpose of reusing materials ?
The objective is, within a project, to balance the volumes of cuttings to be excavated, which will optimize the conditions of re-use, and the needs of embankments so as not to end up with surpluses which we won’t know what to do with, aside from putting them in landfill. Depending on the conditions of reuse of fine or rocky materials, we will engineer the design, including the geometry of the structure.
Similarly, the geotechnical characteristics of the backfill (compressible, unstable, floodable, etc.) contribute to the final design of the project. They will require the carrying out of ground dig and replace or soil reinforcements to consolidate them, or even the replacement of the embankment by a viaduct, if it turns out to be more economical.

Risk control

What added value do you bring to risk control ?
Because of our activity, we are the first to operate on the ground in order to clear the way on site for subsequent works : early works including land access, utilities diversion, archeological surveys and watching briefs and disciplines such as environment, geotechnics, hydrology, pollution, access, … Our mission is to deliver a platform freed from its constraints and “any time” to the road or rail superstructure lots.
Similarly, we are involved in all phases of the project and have a real capacity to integrate the linear, or even spatial, dimensions. This is essential in order to be able to properly schedule all of the tasks and people involved in these infrastructure projects.
It is this necessary risk control that has led us, throughout our history, to develop internally all these technical and business skills.

How does VINCI Construction Terrassement fit in with the strategy of VINCI Construction and, more broadly, the VINCI Group ?
Our positioning is relatively simple. We have unique skills in the group. We are not competing in terms of earthworks skills, nor in the leading and management of linear infrastructures. We therefore put these skills at the service of the group.
We are the largest common denominator of the group’s linear infrastructure projects, both in France and abroad.

– in France: A19, SEA, Strasbourg bypass …
– for export: Regina Bypass in Canada, Bogota-Girardot in Colombia, HS2 in UK, …
We are also fully in tune with VINCI’s strategy to develop its portfolio of motorway concessions.

And at regional level ?
At the same time, we decided to connect the French territory with a network of 18 regional offices, to free us from the cyclical nature of launching major projects that are eminently linked to political decisions.
While we have historically been focused on large projects, an area in which we remain leaders, we also aim to anchor ourselves in the territories and offer our know-how to regional and local projects.
Our positioning in the regions is the same as for major works. We operate in “project” mode and we concentrate on businesses that implement our multiple skills. We go everywhere with enthusiasm, from the moment we bring added value. We are always in the competition with and surpassing ourselves. The whole company works on this DNA.

Ground contamination treatment

Is it in the interest of a customer to have a single interlocutor ?
What is certain is that a single interlocutor will bring added value to their project; enabling it to be optimized. Finally, we are part of a logic of sustainable development. For example, in another of our lines of business, soil remediation, our vision is global. We analyze pollution accurately and map it by nature.
Our goal is to reduce the ultimate polluted fraction, to avoid sending all the materials to very expensive landfills that sometimes far away from the sites.
We will therefore seek to define specific conditions for re-use on site, to treat pollution in situ or to concentrate it mechanically or chemically. Only this last fraction will be sent to the landfill.

Ecological engineering

Can you tell us more about your recent Equo Vivo brand, dedicated to carrying out ecological development projects ?
Can you tell us more about your recent Equo Vivo brand, dedicated to carrying out ecological development projects?

The French framework

What are your goals at national, regional and export level ?
Our goal is to be present on the French market, through our regional and specialized activities and major projects, and to expand our area of intervention for export, which will reduce our exposure to the French economy.
We aim for steady growth, reducing our sensitivity to the cyclical nature of major projects in France.
Also, to meet VINCI’s long-term expectations and be able to project ourselves internationally, we must be able to have a solid backbone in France, in the regions, to maintain and develop our skills and share them and our culture with those who join us.
The ultimate goal is to achieve, at a ratio of 50/50 between France and abroad, with regional activities representing 60% in France.

The triumph of the “project” mode

How do you operate in so many directions, on so many project configurations?
It is interesting to work everywhere in “project” mode. We speak the same language, regardless of the size of the site. This is the strength of VINCI Construction Terrassement. We seek to carry out projects where all our skills are used.
Between large and small jobs, there is only the level of risk and complexity “in absolute” that changes. But, in relative terms, it’s the same thing, we are faced with the same problems.
We also have robust management systems that are common to all our activities.

Permanence of the questioning

How do we become an earthworker ?
“It takes at least ten years to train an earthworker”.
We operate in project environments with fields of constraints that are by definition always different and with a strong sensitivity to climatic hazards.
So we need to know how to be humble in the face of nature and be constantly alert to be able to adapt to real-time operating conditions and re-evaluate the risks.
To do this, it is necessary to forge a solid experience. It’s not just about technique.

What are your next challenges or prospects ?
Succeeding in our strategic development plan: rooting ourselves and developing in France and managing and sustaining our international business where risks and issues are even more significant, in new cultural, contractual and legal environments.

Maintaining cohesion around technical, cultural and human values

What is the main challenge for VINCI Construction Terrassement in the medium term ?
We are faced with an exciting challenge: to work on projects ranging from the infinitely small to the infinitely large, in France and internationally.
To succeed in this challenge, we will have to maintain the same level of control and commitment on all our projects. We will have to ensure that our identity continues to be based on strong values that are ours: technology, corporate culture and Human being..
Everyone in the company knows that it is an essential component and that, according to their career and the evolution of their family situation, they will find a project that meets their expectations allowing them to express their skills.