Building a better future
Volfer Ingenierias took on a commission to build temporary housing modules for the construction workers of UPM’s new Paso de los Toros pulp mill. Despite having no prior experience, Volfer successfully delivered over 1,000 modules, which led to the company’s rapid growth.The construction of the Paso de los Toros mill provided both employment opportunities for around 6,000 workers and created new business prospects for local entrepreneurs. Among them are Emmanuel and Fabricio Romano, owners of Volfer Ingenierias, a company commissioned to build temporary housing modules for the mill builders.
This new venture guided their business in a new direction, allowing them to expand their expertise and grow as a company. The success of the housing modules led the Romanos to reposition their company as a prefabricated housing manufacturer.
From metallurgical work to house manufacturer
Emmanuel and Fabricio Romano grew up in Paso de los Toros where their parents had a small business repairing cars. Emmanuel remembers that their father had a passion for machines – a passion which later inspired the Romano brothers to found Volfer in 2009.
By then Emmanuel had graduated as an industrial engineer in Montevideo and returned to his hometown of Paso de los Toros in central Uruguay. Volfer started as a manufacturer of metal trailers, water and soil tanks, and cabins for generator sets – anything related to metal.
In August 2019 Volfer was commissioned to manufacture the temporary housing modules for construction workers at the Paso de los Toros pulp mill. This involved more than just metallurgical work, so Volfer’s know-how had to be expanded to thermal fusion facilities, installation of water and electricity, and installing toilets, doors, windows and ceilings.
“We had no experience in manufacturing housing modules, but really wanted to take on new challenges and expand our expertise. Initially UPM commissioned 300 modules, so we devised an assembly line similar to the mass production of cars. It was quite a challenge, but everything went as planned and on time. We even surprised ourselves that we achieved the commission,” Emmanuel says.
In 18 months Volfer developed its technical knowledge and grew from a team of 30 to 120 employees.
“That is a major increase in such a short time. For us it was a huge project. At the busiest time we were manufacturing a maximum of eight housing modules per day. We were stressed and overloaded with so much work, but it helped us grow as a company and as individuals,” he adds.
UPM repeated the order and Volfer ended up manufacturing more than 1,000 modules not only in Paso de los Toros but also in Durazno, an area around 60 kilometres from Paso de los Toros.
A turning point
The housing modules developed for UPM were so successful that they became the starting point for a new standard product to reprofile the company as a prefabricated housing manufacturer.
“Manufacturing at a component level has always been Volfer’s strength, so we are glad of the impact that UPM’s project has had on us. Right now we are in the process of creating a product that lowers the cost per square metre of housing,” Emmanuel says.
After the pulp mill’s construction, UPM donated around 500–600 of the modules to the Uruguayan housing ministry, which plans to reconvert them for permanent housing for low and medium income families in Paso de los Toros and Durazno. Once again, Volfer was contracted to modify the temporary modules for permanent housing.
“We had to make certain changes to comply with the regulations. For example, we made sure that the houses are durable, have good thermal transmittance and fire resistance and made some changes to make them soundproof. For all this, we had to certify our construction system to meet the standard requirements of the Ministry of Housing,” he explains.
All in all, Romano believes that the new mill will generate further growth in the city and make it more active: “The jobs involved in the operation of the mill will be at a better educational level and salary than that of an average citizen in Paso de los Toros. This will motivate local youth to study and train themselves further,” he concludes.
Text: Nita Vera