For those that muster the genius to innovate an industry, limited applications seldom offer relief, for real innovators are consistently intent to innovate. This was a point eloquently asserted by the French Artist Delacroix who said, “What moves those of genius, what inspires their work is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough.” After more than a century of innovations involving waterproofing, insulation and manufactured coatings that have literally changed the world, one company’s claim to industrial supremacy has been maintained by its astounding application and insistence on innovation.
With manufacturing facilities, research labs and sales offices located throughout the world, SOPREMA is not only recognized as a world leader in its industry, but is also renowned as an innovative pioneer in the manufacturing of specially-designed membranes, coatings and sealants so vital to the waterproofing and infrastructural integrity of roads, bridges and buildings. Their material resources are equally replete in a range of other applications that include insulation, soundproofing and so much more, suffice it to say this is an enterprise whose legacy, existing leadership and look to the future is all derivative of a fixation on innovation.
As Vice President Richard Voyer says, “Our focus has always been about solving problems, but to do that we have to be innovative… we’ve always seen the only way that our company can continue to survive is through our ability to innovate.”
The Geisen Legacy
To detail the impact of innovations from this institution, it is important to first account of an extraordinary family whose entrepreneurial acumen has been accentuated by intellect in chemical sciences and certain functional fortitude.
That all began in the early 1900’s with Charles Geisen’s creation of the “Alsatian Emulsion Factory” in Strasbourg, France. Geisen had originally worked as a professional teacher of Latin, but his intellectual proclivities extended into topics of technology, science and chemistry. In the construction practices of this era, architects and builders would customarily use coal tar or bitumen (a semi-solid form of petroleum that is black, sticky and very viscous). The bitumen was essential in the coating of roofs, yet it was costly, cumbersome and considerably unreliable over time.
Geisen’s brilliance was bolstered by experiments involving the immersion of jute cloth into vats filled with heated bitumen. The byproduct was a sheeting material that was not only light-weight and flexible, but also solid, strong, durable and capable of meeting demand for waterproofing. He ultimately invented what many regard as the first waterproofing membrane of the modern era. Large discoveries often demand large titles and Geisen dubbed his product with proprietary and pachyderm terms as Mammouth (French for Mammoth). He went on to establish a contracting division comprised of highly-trained installers and business exploded.
As it was, political powder kegs would also soon detonate. The advent of the World War I would compel Geisen to relocate the company to Switzerland for a duration when it was then known as “Asphalt Emulsion Zurich.” Operates would resume in Strasbourg by 1918, but by this time Giesen and his wife were also busy raising a son named Pierre. Over the years that followed, Pierre went on to earn degrees in engineering and by 1933, he was appointed with management of the company.
Pierre was no less innovative than his father. He discovered that by applying a thin layer of aluminum to the membrane, the bitumen was better protected from the ravages of weathering, sun light and temperature extremes. This led to greater application of their product and growing number of customers. Yet, once again, the escalation of political tensions resulted in yet another war prompting relocation once more. In 1941, upon moving to Avignon in the “free zone” of German-occupied France, Pierre adapted the corporate name as The Society of Waterproofing Products and Coatings Mammoth. SOPREMA was later born from the acronym associated with the French translation of that same name – SOciété des Produits et Revêtements d’Étanchéite MAmmouth.
Over the years that followed, SOPREMA continued to improve upon its existing product lines while also inventing new solutions. As their innovations grew, so too did demand for their products which necessitated the company’s operational expansion. New manufacturing facilities would be established in France, yet also in Quebec and British Columbia, Canada, as well as Ohio and Mississippi in the United States.
Through it all, the evolution of innovations would be overseen by the Geisen Family. Since 1992, the company has been led by Pierre-Etienne Bindschedler, the grandson of Pierre Geisen, who represents the fourth generation of family ownership. Under his leadership, the company has remarkably advanced their product quality, sourcing of materials, operational efficiency and sweeping market penetration.
Richard Voyer, who spent years working in research and development with SOPREMA prior to assuming management of operations in North America, says although the company has grown “it is still a family company with a family spirit.” The Geisen values of cooperation, problem solving and innovation remain the foundation on which the company functions and has allowed it to compete, as Voyer says, “against giants in industry.”
SOPREMA’s manufacturing expertise has been efficiently deployed among some of the most iconic structures known to the world, as well as numerous roads, bridges and rooftops. Most notable examples will include the waterproofing of a structure heralded as the world’s finest arena, China’s “Bird’s Nest” stadium (as well as the parking areas and building envelope) which was the centerpiece of the Beijing Olympics. SOPREMA’s handiwork is equally augmenting aspects at Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi, recognized as the largest indoor amusement park in the world. From Universal Studios’ Hard Rock Hotel and San Francisco’s highly trafficked Airport to Boston’s iconic Prudential Tower and New York’s famed “Flatiron” Building; all have benefitted from SOPREMA applications in one form or another.
SOPREMA’s genius is existent in not only their research, which has certainly allowed them to develop materials with fascinating chemical and physical properties, but also in breakthroughs which have led to faster, more efficient application of their products. For example, in China, where SOPREMA has applied waterproofing membranes to literally miles of roads and bridges, the company engineered a special machine (MACADEN) which allows for faster application of the membrane. Voyer explains how membranes typically come in rolls of eight to ten meters length. Through the new engineering, they can now accommodate two roll at same time which allows for some 200 meters of coverage, yet since the device melts the bitumen while heating the road or bridge surface, it also allows for complete penetration of the bitumen into the asphalt and perfect adhesion as well. Voyer says the device allows SOPREMA to complete such work project four times faster than typical installations.
SOPREMA’s product line is extensive and includes such innovations as a line of laminate boards known as SOPRASMART. Synonamous with speed, quality, durability and efficiencies, this product line benefits from SOPREMA’s exclusive bonding technology. The adhesive is already incorporated into the membrane and is activated by the heat of the laminating process. The SOPRASMART line allows for optimal adhesion, flexibility for perfectly covering uneven wood decks and membranes, waterproofing complemented by Due Selvedge and Sopralap technologies, and quick installation.
Then there’s also SOPRAFIX, a product that offers excellent resistances through its combination of glass material (for stability) and polyester (for increased elongation and puncture resistance.
Another product is Alsan RS, a rapid curing liquid-applied waterproofing Systems, composed of different polymethyl methacrylate-based resins.
SOPRALENE STICK HR GR is a solution for projects which don’t require flame application. Able to be used in conjunction with a range of other SOPREMA products, this cap sheet membrane demonstrates versatility by providing multiple configurations of systems tailored to the needs of the sites where security is a premium issue (schools, hospitals, etc.). In addition to eliminating propane tools, SOPRALENE STICK is the only self-adhesive cap sheet membrane to meet ASTM D6162 Type II Standards, offers superior waterproofing, and a platinum privilege warranty up to 20 years.
Beyond waterproofing membranes, SOPREMA has a wide range of solutions involving both thermal and accoustic insulation. SOPRAROCK DD PLUS is a mineral wool insulation board that has a rigid top layer for durability and enhanced strength. SOPRAROCK DD PLUS is complemented with a bitumen layer that is compatible with SOPREMA’s torch or mop-applied membranes, or adhered with COLPLY ADHESIVE (BRUSH GRADE). It can be mechanically fastened, or adhered with hot bitumen, or DUOTACK adhesive.
Another line of products offer superior acoustic insulation. For example, INSONOFLOOR is a high-density polyethylene membrane coated with small granules of recycled rubber on its underface that allows for residential and commercial soundproofing. INSONOFLOOR is specially designed to soundproof laminated floating floors, which can be installed directly on the membrane. It can also be used with other types of flooring such as hardwood, ceramic tiles and multi-layer engineered wood floors.
INSONOMAT, on the other hand, is an acoustic membrane made with a base of elastomeric bitumen and recycled rubber. Though specifically designed for use under a layer of 38 mm (1½ in.) concrete, INSONOMAT could also be effective without concrete. It additionally provides structural waterproofing while concrete is poured; prevents too-rapid evaporation of water in the concrete to improve curing; and is resistant to crushing which further conserves its acoustic properties. INSONOMAT applies and seals well with a convenient adhesive strip, and due to its recycled material content, also conveniently contributes to LEED points.
Yet, whether it is insulation or waterproofing membranes for virtually any type of surface, SOPREMA’s range of products allows the company to effectively respond to the variety of needs in a variety of climate conditions. Some products are specially designed for climates that are cold and moist, others are designed to respond to needs where it hot and dry. “Our approach is to determine what is good for the long run. We want to make a difference in the long run, so we use materials which are best for the specific environment in which we operate. You have to adapt for wherever you are. You have to adapt to make sure you’re answering the needs of each market, and our design is different from one company to next,” says Voyer.
Though bitumen is a form of petroleum that sufficiently helped spur SOPREMA to life, for more than a decade it has made incredible advancements in producing materials from other resources, and Voyer says, over the next few years, he anticipates as much as 30 percent of their products will derive from naturalproducts.
In terms of sustainable development, SOPREMA is investing heavily in solutions that more effectively allow for recycling and repurposing of materials. Yet, all along, it has also continued to produce products that specifically address conditions that would lead to deficiencies of applications in certain environments. For example, SOPRASTAR is a cap sheet membrane designed for both refurbishment and new construction. It utilizes “cool roof” technology which allows surfaces to resist impact from the sun through its properties of solar reflectivity and thermal cast-off. This not only allows building operators to save on their air conditioning costs, but it also reduces impact of a phenomenon known as “urban heat island” which is known to be linked to global warming.
Otherwise, Voyer says the company has also identified other oils, which they will convert into their products, thereby further diminishing the need for petroleum. “These products will be more environmentally clean, not necessarily economically less, but better for the environment … and they are just as durable as anything made from bitumen. We will not compromise on performance and quality. We know our industry and are optimistic that will find more solutions.”
Voyer says he has observed some companies claim to be doing sustainable development as a marketing ploy, but when looking deeply into their operations, the claims “are weak.” At SOPREMA, Voyer says the company is not only talking the talk, but walking the walk. This is evidenced in their application long-serving or recoverable product materials, their significant investment in research and development, and their track record of introducing products that are ecologically safe.
Voyer says the company’s goal at present involves the creation of solutions that would allow for a 100 year life span to projects where their materials are applied. He envisions a range of solutions deployed in a system from the ground and up, which would allow for waterproofing and structural integrity that may withstand for more than 100 years. While its competitors are currently making guarantee of 30 to 40 years, Voyer expresses confidence that the company is on the verge of new innovations that will outperform all others, and he says, “We’re almost there.”
“When there is a problem, what we try to do is solve it and move on. We see some other companies whose philosophy is, ‘Well, it’s not my fault, who can we blame.’ We’re not looking to make excuses, we want to solve problems,” says Voyer.
After a 100 years of solving problems, look to SOPREMA to further provide solutions that will further advance industry. Innovation will continue to inspire new product offerings, and the company’s commitment to that is expressed in Voyer’s assertion, “Every day, we get up and think about, really think about, ‘What can we do? What can we do to be even better?’ And we know we have to maintain that perspective, work hard, and concentrate on what we’re doing as well as we can,” says Voyer. “This is basic for us.”
Preferred Vendors of Choice: