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INLAND INNOVATORS

Located over 100km inland of coastal cities like Genoa and yacht-building hubs like La Spezia and Viareggio, the Absolute facility is a self-contained hub of in-house innovation, automation, craftsmanship and friendly, family-style management.

“I’m driving around looking for the Absolute shipyard, my instincts and my navigation app at war. There’s not a body of water in sight. A green sea of freshly ploughed fields is all around me. The aroma is of farmland, not low tide. Feeling I must be way off track, I pull over to see what’s wrong. Suddenly, a truck loaded with Volvo Penta IPS engines passed me. Follow that truck, I tell myself, and soon I’m there.

Sergio Maggi and Marcello Bè founded Absolute in 2002 in an area outside Piacenza where the other primary industry is … tomato canning. After all, Piacenza is in northern Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, renowned for its local produce, including ham, salami, cheese and pasta, as well as wine. This, plus the fact the Med is about 100km south, make it an unusual location for shipbuilding, but Maggi and Bè are locals and wanted to stay close to their roots and the hardworking local talent.  The two had met while employed at Cantieri Nautici Gobbi. When the company was sold, they decided to branch off and establish a yard of their own.

Four years later, looking for ways to increase automation in their production lines, they asked former boss Angelo Gobbi to join them at Absolute. ‘We started with nothing much more than a good first boat,’ Maggi says. ‘Looking to the future, we had an idea of what we wanted, but we didn’t know how to get there. Angelo is our visionary. He had the know-how and guided us to where we are today.’

TEAM FIRST Absolute is all about teamwork and efficiency, not ego. Gobbi happily joined his former employees as a partner and put his skills to work creating a state-of-the-art facility spread over almost 50,000sqm – imagine seven football pitches – where boats are built using an optimised production chain called Integrated Structural System or ISS. Hulls are hand-finished, while their corresponding interior structures are precision cut by robotic arms using CNC technology. Dedicated teams then assemble the interiors in modules and lower them into the hulls. After the interiors have been mounted and sealed, the hulls are taken out of their moulds, and the running systems are installed. The organisation and automation are astounding, and the shipyard works around the clock. After the human workforce goes home, robots and computers take over, fetching supplies from a large and recently expanded automatic warehouse then setting them up for the next day’s work.

While Absolute is open to every kind of software upgrade and technological improvement, Maggi says that building a yacht will never be a fully automated or entirely industrial process. ‘We can try to organise delivery and production to the highest degree, but there will always be a lot of handwork involved in laying a hull and mounting running systems. We design everything in 3D and nothing is left to chance, but we will still always need humans to do quality control’, Maggi says.

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