It was raised in the Alps, grew up in the high desert outside of Albuquerque and protects people from avalanches, rockfall and 220 mph race cars.
Geobrugg, a multinational company that makes high-tensile steel nets, is racing to new heights at its North American manufacturing site, which is in Algodones north of Albuquerque.
Geobrugg is part of the BRUGG Group, a wide-ranging Swiss infrastructure company that provides pipes, lifting services, electric vehicle chargers and the steel nets or fences that are made in New Mexico, as well as in other Geobrugg factories around the world. The New Mexico facility is in the company’s ropes division, said Pierce Runnels, the president and general manager of Geobrugg North America.
Geobrugg started in the 1950s in the Alps protecting against avalanches by creating barriers.
“It became apparent that when they went to look at them in the spring, they are pretty good at catching rocks,” he said.
At the Algodones factory, blue machines hum and wail as the thin but strong steel wire is bent and stretched and ultimately woven together.
Geobrugg sells different sizes of wire depending on the project. It has 2-, 3- and 4-millimeter wire nets, with the 3-millimeter being the most popular. And a stronger fence is made with three, 4-millimeter wires linked together.
New Mexico ties
The company opened in New Mexico in 1995 at a small factory in Santa Fe. It moved to Algodones in 2011 and doubled in size in 2018. The number of employees at the Algodones plant has grown from about 20 to around 50 employees, Runnels said.
Geobrugg owns 16 acres of land west of Interestate 25. It currently uses about three of the acres for its offices, a factory and a yard, where the product is rolled up and stored for customers.
Runnels said the facility is midway through a three-year expansion project.
The demand for Geobrugg’s product covers the world.
The steel nets or fences are used to protect from various hazards. California, Colorado and Tennessee have emerged as major customers, where the nets — a patented technology the company refers to as TECCO — are used to protect roadways from rockfall.
“Over the years, this has become a very mainstream solution for rockfall,” Runnels said. “You could put an ugly, really thick chain-link with the same strength, but it’s such a much more elegant solution and easy to install.”
Once the steel fence is covering a potential hazard, some contractors will paint the steel so that it blends into the rock. Over time, vegetation will grow over the fencing to make it invisible to cars driving by.
“Aesthetics are a big part of our business because, in many cases, you’re driving this scenic highway through the Alps, or Colorado or California, and the less you see of the mesh the better,” Runnels said.
The same technology is also deployed in the mining industry, Runnels said. A Geobrugg project in northern New Mexico used the fences to block debris flowing into channels that were affected by the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire complex.
In 2008, Geobrugg ventured into the world of motorsports. The company provided the safety fencing for the Circuit of the Americas near Austin, Texas, in 2012, Runnels said.
In recent years, the company has provided safety fencing for road races in Miami, Nashville, Chicago and recently Las Vegas, Nevada, home to the Las Vegas Grand Prix, which is part of the Formula One World Championship series.
The safety net was the first to meet new standards set by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, the governing body for Formula One racing that holds events around the world.
Jochen Braunwarth, Geobrugg’s director of motorsports, said at the time that the company hoped using a worldwide standard would make road-racing circuits safer for drivers and spectators.
“If you have a track in Qatar, you have to meet with same Formula One standard that you do in Texas,” Runnels said.
Though the majority of Geobrugg’s work is in mitigating rockfall and other hazards, the motorsport side of the business provides high-dollar, high-profile projects.
“Most of our business here is protecting highways and infrastructure from rockfall, the F1 is just sort of a sexy part that we participate in,” Runnels said. “It’s big moneywise. The number of projects is much smaller but they are bigger.”
The Algodones factory is the second-largest manufacturing facility within Geobrugg. The largest is in Switzerland. It also has factories in South America, Australia, Japan and China.
The machines at the New Mexico factory run 24 hours a day, five days week. Recently, the lot behind the factory was full of stacked mesh product waiting to be delivered.
In 2023, the company’s revenue topped $40 million, which achieved an internal goal, Runnels said.
He said the company is regularly hiring new workers. It has many employees from the nearby tribal communities, including the San Felipe and Santa Ana pueblos.
The plan is to hire 60 more workers in the next five years, he said.
“The labor pool right now is a real challenge,” Runnels said. “We always have openings, and we would like to hire people with good mechanical and electrical skills.”