ummer is the time for festivals, local parties, correfocs (traditional race with pyrotechnics) and fireworks. There is no town or city that does not dedicate one of its biggest holidays event to a pyrotechnic show, emulating the great firework shows of international events. In our country, pyrotechnic tradition and fireworks not only imply festivity, but also business. A clear example is Pirotecnia Igual, a Catalan company that since 1880 manufactures and distributes professional pyrotechnic products throughout the world. The company, which was born on the Font Honrada street, in Barcelona’s Montjuïc district, preserves the family tradition and is currently run by the third and fourth generation. From their factories in Vila-Rodona (Alt Camp), Canyelles (Garraf) -the latter opened in 1962- and San Antonio (Chile), they employ more than 70 people. However, they have “an important floating staff, which can mean the hiring of 100 more people for a specific event”, as explains by Patxi Igual, general director of the pyrotechnic company.
But Pirotecnia Igual is not only engaged in the manufacture and distribution of pyrotechnic material, it also directly organizes international pyrotechnic events, which attract the attention of thousands of people. Who does not remember the fireworks display of the opening ceremony of Barcelona’s Olympic Games on July 25th, 1992?
For Patxi Igual, the fact that Pirotecnia Igual was commissioned to make the castle of fires of the Olympic Games of Barcelona 92 ”gave them a name and curriculum” and “was one of the great shows that put them in the international arena”. But its relationship with the city of Barcelona does not end here; since, almost from the first generation, they are responsible for organizing the fireworks of the city, now called Piromusical de la Mercè: the always expected end of the great Barcelona fests, where half a ton of gunpowder is used, on average.
Apart from this, the Catalan company is considered an international benchmark. It is the fifth company in the world manufacturing explosives and international tenders; and has been responsible, among others, of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil fireworks, of the first edition of the European Games that were held in Baku (Azerbaijan) in 2015, of the pyrotechnics used in the ceremonies of opening and closing of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, of the renowned fireworks over the sea that close the year in Copacabana (Brazil) or Viña del Mar (Chile), and a lot of other shows.
“We do nearly fifty shows around the world simultaneously to celebrate the new year”, says the general director of Pirotecnia Igual. In many international shows they work in tandem with the French Groupe F, which is responsible for the assembly while Pirotecnia Igual brings the material, such as in the fests of the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004 or in the ceremonies of the Olympic Games in London 2012. “We manufacture almost 100% of product for Groupe F, assuming the annual fireworks show on July 14th at the Eiffel Tower, for example. We design the product according to what they want”, explains Patxi Igual.
LATIN AMERICAN EXPANSION
Currently, the company invoices about 70% outside Spain (a fluctuating percentage according to the year) and has a plant in San Antonio (Chile) where it distributes, and has assembly areas, and a factory in Liuyang (China). “70% of the market in this sector in Chile is ours”, says Patxi Igual, who places special emphasis on the importance of the Latin American market, where they are already present in countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia or Panama, and are about to start in Cuba with the same business as the hotel resorts (an international partnership with the government of Cuba, in this case with the Ministry of Culture).
But along the way some obstacles have been encountered. The firecracker industry was one of those directly affected by the crisis, a few years ago. Although, since 2014, it has clearly recovered. Also, we must add the possible risks involved in a sector like this: for example, the explosion suffered by the company’s factory in 1994 -where more than 20 tons of pyrotechnic material exploded without having to regret fatalities- or the explosion of a test booth in the Canyelles plant, in 2007, where an employee died. Apart from that, Pirotecnia Igual also tried to open a subsidiary in Abu Dhabi (Arab Emirates), which did not work. “We currently want to make big shows in Latin America and Europe, and we are beginning to explore Africa, specifically countries like Angola and Tunisia and the north of the continent. It is an interesting market “, explains the general director of Pirotecnia Igual.
CONTROL COMPUTER AND PYROTECHNICS WITHOUT SMOKE
After 137 years of history, the sector has changed a lot and innovation is a constant, day to day reality. The Catalan company has, currently, more than 1,500 different products that can be grouped by families: aerial carcasses, “roman” candles, volcanoes, jets, flyers, aquatic carcasses, decorations, strakes and fire waterfalls… Most of their products are intended for professional use, and Pirotecnia Igual manufactures an average of half a ton of product per day.
As for the major pyrotechnics events, there have also been significant innovations: the revolution of recent years has been the “digital shot”. The technique has changed, from firing fires with flares to using electric flares and, finally, to control everything electronically, via GPS, radio, etc. “The sector is constantly evolving”, they explain from the company. “These days we are doing pyrotechnics without smoke, which implies that products are more expensive, aimed at customers who want quality”, they specify. Precisely, the fact that the material is manufactured in Catalonia, makes it high quality material and with all the guarantees, which also increases the price. This means that, although Pirotecnia Igual has a specific market niche with the correfocs, it is difficult for them to enter at Catalonia great fests due to “issues related to price and tenders”. “Few public proposals are committed to quality and design”, says Patxi Igual. For the company, however, the future is full of international challenges, in constant search for new countries to operate.
Featured image: Pyrotechnic show by the company Pirotecnia Igual. Photo by Robert Burch / Alamy Stock Photo