Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown from Frogfish Photography visit the Mares team in Rapallo, Italy to see how their scuba equipment is designed, tested, produced and marketed.
We set off to Italy with a real buzz, as we had been invited to visit the Mares team in Rapallo, Italy, to see how the equipment is made and even to try out some of their prototype equipment whilst diving with some of the Mares staff in the Portofino Marine Park. Mares headquarters is based just a short drive to the sea, and it was in these very waters that scuba diving was born. Mares actually have 2 facilities in the region, with one large factory producing fins and masks from moulds. Here a mixture of high-tech robotics is mixed with a traditional hand finish to create the more complex of the fins and masks in their range. In the cool air of the huge hanger-like factory floor, a calm efficiency prevails. Outside, the sun is beating down, and a hair-raising drive along the autostrada sees us very quickly arrive back at the headquarters.
The main building is a large white building surrounded by mature bamboo. It contains a whole range of Mares departments, including engineering, computer programming, design, quality control, manufacturing, sales teams, advertising and probably much more. As you climb up the stairs in the entrance hall, you are treated to a historical montage of Mares adverts throughout the years, as well as some original old school equipment, including the iconic Mares Air King twin hose regulator.
Our tour guide for the day was Sergio Angelini, the Chief Technology Officer. We met him in his office, where new equipment at various levels of development could be seen scattered all over his desk. For divers that love their equipment and innovations – it was truly an Aladdin’s cave! With various comments along the lines of “you didn’t see that” or “don’t look!” our first stop was into the underground workshops to see some of the long term testing units hidden away from the rest of the departments. I suspect that this is mainly to do with the noise of machinery that, for example, is designed to purge a regulator every couple of seconds until a single regulator had been purged over one million cycles! It would drive you mad to work in this room for any length of time, but it was very reassuring to see to what extent the testing was done. There were also machines for testing the lift capacity of BCDs, the propulsion co-efficiency of fins and to test regulator function at extreme temperatures. At time of writing, there are only two regulators in the whole world that passed the ultimate cold water test (the USA Navy test); Mares make one of them!
On our arrival at Sergio’s gear room, he put together 2 sets of equipment for us to use while we were diving in the area over the next few days. The majority of the equipment lent to us was prototype equipment in the final stages of testing before it goes out into the market. So we actually cannot tell you about it as we were sworn to secrecy! But we did get to try out new computers, regulators, fins and some other new additions too. Sergio assured us that if we tried to slip any of it into our bags home, he promised that he “would hunt us down like dogs”. We were still tempted – as we did love the new equipment we got to dive with, but in the end we returned nearly all of it!
The rest of the tour took us around a series of departments all working to create a top catalogue of scuba diving equipment. As we walked into another room, hundreds of computers, compasses and gauges were all lined up ready for final assembly and testing. Mares have another large facility in Bulgaria, which also make fins, masks, BCDs and some of the regulators, but it is in these rooms in Italy where all the high end technical equipment is finally assembled and tested before going out for sale all over the world.
The technology team even have the use of a 3D printer, so that prototypes can be made before expensive moulds and metal parts are even thought about. These prototypes are usually taken diving by Sergio himself, along with other members of his team, to test the new ideas and products. Sergio said “it is all very well looking at the results of all our testing protocols and data, but until I actually go diving with a piece of equipment, I cannot feel how it will perform and be able to say I like diving with it.” So each new piece of diving equipment actually goes diving with the development team before being released for us divers to get hold of. This is where we are heading to next, into the Ligurian Sea, diving with a local Mares partner dive centre, Abyss Diving Centre. This is a really professional outfit, run by Giorgio Canepa.
Following the coastline on a 15 minute boat ride from the harbour at Rapallo lies the Portofino National Park. This stretch of coastline offers some very good diving indeed, and we dived along coral covered walls, a huge cargo ship wreck and the underwater statue of the Christ of the Abyss in our short visit here. The marine life, due to the long standing and strictly enforced marine park, is abundant, from the tiniest of nudibranchs to numerous bodies of schooling fish.
We did, somewhat reluctantly, hand back all of the equipment that Sergio had let us use for our diving adventures, but we will be trying to get our hands on some of it in the near future! We will also be trying to get back to visit the Mares team and the wonderful diving the region has to offer sometime soon too.
For more information about Mares and the products they manufacture visit www.mares.com.
To find out more about Nick and Caroline and Frogfish Photography, visit www.frogfishphotography.com.