Deep and dirty: Europe's foundation market strong

18 March 2008

Main contractor implenia is currently carrying out qury reinforcement work as part of genvas harbour

Main contractor implenia is currently carrying out qury reinforcement work as part of genvas harbour district lake genea switzerland.

If the recent run of acquisitions and results is anything to go by the European foundations sector is in rude health. In February this year France's Vinci announced it had acquired the remaining 81% of Soletanche it did not already own. The acquisition of Soletanche, the parent company of ground engineering specialist Soletanche-Bachy, said a Vinci spokesman, "strengthens Vinci's position in the market [and enables] us to add foundations expertise to the range of skills we already offer."

Under the deal, Soletanche-Bachy remains a private company and retains its independence with chairman and ceO Jean-Pierre Lamoure in charge of the company.

The news was followed in April by the announcement that UK foundation engineering contractor Roger Bullivant had purchased the business and assets of Buchan Concrete Solutions from Amec. BCS generated revenues of UK£ 29 million (€ 42,8 million) in the year ended 31 December 2006, had net assets of UK£ 10,6 million (€ 15,6 million) at the time of the deal and its areas of activity include bridges, gantries, tunnel lining segments and bathroom pods.

Leading the way in terms of results in the foundations sector has been equipment manufacturer and contractor Bauer. Interim results for the first half of 2007 show group revenues rose just under +24% to € 562,5 million. Its construction segment revenues rose +3,6% to € 246,8 million, while equipment sector revenues rose a staggering +32,5% to € 287,2 million. Profit before tax for the construction segment went from -€ 0,2 million in 2006 to € 3,7 million, but once again equipment showed the largest increase, rising +107,9% to reach € 38,5 million. Also reporting strong results was the Keller Group. Its interim results for the six months ended 30 June 2007 saw it post global revenue of UK£ 465 million (€ 686,7 million) for the year to date, up +3% on 2006, and pre-tax profits of UK£ 40 million (€ 59 million), up +20% on 2006. Almost UK£ 136,2 million (€ 195,2 million) came from "Continental Europe & Overseas" - the Middle East - giving an operating profit of UK£ 13,7 million (€ 20,2 million), nearly double 2006's figure of UK£ 7 million (€ 10,3 million).

Market Variations

While there is no reliable data available for the size or value of the European foundations market. However, David Redhead, managing director BSP International, told CF the foundations sector can be divided into two segments: hammered and drilled/bored piling.

He estimated that globally hammers accounts for "maybe" 40% of the overall piling market while the remaining 60% is drilled/bored piles. Not that the two should be seen as directly competing markets.

"There are, technically speaking, places you can't use a bored pile, or it wouldn't be worth trying. Hammering is used for most work under water, for piers, jetties, ports, oil rigs. It's used a lot for bridges over rivers as well," he added.

For hammer producers and users, there are two key markets, said Mr Redhead.

"The first is the extension or improvement or upgrading of established infrastructure in developed countries [and] there is plenty of work if not large volumes."

Earlier this year, for example, BSP supplied a SL20da piling hammer, powered by a BSP Hydropack, to J Breheny Contractors to help repair almost 40 m of sea wall at Holland-on-Sea, Essex, UK that had disappeared during extremely harsh storms.

Investigations found the cause to be erosion of the sand beneath the walls, resulting in a section of the promenade wall breaking away. The existing sea wall was stabilised by pinning it with 6 m Larson piles to prevent further erosion and slippage.

About 150, 9m PU 18 piles were used, driven to a depth of almost 8 m into sand and claystone. Following installation of the sheet piles, an insitu concrete capping beam was cast on top of the new piles at beach level together with an insituconcrete landing beam cast on top of the old seawall.

"Then, in the developing world, there is the need to create the infrastructure in the first place," added Mr Redhead. "You need port or airport facilities before you can manufacture and export things, or before you can encourage tourism."

Larger Hammers

While the SL20da has a drop weight of just 1,5 tonnes Mr Redhead told CF that there is a move to larger hammer sizes, particularly where new large-scale infrastructure is needed. "Why? Well, ships are getting bigger, therefore ports need to be bigger, so piles need to be bigger - up to 2 or 2,2 m in diameter. We've got lots of enquiries for big jobs reflecting this demand for larger piles."

Meeting this demand saw BSP launch a new catalogue at this year's Bauma detailing new hammers available in ram weights up to 35 tonnes (the company's current largest is 25 tonnes).

While not exactly "jumping on the band wagon" Finland's Junttan has identified the same trend. It used Bauma to unveil the HHK 25S, nicknamed 'Little John', its largest ever hydraulic impact hammer,

The HHK 25S has a ram weight of 25 tonnes and a total weight of 45 tonnes and is designed for driving large diameter piles (1,42 m with a standard drive capp).

Junttan says the hammer is easy to connect to different hydraulic systems, is designed to be used with its 30CCU power pack and can also be operated by a separate power pack. It can be mounted on leaders, or can be freely suspended, while the design of the hammer frame and drive cap results in low impact noise and less vibration during piling.

While larger hammer sizes look like becoming increasing popular, in the boring and drilling market there is an equally notable trend towards the other end of the spectrum: micro-piling.

Italian manufacturer Soilmec has recently launched two micro machines - the SR20 and SR30 - which are proving popular in crowded, urbanised countries with plenty of brownfield development.

"There is certainly a lot of interest at the smaller end of the rotary market with the SR 20 and SR 30," confirmed Robin North, managing director of Soilmec's UK subsidiary.


While there is no doubting that much of Europe's infrastructure is in need of expansion and repair, foundation equipment manufacturers and contractors are having to contend with a raft of legislation, from noise to engine emissions to get it done. "There is a certain environmental impact of the noise generated by piling hammers, and this means bored piles are often used in more sensitive situations," acknowledged Mr Redhead. "But you can do things, such as add shrouds and housings, to suppress the noise and make the process quieter, although not quiet. But then even drilling isn't quiet. It is quieter, but still not silent."

Manufacturers such as Soilmec are aware of this issue, and the company recently launched an innovative vibro drilling attachment, mounted on an SM14, as a faster and quieter drilling alternative to normal top hammer drilling. This new vibro-rotary technology involves the vertical vibration of a normal rotary head and drill string and bit.

The vibration effectively reduces skin friction during drilling to achieve deeper penetration. "We have tested this vibration rotary on projects and the results have been incredible," says managing director Simone Trevisani.

The UK's Aarsleff Piling has also expanded its fleet of silenced hammers to cope with the demand for quieter rigs working in urban areas. According to managing director Terry Bolsher, "Our silenced hammer is exceptionally quiet and has proven to be considerably successful with those clients that had concerns about installing driven piling in close proximity to existing buildings. Consequently we are adding two more to our fleet."

Besides introducing new hammers Mr Bolsher told CFthat the UK foundations sector was "very positive" at present and could only "get better". Such promise, he said, meant the company was not only investing in plant but also in new technologies, such as subsidiary centrum Pile's continuously reinforced precast concrete piles, and new facilities for its staff.

The piles have been granted compliance with the stringent new European Standard EN12794:2005 Precast concrete products, Foundation piles, allowing centrum to produce and supply piles with the ce mark of conformity. He added that centrum is the first precast concrete pile manufacturer in the UK to achieve ce conformity and, together with its sister company, centrum Paele in Denmark, are also believed to be the first in Europe to meet these new ce conformity requirements.

"With environmental legislation growing it's getting harder to deal with," said Mr Bolsher, "and looking at the total environmental impact precast concrete piles are much more environmentally friendly than Continuous Flight Auger (CFA) piles because they use less materials - sand, aggregates and cement - and produce no spoil, which must of course be dealt with responsibly and, in the UK, is another cost," he added.

Indeed thedisposal of waste from piling operations can be an expensive and time consuming business. "Just because drills are quieter than hammers, you mustn't assume there is no environmental impact of drilling," pointed out Mr Redhead.

"These displace the soil - hammering compacts it. Imagine putting in say 100 large diameter bore piles (eg 1,2 m) to 30 m deep. This means displacing around 33 m3 of spoil per pile, that's 3300 m3 in total.

"You have to consider disposing of this waste, and the lorry movements required, to weigh up the environmental impact of this approach."

Interestingly, earlier this year the UK's Department of Trade & Industry-led Technology Programme awarded contractor Stent Foundations a 50% grant to investigate the reuse of existing foundations. The programme, called RaPPER: Rapid Pile Performance Evaluation Resource, started in January and the objective of the two-year study is to develop a new set of guidelines to enable designers to select the appropriate, rapid non-destructive test system to suit specific site conditions.

The project will use full-scale testing on test bed and commercial sites to create case studies, and examples of the successful re-use of foundations.

These will then be embodied in the RaPPER tool for designers.

Elsewhere, manufacturers such as Soilmec are facing up to the challenge via novel drilling bits for installing displacement screw piles. According to the company, the new tools reduce the amount of feed force needed and also considerably reduce the amount of spoil ejected from the hole. The concept is similar to that of the two main pile displacement tools, which use a type of eccentric former on the bit that pushes and compacts the soil against the wall, thereby reducing the amount of spoil ejected at the surface.

"We are currently testing this on projects of our sister company Trevi," said Mr Trevisani.

Of course, it is possible to create foundations that require no displacement, and which therefore generate no waste.

One such technique is mass soil stabilisation, a 'simple' idea, according to Mardi Ohanessian, president of the Allu group. "Just add binder to the material and mix it homogeneously," he explained.

The Allu stabilisation system consists of three different units: power mix, pressure feeder for binder agent and the data acquisition and control system, and has been adopted throughout the world.

The company demonstrated the merits of this approach on the construction of a new harbour in Vuosaari, Finland, one of the biggest mass stabilisation projects in the world. In this project the sludge dredged from the sea is being stabilised in order to be re-used in the harbour construction.

According to Valto Tikkanen, managing director of Hyvinkaan Tieluiska, contractor on the scheme, there was no other reasonable working method for this area.

"The first plan was to excavate and transport the waste soil away and replace it, but when TBT was found in the ground it made the replacement difficult. It would have been like shifting the problem from one place to another. With stabilisation the contaminated soil is encapsulated into a solid slate preventing the pollution from dissolving in to the environment. The soil was also too muddy to be transported away with reasonable costs. In addition, the transportation from and to the site would have caused considerably more traffic, noise and harmful exhaust fumes."


The European foundations sector has enjoyed considerable growth over the last couple of years, according to Keller's Dr West. And there is no reason, he said, why these "favourable conditions" should not continue for some time.

Technical innovation and legislation in the sector should also continue to see equipment manufacturers and contractors push the boundaries in terms of environmentally friendly machines and working practices. ce


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Andy Brown Editor, Editorial, UK - Wadhurst Tel: +44 (0) 1892 786224 E-mail: [email protected]
Neil Gerrard Senior Editor, Editorial, UK - Wadhurst Tel: +44 (0) 7355 092 771 E-mail: [email protected]
Catrin Jones Deputy Editor, Editorial, UK – Wadhurst Tel: +44 (0) 791 2298 133 E-mail: [email protected]
Eleanor Shefford Brand Manager Tel: +44 (0) 1892 786 236 E-mail: [email protected]