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Geotechnical: Where innovation hits the ground

Jim De Waele

The open and competitive nature of the UK construction market drives a constant need to do things differently: we are all seeking that winning proposition. 

There is no better example of a winning proposition in operation than in the piling and ground engineering sector, with many geotechnical specialists generating some true innovation in order to differentiate themselves and gain a competitive advantage.

No doubt some of the best businesses will be on show at the next Ground Engineering Awards in May, but this will only celebrate the tip of what the industry is achieving.

Of course, external drivers, including the prevailing economic climate, have forced many piling and ground engineering companies to innovate in order to control costs and overhead, but so too has legislation, particularly in respect to preserving the environment with the delivery of ever more sustainable solutions. Blue chip clients are also keen to press for innovative ideas.

The members of the Federation of Piling Specialist (FPS) are responsible for some of the best innovations in the industry, often bringing to the UK techniques from around the world.  Take soil mixing (wet and dry) for improving ground characteristics of weak soils by mixing them with a cementitious binder slurry. This technique (brought from Scandinavia) is much more widespread now and apart from the benefits it brings to the soil – increased bearing capacity, reduced settlement, greater global stability, and mitigation of liquefaction potential, etc.; it can reduce waste enormously as well as reduce the cost of having to use expensive deep foundation methods.

Instrumentation and monitoring (I&M) has also improved considerably in recent years and is extremely useful in aiding better design. For example, one of the entrants to this year’s GE Awards saved the Crossrail project a six figure sum by deploying advanced I&M techniques.

Screw piling, once viewed as a novel alternative to traditional piles, is now being specified. In addition to providing many construction advantages such as high compressive and uplift capacities, installation speed and their suitability for sites with limited access, their installation is typically vibration-free.

FPS members are also sponsoring pure research and development, often in association with our leading universities. For example, research is ongoing in areas such as forming pile shafts cut with a “thread”, and on another project, predicting the forces required when extracting pile casings.

But it is not just in the techniques and solutions that the members offer that innovative ideas are being furthered. Having worked with the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS), members are now in a position to make better use of the smart cards that are in circulation. In addition to the CSCS categories, the card can now be set up so that an employee’s entire training record and health screening history can be accessed from the one card.

I know I have only scratched the surface in terms of what innovations exist in the piling sector, but there is no doubt, that there are many projects in place and we continue to work hard to advance our part of our industry. 

  • Jim De Waele is chairman of the Federation of Piling Specialists

Readers' comments (1)

  • J1859

    Nice article Jim, thanks! My wife's dad is a Geotechnical Engineer working in the Middle East. Over dinner he was trying to convince me of building a mobile application for him to make things easier when he is out on the field.

    I am currently looking for projects to work on, and thought I'd google some Geotechnical related material, that is how I stumbled upon your article.

    On the software front, do you think there are innovations to be made within the Geotechnical Engineering sector?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

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