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Going for gold: Federation of Piling Specialists chairman Martin Blower

New Federation of Piling Specialists chairman Martin Blower says that the organisation is determined to look to the future as it celebrates its 50th anniversary rather than become nostalgic.

Reaching half a century is a major milestone that would cause many to look back over past successes, but new Federation of Piling Specialists (FPS) chairman Martin Blower believes it is a time to look forward, not back.

“The FPS has been involved in many major changes over the last 50 years but I think there are some significant issues that are still to be tackled,” says Blower, who will combine his FPS role with that of managing director of Bauer Technologies.

“The FPS believes BIM is more than a 3D model – that is just a small proportion of what BIM can deliver”

“The FPS believes BIM is more than a 3D model – that is just a small proportion of what BIM can deliver”

Blower took on the role of chairman of the FPS from Keller’s Jim De Waele in May after holding the position of vice chairman for the last four years.

“Jim, and Martin Pratt before him, have helped build momentum in the work of the FPS so I already have a lot to work on,” he says. “We also have some great people supporting me with Cementation Skanska’s Martin Pedley and Bam Ritchies’ Alastair Henderson lined up as future chairmen.”

The FPS has a number of events planned to mark its anniversary but the parts that clearly motivate Blower are the ones that will help shape the future of the piling industry both in terms of the people who work in it and the way they will deliver it.

“We are working with Engineers without Borders to sponsor a young engineer to work overseas with them for six months,” he says. “We also
plan to arrange open days at FPS members’ sites and depots for local schools to give the children a chance to learn more about the sector in
the hope that they may be inspired to work in the industry when they grow up.”

When it comes to the new challenges to the way FPS members deliver their work, Blower believes that BIM is something that needs to be better understood sooner rather than later. “BIM will be one of the biggest challenges we have to face in the next few years. Many Tier 1 contractors should now be BIM compliant and Tier 2 contractors will soon need to be too. It will also be a requirement on all government contracts from 2016 so it is something that the ground engineering industry cannot ignore.

“A recent survey at the BIM Show, conducted by Building magazine, of more than 1,000 engineers showed that 70% said that they felt BIM gave them a competitive edge, yet 73% said that they weren’t yet clear on what BIM is yet. Nonetheless, 58% felt that the government approach to BIM was right.

“The FPS believes that BIM should be viewed as more than a 3D model - that is just a small proportion of what BIM can deliver. It is about tendering, pre-construction, construction and as-built too.”

According to Blower, none of this can be viewed as a bad thing. “At the tender stage it is likely to help deliver better data that will reduce risk. In the pre-construction phase it will provide a clear baseline of what is expected, better communication and clash resolution,” he explains.

“Once in construction, change identification and control will become easier and the IT side of it means that it is easier to understand on site. The as-built element ensures there is robust field data collection and should help ensure efficiency during the lifecycle of the building.”

The FPS formed a working group to look at the issue in 2013 and is headed up by BBGE’s Mark Pennington and is planning to publish a number guidance notes for the piling sector on BIM.

“Two have been published and another two are due soon,” says Blower. “The real challenge at this stage is that Tier 1 contractors are not using common processes and procedure. BIM maturity is at different levels across the industry and the building market is ahead of the infrastructure sector on BIM knowledge and use.

“In the future we hope there will be standard platforms and data and BIM adoption will lead to early Tier 2 contractor engagement and seamless integration. It should lead to improved safety, cost efficiencies and deliver more predictable outcomes.”

Aside from the anniversary celebrations, Blower is also hoping to develop associate membership for the FPS to open up involvement to equipment manufacturers, rebar suppliers, designers, testing houses, concrete suppliers and labour and training agencies.

“As well as broadening our discussions the additional membership will help us to fund research and promote the industry more effectively,” says Blower.

Although Blower is only a few months into his two-year tenure as FPS chairman, it is clear that he knows what he hopes to achieve in that time and also has a passion to help the industry achieve its potential.

 

Martin Blower: Career choice

Blower studied civil engineering atSheffield Hallam University, but his route into geotechnics was not a straightforward one.

His journey into the industry started on the bottling line at the Taunton Cider Company before he undertook an ONC in civils while working as a technician for Somerset County Council’s highway department.

“I knew nothing about civil engineering at that point. We’d had a talk at school about the construction of the M5 which I found interesting at the time but none of my family worked in construction so I never considered it as a career at that point.”

After four years as a technician, Blower wanted to expand his horizons and managed to get a place to read civils at Sheffield despite only having an ONC. It was during his sandwich year at Sheffield that he got his first taste for ground engineering.

“I worked for Stent at Grangemouth installing steel driven piles before moving to work on the Dartford widening,” he says. “Tony Merricks, who went on to become managing director, had just joined the business at this time and he was a great mentor, as was David Sherwood.”

Although the projects Blower had worked on went well and he enjoyed his ground engineering experience, Blower had aspirations to join the oil sector after completing his final year at Sheffield. But the recession of the early 1980s - combined with a job offer from Merricks - led to him spending the first 20 years of his post-graduate career with Stent before joining Carillion, which later became Expanded Geotechnical.

Blower was approached to head up Bauer late last year and has now moved to his new post. “I like the opportunity to be able to work worldwide but with piling at the heart of what I’m doing and work on industry-leading projects,” he explains. “Bauer has a real passion for foundations, which I really value.”

Bauer Technologies has had a presence in the UK market since 1997 but the size of the business has varied with demand and Blower wants the business to become more consistent. “There is a £500M foundations market in the UK and Bauer should take a 5% share of that,” he says.

“Crossrail and the US embassy meant that last year we had a 10% market share and probably 20% in the two years before that but that is not sustainable in the long term. I’m not looking for projects in the £50,000 size bracket but will be targeting work valued at £1M as a minimum and with complex ground conditions.

“The preference for challenging projects may be seen as risky but we have the back up of staff and equipment from all over the world to assist us if we need it.”

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