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CSP pivots from construction to piles

 

Even the best laid plans can sometimes go awry. Just ask Calgary Screw Piles (CSP) owner and founder Austin Bank.

Bank started his own construction company, AB Enterprises, back in 2008. The fledgling company handled everything from residential remodels and commercial builds to restoration projects and structural repairs, and enjoyed slow but steady growth thanks to positive word-of-mouth advertising from a growing customer base.

Bank’s focus unexpectedly changed a few years ago when he encountered some geotechnical difficulties with a construction project he was working on. He quickly realized that some kind of piles would be required to address the challenge. Instead of calling in a contractor to do the work, Bank ordered screw piles from a manufacturer and modified one of his excavators to install them.

The job went so smoothly that he soon began installing piles on a regular basis. In fact, pile installation soon made up the bulk of the work his company was doing, which led Bank to shift his focus from construction to piling. He founded CSP in 2018 to reflect the change.

“We just kind of happened into it,” Bank said, laughing. “We didn’t purposely start a screw pile company, it just kind of morphed into this separate thing of its own.”

Most of the installation work CSP performs is centred in and around the Calgary area, although it does do some work in B.C. It also has a presence in Texas, where it’s been doing work since 2019. The company had begun a major expansion of its Texas operation in February 2020, but had to “slow its roll” when Covid-19 pandemic restrictions came into effect.

Today, CSP is one of Western Canada’s leading companies when it comes to innovative foundation system design, creation and installation. It handles a wide range of both industrial and residential projects, including foundation recovery and installations, docks and decks, retaining walls and rig stabilizations.

 

Innovative ideas

Bank says his company enjoys the challenge of working on difficult projects and coming up with one-of-a-kind solutions. One recent example was repairs to an upscale home where a foundation wall had collapsed into the basement. CSP developed a hydraulic manipulator system that attached to piles and not only lifted the wall back up, but also straightened it at the same time.

The company has also developed a proprietary blade stabilizer suction device that attaches to a screw pile and prevents it from moving sideways, while increasing lateral capacity. The system is used in a number of municipalities to help anchor floating docks that might otherwise be damaged by winter ice shifts. The blade stabilizer system can also be used in combination with chains to help stop dangerous ice flows. Not only is the system considerably cheaper to install than traditional piles, but the screw piles don’t have to be dug as deep and it offers significantly higher lateral capacity than other types of piles.

“A lot of times one of the main failures with screw piles in the design phase is that they don’t have the same lateral capacity as concrete piles. The lateral ability of the concrete is usually where it outshines screw piles,” Bank said. “We developed this system as a way to combat that so we could still compete with or excel over concrete piles in situations where the loads aren’t favourable typically to screw piles.”

 

Expanding capabilities

While installations remain a primary focus of CSP’s business, the company has significantly expanded its manufacturing capacity over the past year. Last September the company opened the first phase of a planned 65,000-square-foot manufacturing shop in Calgary that will allow it to supply all of its own needs as well as those of other companies.

The decision to ramp up manufacturing capacity was born partly out of necessity, says Bank. CSP was losing some projects due to supply chain issues, and manufacturing its own parts and supplies just made sense.

“What we’re hoping to do with that is make one of the largest capacity and most advanced facilities in North America for piling, with the goal of having higher volumes and better costs where we can compete in the market where margins are getting slashed right now,” Bank said.

“We have one of the largest fleets of piling rigs in Alberta, and with the way the market is, that fleet has to cover a larger area in order to justify itself. A larger manufacturing facility opens the doors for us to compete in multiple markets in larger areas in order to sell to other installers and expand our own crews.”

One of the things Bank is most excited about is his company’s prospects for expansion. He says once the manufacturing plant is operating at full capacity, the company will be able to increase its presence in Eastern and Western Canada on both the installation and manufacturing sides of the business.

 

Green business

Environmental sustainability has become an area of increasing focus for CSP. In many cases, it now offers clients a choice between new or recycled steel for projects. The company’s new manufacturing plant also sources its own natural gas which is then burned in high-efficiency turbines that have a low carbon footprint. The warm air is then recaptured and used to provide supplemental heating of the building, which will soon feature a massive solar panel array on its roof.

CSP has garnered considerable attention for its line of solar products. It includes a cantilevered-style carport that Bank says is inexpensive, easy to install and “aesthetically pleasing.” Not only does it protect a vehicle from the elements, but it also captures energy through the solar panels incorporated into its roof and walls. The first prototype was released in mid-2021, and the design is undergoing some last-minute tweaks prior to being released commercially.

The company has also pioneered what it calls its SOLARPILE integrated foundation and racking system. The hybrid system combines racking and foundation elements into a single, fully-integrated unit that can be installed more cheaply, in a fraction of the time of traditional solar panel systems, and in some of the roughest and toughest terrain imaginable.

“We have it deployed on quite a few smaller sites and we’re hoping it will gain some traction in the large-scale market as well,” Bank said.

 

People first

As the company has grown, so have its efforts to safeguard employees. It is International Suppliers Network (ISN) certified and has its own ISN rating which indicates a company’s stability and ability to manage its own business. It has also instituted a strict harassment policy for both employees and clients that forbids any form of discrimination, verbal or physical harassment, violence or abusive behaviour, and states individuals will be held responsible for any such behaviour.

“We do everything we can to care for and protect our staff,” Bank said.

CSP currently employs about 20 people at its Calgary headquarters. That number could grow to 40 or 50 people when the new manufacturing plant is fully operational sometime this year. 

 

 

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Piling Canada is the premier national voice for the Canadian deep foundation construction industry. Each issue is dedicated to providing readers with current and informative editorial, including project updates, company profiles, technological advancements, safety news, environmental information, HR advice, pertinent legal issues and more.