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Innovation and excellence the Soilmec story

By Deb Draper

 

Soilmec, the renowned engineering arm of the Trevi Group, is celebrating its 50th year of designing, manufacturing and distributing machinery that can be used for any geotechnical application, anywhere.

The company has grown tremendously in those five decades, operating out of 45 offices around the world with a solid network of distributors, agents and subsidiary companies. Soilmec North America headquarters is in Houston, Texas, with two Canadian distributors situated on each side of the country: Western Equipment Solutions LLC (U.S. Rockies and Western Canada) and Equipment Sales & Services Ltd. (Eastern Canada).

In more than 90 countries, on five continents, Soilmec equipment is out getting the job done in a variety of climatic conditions, soils, cultures and social contexts.

In some ways, Soilmec has come a long way from its 1969 origins when Davide Trevisani celebrated his equipment factory’s official opening day in the village of Pievesestina, Italy. Fifty years later, that original factory is still in operation, assembling piling rigs, cranes and hydromills. Two more factories in Asolo and Parma (both in Italy) produce drilling and grouting rigs, while in Brazil, India and China, facilities look after maintenance and refurbishment of the Soilmec fleet.

 

Thinking and working outside the box

Since the beginning, the driving concept behind Soilmec was to develop safe, innovative technologies to fully serve the equipment needs of the construction industry.

In 1965, the first rotary RT3 (Trevisani rotary head with three rollers) was designed and built in the maintenance workshop at Pali Trevisani, four years before the actual factory began production. Within ten years, the company had developed two more specialized pieces of equipment: the RTA, a truck-mounted drilling rig with a mast that could be lowered during transportation, and the RH-2, a multi-purpose mast used to construct the very first continuous flight auger (CFA) piles.

The 1980s saw the beginning of a great evolution in Soilmec products with the development of the BH-12, a hydraulic grab guided by a kelly bar outside the trench and rope-suspended, and the SM-305, the first micropile rig that would become the benchmark in its field.

In 1982 the invention of the parallelogram system transformed the ground engineering market, allowing ease of centring the pile and transportation with the mast lying horizontal on the turret. The parallelogram was used on the CM-42, a CFA dedicated drilling rig and on the R-12, the first completely hydraulic drilling rig and the forerunner of Soilmec’s entire range of piling rigs with more than 7,000 units sold around the world to date.

The company achieved its first patent in 1983, covering the telescopic cab, the crane-lifting frame and pivoting counterweight for the self-propelling drilling rig.

During the 1990s, Soilmec took part in large-scale projects proving the value of its equipment while continuing to develop new technologies such as SR cased piles, the four-bar linkage machine with Cardan coupling and screwed joints for casings. Meanwhile, engineers were studying the cased secant piles technique for deep excavations in urban areas as an alternative system to standard diaphragm walls when grab or hydromill technologies can’t be used.

By 1999, Soilmec had filed another 13 patents.

During the next 15 years, Soilmec equipment and technologies grew exponentially as the company consolidated markets, upgraded and completed its product range. In 2003, Soilmec absorbed the workforce and technicians under engineer Patrizio Puntel, a leading expert in small diameter drilling techniques, to establish PSM. In 2011, they acquired IPC and its line of high-tech products in drill rigs, tie rods and jet grouting, further boosting production capability of technologies in the micropile and ancillaries sectors.

In 2005, Soilmec introduced what has become known as, “the electronic brain of its drilling rigs,” the Drilling Mate System (DMS). This electronic system delivers drilling equipment
control, production supervision and fleet management by using smart technology in the field. DMS collects, analyzes and manages information from drilling equipment, gaining insight into ground engineering and the piling business. This high-tech built-in instrumentation is designed to increase piling efficiency through improved operations control, automated drilling functions and job-aid tools, and became standard on all large diameter pile equipment models. Today more than 800 Soilmec rigs around the world are fitted with their own “artificial intelligence” systems to constantly communicate with the operator in the cab.

Two years later, in 2007, working with the Trevi Group and Soilmec key accounts, the first Tiger hydromill was developed. Within five years, a further-enhanced model achieved a record depth of 250 metres on the Soilmec test field, opening up the ultra-deep excavation market.

During this fourth decade of operation, Soilmec engineers applied for another 37 patents. All standard models were redesigned to utilize new materials, reduce weight and enhance performance. As stated in Issue 1/2019 of Soilmec Journal, “Multifunctionality became the standard, and concepts of ergonomics, efficiency, power, flexibility, safety and respect for the environment became guidelines for new models. The Soilmec of the future was taking shape.”

Another 42 patents were filed over the next 10 years, including cased displacement piles and the electric hammer with permanent magnet technology in 2010.

Today Soilmec manufactures 45 equipment models (in more than 700 versions) for bored piles, diaphragm walls, soil consolidation, drilling and grouting – from four to 200 tons in working conditions. The heavy-duty SC-120 HD crane allows the operator to construct up to five-metre diameter piles to a depth of over 90 metres with a SA-40 hydraulic rotary, replicating the 1965 success of the RT3 on a massive scale.

 

Wherever, whenever and however

Soilmec equipment has been at the forefront of a number of geotechnical construction projects around the globe, proving the multifunctionality and adaptability of its broad range of products.

New challenges for piling technology

When completed in 1951, the Wolf Creek Dam stretched 5,736 feet across the Cumberland River in south-central Kentucky in the U.S., providing hydropower, flood control and a clean water supply. Since 1970, the dam had serious reservoir seepage problems and in January 2007, it was declared at high risk for failure. Something had to be done – and fast.

Two world leaders in foundation technology, Treviicos and Soletanche JV joined forces to construct a new barrier wall as part of the $594 million remediation of the part concrete-gravity and earth-fill dam.

“At the time, this was the most complex foundation project in the world, doing what had never been done before in terms of technology and sequence of work,” said Fabio Santillan, project manager at Treviicos.

Beneath the 3,900-foot earthen embankment, the Karst geology of the rock foundation was seeping and deteriorating. A new barrier wall was to be built upstream – 4,200 feet in length and reaching a depth of about 277 feet using three different piling techniques. The poor condition of the foundation and the complexity of the piling system meant the team had a limited use of equipment, needed to keep drilling excavations 90 feet apart and build a concrete wall to protect the embankment throughout construction of the main barrier wall.

Several technologies were utilized to install this new barrier wall, some developed by the Trevi Group specifically for the project, such as directional drilling to guide the secant piles installed with reverse circulation drilling and elevating the quality of the project to new levels.

As stated on the Treviicos website, “Most of the barrier wall was installed with 1,197 secant piles, creating 1,196 joints totalling about 280,000 linear feet. Overall statistics showed the average wall thickness was 3.2 feet. For the combined barrier wall sections, built with a combination of piles and hydromill-excavated panels, measurement statistics showed an average thickness of 2.6 feet. These extraordinary results were due to the techniques pioneered on this job for installing, steering and measuring in real time the location of wall elements.”

In March 2013 the construction of the barrier wall was completed; a $420 million contract that finished approximately nine months ahead of schedule, used 1.3 million work hours without a single time-lost injury and provided new technologies to bring to future projects.

The dam stabilization project that saved millions of lives

The Mosul Dam in Iraq straddles the Tigris River and is the largest dam in the country. It’s 2.3 miles long and capable of holding back three trillion gallons of water. Built in the 1980s and under the control of ISIS for years, by 2015 the earth-filled embankment-type clay-core dam had deteriorated to the point of being declared an emergency – a potential weapon of mass destruction.

While the war conflict with ISIS continued only 13 kilometres away, the Trevi Group came in under the protection of the Coalition Forces and the Italian Army. Under tight security and logistical constraints, and in some of the toughest environmental conditions imaginable, work commenced in 2016 to stabilize the dam through drilling and grouting. The team had to do this as fast as both machines and humans could make it happen.

The company used multi-purpose drilling rigs for specific drilling techniques and space constraints: two diesel crawler-mounted Soilmec SM-16s and six electric crawler-mounted Soilmec SM-5s, customized with special features to execute boreholes up to 300 metres, using both percussion and rotary drilling methods. For the grouting works, Trevi Group developed the T-Grout, a computer-automated web application allowing remote management of grouting activities. 

With a gruelling 24/6 work schedule through June 2018, Trevi Group completed 967,847.8 linear feet of grouted boreholes and five million man-hours with no time-lost accidents; a clear demonstration of the company’s commitment to safety training, even under such difficult and dangerous circumstances.

This safety record is no surprise when considering Soilmec’s commitment to professional development and training for its employees and customers.

In 2006, the Trevi Group established the Foundations Technology Academy, Italy’s prestigious worldwide training school, available to maintenance mechanics, rig operators and anyone interested in civil engineering. Certified trainers help operators achieve the full potential of Soilmec equipment with classroom, online and personalized on-site training. In addition, after-sales support means 24/7 expert advice and trouble-shooting are available.

Marco Chiarabelli, Soilmec North America corporate sales area manager, outlines several goals for the Canadian pile driving marketplace.

“We aim to expand our facilities to be closer to customers. That means increasing the fleet of rigs and inventory of parts available locally, having seminars, training schools for our equipment and technology, and strengthening our
relationships with long-term customers.”

This is another example of what has been behind Soilmec and the Trevi Group from the beginning: thinking ahead, laying foundations today for tomorrow’s results, foreseeing challenges before they arise and devising new solutions.

That was Davide Trevisani’s vision 50 years ago and Soilmec today will continue that vision into the future.

 

 

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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.