APE Drilling debuts its innovative Spinfreeze pile technology to the Canadian market

By Jim Timlick

Northern Canada can be one of the most inhospitable climates known to man or machine. Extreme temperatures and permafrost can pose a serious challenge to any kind of construction project in the region.

One U.S.-based drilling company is hoping to change all that. APE Drilling recently introduced its Spinfreeze pile technology to the Canadian market. The Spinfreeze pile is designed specifically for colder climates and enables builders to create a rock-solid foundation by using an ad-freeze bond between the piles and frost susceptible geology underground.

While the technology has been available for the past several years to U.S. markets, including Alaska, it was only introduced north of the border this spring. It has quickly made its presence known. Components of Spinfreeze piles have already been used on several transmission line projects in northern Alberta and Manitoba and the company is in discussions with two major oil providers to use the system to perform maintenance on flowlines that have jacked out of the ground.

One of the biggest benefits of the system is that it can dramatically lower the costs of construction in northern climates by reducing manpower and equipment needs and eliminating several steps required by more conventional systems.

The Spinfreeze system is surprisingly simple. A pre-drill mandrel is used to create a hole in the ground in which the pile is inserted. This preliminary work heats underground layers to 900 degrees Fahrenheit by way of rotational resistance, which creates natural slurry that bonds to the pile and helps create increased capacity when it cools. In shallower depths, the pile itself with an attached cutter shoe can be used to create the slurry for the ad-freeze bond.

The pile can be extended using threaded coupling technology, which also serves to reinforce the pile’s section modulus by increasing the diameter through the coupling section. Multiple extensions can be added to easily reach the required depth.

Operations manager Matt Fenwick says one of the biggest benefits of the system is that it can dramatically lower the costs of construction in northern climates by reducing manpower and equipment needs and eliminating several steps required by more conventional systems.

The Spinfreeze system typically requires just one operator and a two-member ground crew. Because it uses threaded couplings to extend the piles, there is no costly or time-consuming splicing or welding required. Smaller crew requirements also provide savings in terms of housing, and road construction can be offset by the reduced equipment needs during installation.

“Our system provides a lot more certainty in terms of labour needs … during installation than other, more conventional means,” said Fenwick. “With the ease of installation of [this system], these piles can be installed and capped in under 30 minutes with the three-man crew. What we’ve tried to do is create a process that minimizes [any] derailments. For project owners who foot the bill on these large projects, this in itself should provide a huge sigh of relief.”

Another key feature of the Spinfreeze system is its adjustable cap technology. The cap’s modular design features a socketed ball connection that gives the user the means to adjust not only the elevation but also the skew and the roll of the cap. That means they adjust the skew by as much as 360 degrees, adjust the elevation of the pile by up to 14 inches and level the cap plate by up to three degrees in both directions when any jacking or settling might occur.

“There’s nothing like it on the market right now,” said Fenwick, adding a minimal amount of labour is required to adjust the caps.

The patented technology used to create the cap system allows for it to be used just as easily in confined spaces as more open ones, and can dramatically reduce the amount of strain on flow lines. The caps are manufactured by APE Drilling at its manufacturing plant in Magnolia, Texas. APE’s Texas facility offers state of the art fabrication, which utilizes robotic technologies.

The Spinfreeze system is also unique compared to other more conventional piling systems in that it was designed to limit its impact on the environment.

Because it requires smaller crews, there is less traffic and reduced carbon emissions generated during construction and on-site labour camp requirements are similarly reduced. And since the system creates its own slurry, there is no need to inject cement or any man-made materials into the ground. The system also creates far less vibrations in and above the ground than other more conventional technologies.

“We at APE feel that the impact on the surrounding land during the construction phase can be detrimental to future projects if handled carelessly. Our method is to take a minimalist approach,” said Fenwick. “We’re trying to use the ground as Mother Nature intended to establish the load design on the pile without added foreign material being placed other than the piling itself.”

Despite its efforts to limit the Spinfreeze system’s impact on the environment, the company hasn’t given up any ground when it comes to durability. Fenwick says APE’s designs incorporate demands of up to 50 to 75 years of life expectancy based on calculated wall loss of the piling material and all pile materials are run through their laboratory, checking yield, chemistry and tensile strength, to ensure traceability of pile material once it reaches the project.

“We are one of the only manufactures who offer in-house testing, which provides positive material identification,” said Fenwick.

To date, the company has been thrilled with the feedback it has received from customers regarding the Spinfreeze system, both in the U.S. and here in Canada.

“We’re hearing great things from people. Everybody likes it. If owners can reduce the cost to execute [projects] and be able to look to spend that money in other areas of further expansion, then that provides opportunities for us all,” said Fenwick.

The origins of the Spinfreeze system date back to 2012 when Fenwick was operating his own consulting firm that provided risk assessment analysis to engineering companies, including several who conducted business in the Alaskan oil patch. Fenwick was often called in to preview what the companies were planning to do and determine what pitfalls they might have to contend with.

The Spinfreeze system is also unique compared to other, more conventional piling systems in that it was designed to limit its impact on the environment.

Later that year, APE Drilling, a division of American Piledriving Equipment, reached out to him and asked him to join their operation. The company was looking to extend its reach in Alaska and was determined to add someone who understood the market’s nuances, including what worked and what didn’t. Soon after, the company set out to develop a piling system that would eliminate a number of steps in the installation process and decrease installation costs.

Those efforts eventually resulted in the creation of the Spinfreeze piling system. Despite initial interest in the system, its creators had to overcome some early hurdles including opposition from rival contractors and designers. As a result, the company and its design team decided to conduct a year-long creep test on the piles to prove their effectiveness. The results were published in a report issued by PND Engineers.

Although the use of Spinfreeze piles may not yet be commonplace, Fenwick has no doubts about the product’s future, as he says it poses significant savings to both owners and contractors alike.

“APE has and always will be a very aggressive and innovative company in the foundation market,” said Fenwick. “Our efforts to streamline not only equipment used in the industry, but the very foundations themselves places us on the front lines of creative solutions.” 

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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.