Piling Canada

Electric Innovation Comes to Alberta

Ki International recently signed an RPO with Liebherr for the delivery and deployment of the new LB 30 unplugged
Written by Paul Adair
April 2024

Founded in 2006, Ki International is an Alberta-based piling contractor serving its home province and British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario. In Calgary, the company has drilled some of the deepest holes in the city. It has installed foundations for notable projects, such as the new BMO Centre – one of the largest and most modern convention centres in Western Canada.

“I started out with a single drilling rig, which was a low drill that – at the time – was one of the very first in Alberta,” said Gordon Williamson, president at Ki International. “This rig allowed Ki to carve out a unique space by taking on jobs that required a unique piece of equipment that is extremely versatile and could go to places that a lot of other drill rigs simply can’t.”

In the years since first opening its doors, Ki International has expanded its fleet to include 11 drill rigs and brought on additional professional engineers to increase the company’s capabilities to handle in-house designs and solutions. The company employs approximately 30 employees between the office and its field staff. Ki International is a family-run business that prides itself on knowing and supporting its employees as individuals, not just numbers or job titles.

“One of our favourite success stories here at Ki is our vice president, Nizar Abou Ltaif,” said Williamson. “He started with the company as a general labourer because his degree from his home country was not recognized in Canada when he immigrated, and he has since worked his way up from general labourer to one of the leaders here at Ki International.”

Liebherr LB 30 unplugged
Photo courtesy of Ki International

Over the years, the company has earned an excellent reputation for completing projects safely, on time and on budget with a high-quality finished product. From cast-in-place to shoring to civil construction and micropiles, Ki International specializes in anything that has to do with concrete piles and offers its clients a one-stop solution.

“Our mission is to stay safe and proudly build foundations for a better future,” said Williamson. “This means we want to take care of our employees and deliver a reliable, high-quality product. We offer a complete product when it comes to power line work and foundations, and we do a complete package for the customer, so they don’t need to worry about bringing in yet another subtrade. We pride ourselves in being easy to work with and delivering great results, and we stand by our products, our crew and our methods.”

Making history

Ki International recently made history by introducing its latest drilling rig, the Liebherr LB 30 unplugged. When Ki International’s LB 30 broke ground, it became the first and – at the time of writing – the only electric drilling rig to be used anywhere in North America.

Williamson saw the machine displayed at two trade shows over the last couple of years and recognized that the LB 30 seemed to have what the company was looking for. So, he decided to bring it in and give it a chance to see what it could do – and the rig has proved itself since.

“The piles are large at a metre in diameter, and they are fully cased to 22 metres, so it needed a substantial rig like the LB 30.”

Gordon Williamson, Ki International

The LB 30 drilled and installed 27 cast-in-place concrete piles as part of the City of Calgary’s 16 Avenue N.W./29 Street Pedestrian Overpass project.

“The piling scope is quite demanding,” said Williamson. “The piles are large at a metre in diameter and fully cased to 22 metres, so it needed a substantial rig like the LB 30. The rig is performing famously, and there haven’t been issues whatsoever. We were all a little bit nervous in the beginning, as the ground conditions are quite challenging in this location, but the results are speaking for themselves.”

Featuring an electric motor, Liebherr’s LB 30 unplugged is a deep foundation machine with an alternative drive concept. During operation, the drilling rig can be connected to a conventional electric supply or powered by a battery without a cable and, therefore, unplugged. Moreover, the machine can be fully recharged within a few hours.

Even though the machine is electric, there are no restrictions on the performance and application of the LB 30 when compared to a conventional rig with a diesel engine.

“So long as we have access to electricity, electric drivetrains – and electric equipment in general – are a much better machine,” said Williamson. “They’re just as powerful, if not more so, than a diesel rig, and I believe they can be simpler and less expensive to maintain, since we don’t have that diesel engine on board that’s constantly in need of attention.”

The LB 30 also brings mobility to the next level, and the basic machine and leader can be transported in one piece with all its hydraulic hoses connected. This minimized assembly work allows for quick and easy transportation of the machine between jobsites. In addition, the LB 30 pushes the envelope regarding safety. Its array of cameras allows the operator to see 360 degrees around the machine on screen, and the built-in load sensors help maintain stability.

Gordon Williamson and Nixar Abou Ltaif standing in front of Liebherr LB 30 unplugged
Ki International president Gordon Williamson (right) and vice president Nixar Abou Ltaif (left)

“The sensors ‘see’ how much pressure is on the corners of the tracks so that, if the ground starts to shift, it will tell the operator so they can take action to make it safe,” said Williamson. “The LB 30 doesn’t allow you to use the rig’s components in an unsafe way, so you can’t overuse or over-lift or over-pull on the machine, which reduces the risk of toppling.”

The innovative cabin design also includes a modern air-conditioning system, an optimized view from the cabin and an orthopedic operator’s seat. All switches, joysticks and pedals are ergonomically positioned. The machine produces zero local emissions and significantly less noise. This makes it especially suitable for operation in areas sensitive to noise.

“The operator is hearing sounds happening on the machine that he’s never heard before because, in all other rigs, the engine drowns out all these noises – it’s like a whole new world for them,” said Williamson. “Plus, the electronics and the human interface are second to none, and the sensitivity of the controls is just amazing. This machine tells you how much weight you have on your auger so that, when you’re tripping in and out of the hole, you’re never coming out empty, and the auger comes out full every time.”

Generating excitement

The response to the sight of an all-electric drilling right in the heart of the “Great White North” has drawn considerable interest from people wanting to see how the machine performs. Williamson notes that the City of Calgary is especially excited by the prospect and happy to know it is happening in their backyard.

Liebherr LB 30 unplugged
The LB 30 unplugged

He said, “We have the city’s full support, and they have responded very positively to the addition of the LB 30 to our fleet. We’re fortunate to be testing the machine in some of the most extreme weather conditions, from the deep cold in December to the heat waves of mid-summer, and we’re going to be able to share some excellent data on the performance of the machine. Already though, I can say that there’s definitely a future for this kind of equipment in Canada.”

Looking ahead, Ki International will continue seeking opportunities for steady and sustainable expansion that will enable it to supply southern Alberta and Western Canada with the highest quality cast-in-place piling and shoring services.

“You might say there is a lot of pioneering blood in my family,” said Williamson. “My great-grandfather did the steam fitting on the highest building in Alberta in his time, my father installed the first major supercomputer in the province, and I have family members who have gone out to develop unique manufacturing solutions for a variety of heavy-duty industrial applications. I feel as though introducing the first electric drilling rig to the North American market is part of that tradition.”

Category: Cover Story

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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.

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