Fugro looks back at the development of its business since it was first formed more than five decades ago
Today Fugro is ranked as the UK’s largest geotechnical specialist by headcount, according to GE’s 2018 Geotechnical Services File, and is a highly diverse global organisation delivering a multitude of services to clients in a wide range of sectors.
Much has changed since 1962 when Kees Joustra formed the company under the name Ingenieursbureau voor Funderingstechniek en Grondmechanica, which translates as “engineering company for foundation technology and soil mechanics”.
Although its original focus was on delivering engineering solutions for the soft soils of the Netherlands, innovation was as fundamental then as it is today, with pioneering work on cone penetration testing revolutionising site investigation practice.
Five decades of growth have been achieved through diversification and acquisitions to support expansion in target sectors and to introduce cutting-edge technologies that could be commercialised and transferred to different markets.
The company quickly became a major player in the oil and gas market, although the €1.2bn (£1.06bn) sale of its geoscience division to CGG Veritas in 2012 marked the end of its direct oil and gas exploration activity. However, provision of specialist technical services and geo-intelligence to oil and gas clients, and more recently renewable energy developers, remains a fundamental part of the portfolio.
Having weathered the effects of a depressed oil and gas market since 2014, Fugro has maintained a global presence with 10,000 people based in 65 countries. The UK is among the biggest markets and about 10% of the workforce is based here, operating from a dozen offices located between Falmouth in the south west and Aberdeen in Scotland. UK-based specialists support Fugro projects around the globe, with current workload including 16 overseas projects as far afield as Baku in Azerbaijan, Tangguh in Indonesia and Mohembo in Botswana.
Fugro director for land-based activities in the UK Ross Stevens explains: “The significant level of infrastructure investment in the UK provides great opportunity for a business like ours; clients need to minimise risk throughout the asset lifecycle and the need for geointelligence has never been greater.”
According to Fugro, its teams are in familiar territory at the early stages of nationally significant infrastructure projects. The company says that in the UK it has been among the first to put boots on the ground on projects including Crossrail, Thames Tideway, Wylfa Newydd and HS2.
Current commitments include Silvertown tunnel, York Potash tunnel and Heathrow expansion.
dynamic ground model showing surface and stratigraphy
Fugro’s involvement in the Moorside nuclear project in 2016 involved taking on what was probably the largest integrated site characterisation project of its type in Europe. Supporting the design of the proposed nuclear power station, the £20M contract comprised the full suite of intrusive and non-intrusive ground investigations as well as geospatial and environmental elements, covering a site extending 1km inland as well as out to sea.
Fugro’s expertise in nearshore marine engineering has been deployed around the world, and the business believes one of the best examples is the recent work on the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station. Having been involved in early site investigations at the site and with significant expertise in large diameter seabed, drilling the role of investigation specialist evolved into that of specialist contractor.
Utilising two of its own jack-up barges, the Falmouth-based team drilled sockets and installed the steel piles for the 500m aggregates jetty which is nearing completion at the site.
The company has said that a major factor in its success has been the ability to harness niche technologies and bring them to the forefront of civil engineering.
Fugro points to testing deep foundations using the bi-directional Osterberg Cell system to bring significant benefit to developers as a prime example. Installed within the pile, the system works without needing the expensive and logistically challenging kentledge loads and anchor piles used in conventional top-down testing.
The foundation testing team has broken records around the world on landmark projects including Kingdom Tower, Jeddah, Dubai Creek Tower and Spire London. Precise determination of loading capacity has enabled clients to optimise design, make big savings and reduce risk.
According to Fugro, its clients are also increasingly reliant on its expertise in making sense of complex datasets and providing advanced analysis in a role that fills the gap between specialist contractor and consultant.
With the ability to collect huge datasets comes the challenge of delivering them in a way that clients can use. A team of geoconsultants in the Wallingford office, for example, is focused on developing sophisticated, dynamic digital ground models that combine multiple datasets and allow the user to instantly visualise subsurface layers, properties and features such as groundwater or contamination.
Th e company says that the pressure on programme is increasing and it is placing greater emphasis on real-time reporting. In response, Fugro is introducing a suite of digital data sharing initiatives such as Gaia Insight, which provides clients with immediate access to test results, monitoring data and project documentation via an online portal.
Th is game-changing development helps managers of complex infrastructure projects reduce ground risk and accelerate programme by equipping them with a stream of actionable intelligence.
By sharing information across project teams it also enables a more interactive approach to site investigation and supports wider moves in the industry towards effective partnering.
Most of the company’s workload has historically come from the preconstruction project stage, but Fugro reports an increasing call for services that support the operation and maintenance of assets such as highways, power transmission infrastructure and railways.
While Fugro has developed an array of hardware and technology, from a fleet of survey vessels, to fibre optic sensors and online data delivery portals, the business says that it is its people that really make the difference.
“Clients expect a one-stop shop so a huge breadth of skills and expertise is required in the team,” says Fugro HR manager Sarah Williams. “We need a comprehensive range of skills from field technicians and drillers to data analysts, environmental specialists and consultants, and it’s always evolving as we grow specific parts of the business such as rail or tunnelling.”
Although the work Fugro undertakes and the market it serves has expanded considerably since it was first formed 56 years ago, the business knows that further change is coming and it believes it is well prepared.
Fugro regional director Tim Lyle says: “The rapid rate of technological change in our markets and the wider world means we have to constantly innovate to meet the changing needs of our clients. While Fugro is a longestablished company, change is in our DNA and we relish meeting these challenges as we move from one opportunity to the next.”
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