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GE Awards: Cream of the crop

The 2015 GE Awards finalists represent the very best that our industry has to offer. Here GE takes a look at the winners of each category and why they impressed the judges.


The change in pace in the industry has been marked over the last 12 months. I don’t think we’ve ever had so much choice of stories to put into GE each month.

It is not just activity in the market that has changed in the last year, GE Awards have also undergone some changes as this year we introduced live judging. The process has reinforced the integrity of the awards with judges able to grill the candidates to clarify the details in their written submissions.

The entries this year clearly demonstrate the huge impact the UK ground engineering profession continues to have, not just on the UK market, but also the global infrastructure sector.

But wherever our finalists operate, they have all demonstrated how the geotechnics industry has continued to push forward innovation to benefit efficiency, improve safety and provide value.

David Cameron declared last month that he is “dead proud” to be prime minister thanks to the achievements on Crossrail. Well, this year’s entries to the GE Awards make me dead proud to be editor of Ground Engineering. Congratulations to all of our winners. 

Claire Smith, editor, Ground Engineering

Product & Equipment Innovation Award 

Winner: Utterberry wireless sensors


Utterberry wireless sensors are described as the world’s smallest and lightweight wireless sensors with artificial intelligence and exceptional battery life. The aim was to surpass all performance factors of any structural health and environmental factor monitoring systems. Each sensor weighs less than 15g, enabling rapid, safe deployment of sensors, with no wiring or external power considerations. All necessary network equipment can be taken to the deployment site in one trip.

The judges praised the compact solution, and highlighted the simple installation and low maintenance which mean this development has a wide ranging capability and lots of possible applications.

Highly commended: Stress – Reforce permeation systems

Stress – Reforce permeation systems

This system negates the need for operatives to excavate down beneath existing foundations for underpinning. The judges highlighted the clever solution and its interesting uses. They also thought the dewatering aspect was particularly good.


Award for Technical Excellence 

Winner: Utterberry – Use of wireless sensors for remote monitoring during construction of the Eleanor Street shaft and adits for Crossrail


At Crossrail’s Mile End work, a network of 30 Utterberry self-powered wireless sensors were used to remotely monitor Crossrail tunnel conditions during construction, measure tunnel wall-inclination and displacement in three axes with sub-millimetre precision, along with tunnel temperature and humidity. The installation of the sensors was performed by one person, using a 3m pole. The entire sensor system weighed less than 20g. No scaffolding or cherry picker lift systems were required, and the entire installation took less than four hours. The system is also self-resetting in the event of sensor disturbance, and this action can be performed remotely without operator intervention.

According to the judges, the concept of remote monitoring using reusable sensors, at low cost, through academic research represents a massive future benefit for the industry. The judges also thought the solution had lots of applications, especially with the ability to colour match to infrastructure to hide impact and protect from vandalism. The trend-based algorithms used to predict movements based on previous monitoring were also particularly impressive. 


Rising Star Award

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Bachy logo

Winner: Rebecca Fasham, Amey

Next Generation Awards 2014

Within the space of ve years, Rebecca Fasham has completely overhauled her career prospects. In her own words, she has grown from a “college dropout” to a “successful and passionate geotechnical technician”.

Embarking on a career in an industry she admittedly knew little about, Fasham has worked incredibly hard to gain solid qualifications and experience while establishing herself as a valued member of the team at Amey.

Joining the company in 2009 as an apprentice, she had the opportunity to work alongside different teams of engineers. Her first posting was with the geotechnical team and a true passion for geotechnics was born.

Fasham’s passion and diligence was recognised in 2010 by the ICE when she was awarded a QUEST Technician Scholarship. She was also the winner of the 2014 GE Next Generation Awards Apprentice of the Year category.

She is determined to become an inspiration for younger generations and encourage young people into engineering and geotechnics. “I want to learn, I want to share my knowledge and experience, I want to promote the industry and, mostly, I’m determined to make a positive difference,” she says.

The GE Awards judges noted Fasham’s clear and focused view of the importance of geotechnics in society and the insightful delivery of her presentation. She showed passion and ambition in abundance and has the potential to do much more – she is a real ambassador for apprenticeships. 

Highly commended: Isaac Griffiths, Atkins

Next Generation Awards 2014

Winner of the Young Ground Investigation Specialist of the Year category at the Next Generation Awards 2014, Griffiths opted for a geography degree instead of studying engineering at undergraduate level. However, the geotechnical aspects of the course piqued his interest and provided a solid foundation for a career in ground investigation.

Griffiths joined the ground engineering team at Atkins in 2009. His role at the company has seen him work on the London Gateway Port – Rail Corridor Project, working as geotechnical resident engineer and advising the contractor on geotechnical issues.

Impressed by Griffiths’ presentation, the GE Awards panel said he clearly demonstrated a good balance of the attributes needed to design and deliver a project. The judges added that the final result between Griffiths and Fasham was a closely fought contest. 


UK Project with a Geotechnical Value of up to £0.5M 

Winner: Pell Frischmann for Hill Road Studios, London

Pell Frischmann – Hill Road Studios, London

This project involved the design and construction of a detached dwelling in St Johns Wood, London. The majority of the living area consists of an extensive single storey basement which occupies the entire footprint of the site.

The basement was constructed from in situ reinforced concrete and was designed to support a reinstated garden area including mature height trees. A construction methodology was developed by Pell Frischman to allow the basement to be undertaken entirely by hand excavation with no proprietary structural support or the use of any equipment that was not able to be man-handled.

The judges were really impressed by the complexity of the project and how Pell Frischmann dealt with the challenges. The company maximised the space available for the developer and demonstrated good management of logistics.

Highly commended: Donaldson Associates – Stabilisation of a soil pillar adjacent to Eastern Ticket Hall at Bond Street Crossrail Station

Donaldson Associates – Stabilisation of a soil pillar adjacent to Eastern Ticket Hall at Bond Street Crossrail Station

This was achieved using an array of overlapping grouted pipes installed near-horizontally from the masterplan shaft. The judges praised the cost-effective solution given the high risk of costs of delays. 


UK Project with a Geotechnical Value of between £0.5M and £1M

Winner: Soil Engineering Geoservices with the Morgan Sindall, Vinci and Bachy Soletanche joint venture – West Ham ground investigation

Soil Engineering Geoservices with the Morgan Sindall, Vinci and Bachy Soletanche joint venture – West Ham ground investigation

This investigation was initiated following unforeseen ground conditions during construction of the Thames Water Lee Tunnel within the Chalk at depths in excess of 70m below ground level.

Soil Engineering Geoservices and MVB JV designed the ground investigation to employ the most appropriate techniques to ensure maximum data could be obtained given the highly variable and mixed nature of the geology anticipated, which includes rafts of Chalk above the Thanet Sand and a “melange”/disturbance of material to depths of 90m.

The judges commended the investigation of very challenging ground conditions and close collaboration with the community, including a hospital and fellow professionals. 


UK Project with a Geotechnical Value between £1M and £3M

Winner: United Utilities and Bachy Soletanche – Tunnel grouting works for Fleetwood waste water treatment works

United Utilities and Bachy Soletanche – Tunnel grouting works for Fleetwood waste water treatment works

The works at Fleetwood Wastewater Treatment Works form part of United Utilities’ Fylde Strategy to address environmental issues and consequently to improve water quality.

The aim of the project was to provide 15,000m3 of additional stormwater storage to the system to reduce the current level of spills.

Works comprised the construction of main detention tank, connection shaft and connecting tunnel. Ground conditions comprised variable alluvial deposits of soft clay and water bearing medium dense to dense sand/silt overlying 8m of glacial till. Mudstone was present at about 50m below ground level.

The 35m long, 1.8m internal diameter tunnel was constructed using a tunnel boring machine. A further 2m long hand drive was also required to provide the short connection between the shafts.

The judges were delighted with this project and noted that the innovative design and efficiencies in the tunnelling solution were clearly demonstrated. One judge referred to the project as “a great example of where geotechnical engineering has a significant impact on a community”. 


UK Project with a Geotechnical Value over £3M

Winner: Transport Scotland with the Jacobs Arup joint venture, Ramboll and Forth Crossing Bridge Constructors – Queensferry Crossing, Firth of Forth

Transport Scotland with the Jacobs Arup joint venture, Ramboll and Forth Crossing Bridge Constructors – Queensferry Crossing, Firth of Forth

Due to the Queensferry Crossing’s varying foundation conditions several construction techniques have been adopted, including prefabricated steel caissons, measuring 30m in diameter and up to 45m in height, designed to penetrate thick alluvium and boulder clay deposits; prefabricated steel cofferdams positioned in pre-formed sub-sea trenches, formed by both excavation and blasting; and driven sheet pile cofferdams utilising either hold down anchors or deep de-watering wells to achieve temporary stability.

The judges’ final decision was very close as they were torn between two exceptional projects. The panel thought the work on Queensferry demonstrated excellent delivery, procurement efficiency and well thought out build-up knowledge of foundation conditions that led to a change in approach.

Highly commended: Keller and Taylor Woodrow Bam Nuttall joint venture – Victoria Station Upgrade

Keller and Taylor Woodrow BAM Nuttall joint venture – Victoria Station Upgrade

The Victoria Station Upgrade requires more than 300m of tunnels to be constructed, linking the two ticket halls and providing access to the Victoria and District and Circle lines. More than 2,000 interlocking jet grout columns were installed to enable safe tunnelling, in the first large-scale use of jet grouting for tunnel construction in the UK.

The judges commented that the overall project demonstrated good delivery of challenging work with high levels of innovation. 


Sustainability Award

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Winner: United Utilities – Discontinuance: Returning Hurst Reservoir to the landscape

United Utilities – Discontinuance: Returning Hurst Reservoir to the landscape

United Utilities’ sustainable long-term solution for Hurst Impounding Reservoir Discontinuance was achieved through removal of the dam and restoring Hurst Brook to its natural course, using material from the embankment to re-profile the valley. Complex stakeholder involvement and buy-in was key to completing the project successfully.

United Utilities made a bold decision to progress this sustainable project, deciding to remove capacity and provide benefits to the environment while demonstrating 30% lower costs to discontinue than to improve the asset, along with future savings in relation to maintenance and reduced regulatory obligations.

Through removal of the dam, United Utilities has demonstrated good stewardship of its land with a positive effect on the Dark Peak region while maintaining the highest levels of safety in its operations and protection of the community.

The judges thought it was a technically clever project and praised United Utilities for engineering the site to create a natural result.

One judge commented: “It’s got a very low carbon footprint and didn’t major on the engineering; instead they majored on the environmental mitigation and sustainability, which is great.”

The panel also said the project’s environmental benefits were clear to see and that it ticked all of the sustainability boxes and criteria.

Highly commended: VHE Construction, Aecom, Provectus and Clyde Gateway – Shawfield Remediation, Glasgow

VHE Construction, Aecom, Provectus and Clyde Gateway – Shawfield Remediation, Glasgow

Clyde Gateway has embarked on the largest regeneration scheme in Scotland, designed to drive forward an investment programme over a 20-year period. The remediation of the Phase 1 site at Shawfield required close collaboration across the supply chain to deliver the project using an innovative process for the treatment of hexavalent chromium at depth and the recycling and re-use of existing demolition materials.

It is calculated that this will result in a saving of 800t of CO2 emissions. The remediation solution required minimum damage to the existing geotechnical properties of the underlying soils and long-term protection of watercourses.

In terms of future roll out, the judges felt the solution had a lot of potential – the project also reduced a lot of risks because there is some really nasty stuff that could be getting into the Clyde. 


Health and Safety Award

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Select logo

Winner Bachy Soletanche – Remote control unloading for piling rigs

Bachy remote

When piling rigs travel between sites on low loader lorries, the cab floor of the rig can be 2m or so above ground level. Bachy wanted to find a solution to getting the piling rigs off the low loader lorry without exposing the rig operator to risks of falling while trying to get in and out of the cab of the piling rig.

The company said: “While we have not had any specific incidents we wanted to find a solution before there was an incident. We recognise that piling rigs present specific problems to get them on and off low loader lorries.

“Many rigs including our own are fitted with foldable platforms to aid access and egress for operation and maintenance of the rig on site in its operating mode – but when in transport mode often the rig tracks are brought in and this means there is no easy mechanism to access the controls for the loading/unloading process.”

The solution involves fitting piling rigs with a remote control unit. Bachy worked closely with Soilmec to customise the piling rigs.

Soilmec is now offering this solution to all of its customers as an option on new build rigs to assist in complying with EN16628.

Bachy said its operators have commented that they would like to see the solution on all new rigs where possible and have encouraged the company to investigate retro fitting to existing rigs.

The judges were impressed that Bachy was proactive rather than reactive in responding to this safety problem – this successfully removes a defined risk, it doesn’t just try to control risk.

The judges also highlighted the fact that Bachy shared the solution with its competitors to ensure the whole industry benefited.

One judge added: “The solution was presented with enthusiasm and you could clearly see the benefits.”


Contractor of the Year

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Atkins logo

Winner: Van Elle

Van Elle

2014 was a record year for Van Elle in terms of profit, projects won and project diversity. The company has already met its year five turnover and profits in year two of its current five-year plan due to success in specialist markets.

In response to the increased complexity, diversity and number of projects secured across all divisions, employee numbers have increased from 301 to 404 over the past 12 months.

As well as a focus on larger onshore projects, the company is also building a reputation in the oil, gas and offshore drilling markets, including successful completion of a flagship project in the Falkland Islands for American oil company Noble Energy.

The company has also instigated number of new developments within the business to support its site activities, plan future growth strategy, demonstrate commitment to the health and safety of its employees, the quality of the services it provides and the sustainability, effectiveness and efficiency of its plant and products.

Van Elle has undertaken a complete review of all of its company procedures and standard documents to ensure they are completely up to date, are in line with modern industry standards and address any given situation effectively and fairly.

The judging panel praised Van Elle’s good track record of growth. The judges also thought the company clearly demonstrated delivery of exciting innovations within a difficult market as well as work on challenging projects for a diverse customer base.

Van Elle’s strong emphasis on ensuring it has a happy workforce was also noted by the judges. 

Highly commended: Balfour Beatty Ground Engineering

Balfour Beatty Ground Engineering

Despite challenging market conditions, Balfour Beatty Ground Engineering (BBGE) achieved 340% growth in profit in 2014. This achievement is particularly significant considering staff numbers and the number of projects carried out remained largely the same as the previous year.

BBGE carried out the largest mini piling project in Europe in 2013 and 2014 when it provided the foundations for 164 of the 660 towers built for the 220km Overhead Line Replacement project in the Scottish Highlands. Through design modifications the company delivered savings of 50% in programme (11 months); 30-40% in costs; and 40% in CO2.

The judges said the company has worked on some great projects and has solid plans for the future. 


Consulting Firm of the Year

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Bauer Technologies logo

Winner: Donaldson


Donaldson Associates has achieved 13.5% increase in revenue over the past 12 months and staff numbers have grown by 5% over the same period. Major projects undertaken in the last 12 months include tunnelling, rail-related geotechnics, renewable energy geotechnics, mining geotechnics, and basement and retaining structure design. While Donaldson Associates’ UK offices continue to grow the regional market share, the Hong Kong office is expanding and overseeing projects across Asia.

The company has also decided to move its rock engineering skillsets from the UK offices to Hong Kong, resulting in high-profile project awards in the design of shafts, caverns and tunnels for rail infrastructure.

Donaldson has closely integrated design teams within client teams to improve its ability to deliver temporary and permanent works sequencing and design, driving efficiencies during the construction process.

The company has also entered into a knowledge transfer partnership with the University of Strathclyde, supporting research in soil mechanics, specifically looking at new methods of temporary ground improvement in clay soils.

A UK-based design team with global reach, Donaldson is a leader in its field, according to the judges. The panel was also impressed that the company has embedded itself within its contractors’ teams, emphasising the importance of working closely with project partners.

Highly commended: Arup


In the last year, Arup’s geotechnical staff numbers in the UK grew by 14%. The company won framework agreements with Network Rail, Highways England, BP and Shell, all of which are managed by the geotechnical team and which provide diverse work streams.

The company works on projects with technical areas, including induced seismicity, geothermal heating schemes, offshore foundation and onshore wind farms, basement and foundations for larger span bridges to residential development.

Graduate recruitment is the backbone of the Arup team, and last year it continued this approach by widening its recruitment to apprentices. In London, the company has taken on an apprentice to train in BIM and GIS alongside developing skills in civil/geotechnical engineering.

The judges said Arup demonstrated great partnership with other consultants and the wider industry, and also presented a clear, honest plan for the future. 


Editor’s Award

Winner: Mott MacDonald and Crossrail for the accelerated programme for the Moorgate shaft at Crossrail’s Liverpool Street Station

Mott MacDonald and Crossrail for the accelerated programme for the Moorgate shaft at Crossrail’s Liverpool Street Station

The winner of this award is selected by GE editor Claire Smith from all of the entries to the 2015 awards, and already having a trophy in hand did not guarantee that any company would be returning to the stage.

“Selecting the winner this year has been much harder than in previous years,” said Smith.

“With recovery of the geotechnical market in the last 18 months, there have been a wealth of interesting, innovative and challenging projects delivered and I’m sure our shortlist is only the tip of the iceberg of the excellent work this industry undertakes.”

Smith thought the project team demonstrated a high level of collaboration and good use of realtime monitoring data to continually re-evaluate the design and sequencing during construction.

“The scheme faced an 11-month delay from removal of old piles from the site but through use of using 3D numerical modelling of the actual construction sequence of both the shaft and the adjoining SCL tunnels Mott MacDonald successfully developed a verification process to resequence the work.

“This reverse Observation Method approach allowed temporary props to be omitted to deliver a 14-week programme saving and handover the site to the tunnelling contractor two weeks ahead of the critical date,” added Smith.


Ground Investigation Specialist of the Year

Winner: Lankelma


Lankelma recorded a rapid rise in revenues and grew staff numbers in 2014. The company continued its strategy of growing its core UK business, while expanding internationally in the nearshore market.

Overseas projects in New Zealand, Venezuela, Cameroon, Congo and Guinea were largely responsible for the rise in revenue over the last 12 months, with international work representing about a significant amount of turnover. Lankelma continually aims to develop innovative CPT techniques to deliver reliable and accurate data in a range of environments.

As well as new cyclic CPTu and lubricating cone techniques, 2014 saw a new seismic wave generator for the seismic cone test introduced. The company says this is already helping engineers better design earthquakeresistant foundations in New Zealand.

The judges reached a unanimous decision following a clear presentation of the company’s strength in innovation and spectacular growth.

The judges were also impressed by the company’s ability to spot gaps in the market and awareness of potential threats to continued growth. In summary, Lankelma met all criteria with no room for doubt.


International Project of the Year

Winner: Züblin Spezialtiefbau, Division Ground Engineering – Söderströmstunneln, Citybanan, Stockholm Sweden

Züblin Spezialtiefbau, Division Ground Engineering – Söderströmstunneln, Citybanan, Stockholm Sweden

The Söderströmstunneln, part of the Citybanan railway link in Stockholm, comprises the construction of three concrete tunnel elements that have been immersed between two inner-city islands.

The immersed tunnel elements are supported on pile foundations that have been drilled from into the bedrock with more than 40m depth from the water level.

Züblin together with its Swedish subsidiary Züblin Scandinavia was responsible for the complete design and build project.

All ground engineering works, including bored piles, steel core piles, rock anchors, etc., were also undertaken by Züblin.

The judges described the project as fascinating and having the “wow” factor. Züblin was also praised for taking a bold step to try something it had not done before while demonstrating confidence, engagement and a well-thought through approach.


Ground Investigation Project of the Year

Winner Atkins, Horizon Nuclear Power and Structural Soils – Wylfa Newydd detailed onshore ground investigation

The Wylfa Newydd project is being developed by Horizon Nuclear Power. Its objective is to build and operate a new nuclear power station using the Advanced Boiling Water Reactor design developed by Hitachi-GE. Horizon commissioned Structural Soils and Atkins to conduct the site investigation.

The key to the project was using experienced and competent personnel at all levels with credible experience and who could deliver the project’s requirements for quality, work planning, scope development and definition, site work, in-situ and laboratory testing and interpretation of geotechnical parameters.

By working closely together, Horizon, Structural Soils and Atkins successfully met the project milestones of starting on site in March 2014 and delivering the first interpretative report in December 2014.

The judges thought the team demonstrated brilliant project management and outstanding cultural engagement. One judge added: “This is clearly a winning project but not just because it’s a big job – they demonstrated impressive data collection, but it is even more impressive that they are actually using the data effectively.” 

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