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Vision of the future

Complex ground conditions call for novel solutions, and Bachy Soletanche believes that being part of a global operation is a bonus when it comes to delivering innovation. 

Demand in the UK ground engineering market is increasing, but many of the projects now coming on stream are more technically challenging than ever before. Delivering these schemes cost effectively and safely calls for innovation, but finding a client willing to allow a world first to be used on their scheme is not always easy.

Bachy Soletanche

Rig controls could allow machines to be operated from office-based consoles in the future

This is where Bachy Soletanche believes it has a competitive edge – not only can the company draw on the experience of its global parent company Soletanche Bachy, it also has strong links with clients and suppliers to help enable a collaborative approach to innovation.

Three new concepts shortlisted for the 2015 GE Awards demonstrate the benefit of these alliances for Bachy and the wider industry. In the health and safety category, a remote controlled rig unloading system that Bachy jointly developed with Soilmec is shortlisted and Soilmec is now marketing the solution to its other customers. Two of Bachy’s new piling techniques that have involved client collaboration have made the final selection in the product and equipment innovation category.

While Bachy, along with everyone else shortlisted for awards, will have to wait another few weeks to find out what the judges made of the innovations, the company firmly believes there are clear benefits to this approach.

“It is very difficult to produce something different and new as so much has been done before but there is always an opportunity to review practices and the approach,” says Bachy Soletanche preconstruction and major projects director Cliff Wren.

The company has a rich resource to draw on in the form of Soletanche Freyssinet’s annual innovation awards. “The awards draw in the best ideas from 3,500 business units around the world,” says Bachy Soletanche managing director Chris Merridew. “The event is a fantastic way to recognise the innovation our workforce creates and allow knowledge transfer across the business.”

Bachy entries to the GE Awards have also been put forward for Vinci’s innovation awards, and the company hopes that other parts of the business can gain knowledge from the entries, as well as picking up other new ideas from around the world. “It is a great way to share knowledge and disseminate it quickly,” says Merridew.


This sharing of knowledge can also be beneficial when it comes to the commercial use of new ideas. It may not always be easy to convince a client to try a new idea on a flagship scheme, but that is exactly what Bachy managed to do with the fi rst UK use of its Sol Thread technique.

The threaded bored pile was used on the construction of Crossrail’s Paddington New Yard in conjunction with Costain and Capita because it helped resolve a number of major issues at the site – space and spoil.

The concept is based on an established Soletanche Bachy technique of Screw Sol piles and fits with Wren’s idea of adapting and evolving existing techniques to find new solutions.

Use of the technique enabled Bachy to offer higher capacity piles from a smaller core diameter and reduce the spoil created during the pile construction. According to Merridew, these were key issues for the site, where there was restricted access and spoil removal was a major logistical challenge for Bachy.

“We use a special auger to create a thread around the pile bore that, when concreted, increases the theoretical surface area between the concrete and the soil due to the threads,” he explains. “The result is a higher capacity pile from a narrower diameter so less spoil is extracted and less concrete is needed. Essentially it is a more sustainable solution.”

Bachy’s new threaded CFA pile is a further development of the Sol Thread concept and has been achieved through design development at its Burcough depot.

“There is always an opportunity to review practices and the approach”

Cliff Wren, Bachy Soletanche 

“The thread is created by a mechanical tooth on the auger that is deployed after the pile has been drilled,” explains Merridew. “The challenge was proving that the tooth had been correctly deployed, so we developed a remote data logger system from Lutz to send information via Bluetooth to the machine.

“The control systems on modern drilling rigs are also helping to enable new techniques such as this with the extraction rate of the auger being electronically controlled rather than undertaken by the control of the rig operator.”

Merridew says that field trials of the threaded CFA system have been undertaken and the results have been promising. “It is now a case of finding the right job, client and engineer that will embrace the idea,” he adds.

Understanding of ground conditions and soil/structure interactions is clearly helping to drive innovation in engineering solutions, but the innovations in machine design and control are also having a major impact. Wren and Merridew both believe that the current developments are just the start and future generations of rigs could hold the key to solving the skills shortages on site.

“Rigs have evolved,” says Merridew. “Hydraulic rigs are already automated and send machine condition and construction data back to the office.”

According to Wren, automation is likely to increase. “I believe that we need to look at greater use of robotics to improve safety and efficiency.”

Bachy Soletanche

Sol Thread piles were used on the construction of Crossrail’s Paddington New Yard in conjunction with Costain and Capita

While both acknowledge the increase in use of remote controls on smaller rigs and expect the systems to be extended to larger machines in time, neither expect this change to be the end of the rig operator role. Merridew expects that the greatest change will come in how the remote control is used: “How long will it be before the operators are located in the office and work from banks of control desks? This change could help attract people into the industry by making it more attractive to the next generation.

“You only have to look at the development of driverless cars and improvement in machine positioning accuracy to see that change is happening,” he adds.

Nonetheless, Merridew and Wren acknowledge the issues involved in the foundation work integrating with other follow-on trades if more off-site control is to be achieved.

“The rest of the construction industry needs to be moving in the same direction and this is where collaboration within the supply chain will come into its own,” says Wren.

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