Optimal Foundation Designs and Solutions

Helical Pier Systems

Helical Pier Systems Ltd. (HPS), the world leader in equipment technology for helical pile installation, has extensive experience in helical piling in the residential, commercial, oil and gas, utility and industrial markets.
The company also has steel piles and cast-in-place concrete caissons (retaining structures used to keep water out during construction) as a part of its vast array of products and services. HPS optimizes foundation designs for load ranges in all sizes and superstructure types by using a combination of foundation technologies.

Helical piles are steel shafts with a series of low-pitched circular steel helical plates welded at strategic positions along the shaft. Resembling an oversized screw, the piles are installed by being twisted into the ground. These plates give a foundation both tension and compression bearing capacity, enabling them to be used for a wide range of applications. Helical piles are relatively inexpensive compared to other methods because they are very quick and easy to install. The piers are designed to suit varying ground conditions and application requirements as they come in various lengths and thicknesses.

Since 1977, Helical Pier Systems Ltd. (HPS) has been a leader in the engineering, manufacturing, installation, distribution, equipment design and creation of helical piling products throughout North America. Director of Sales, Yung Phang spoke to Business in Focus about the variety of services HPS offers and why the company has become a leader in the helical piling market.

“We’re a subcontractor for lots of EPC [Engineering, Procurement and Construction] outfits and end users,” Mr. Phang explains. “What makes us different is we think of ourselves as an engineering company, not a construction company. We look at jobs from engineering point of view. We ask engineers, ‘what are your superstructures capable of moving?’ If there is allowance, we can move greatly, providing cost savings, optimizing designs and streamlining operations.”

HPS started as a mom-and-pop operation, bidding on jobs like any piling company. Headquartered near Edmonton in Sherwood Park, Alberta, the company now also has offices in Grande Prairie, AB and Houston, TX and manufacturing facilities throughout Alberta and British Columbia.

“HPS took a bit of a divergence because of our unique system here,” says Mr. Phang. “We couldn’t just wait to sit back and wait for phone to ring. We’re in the business of deep foundations, dealing with a number of environments, problematic soils, frost heave and we’ve dug into everything from concrete to steel to timber. A lot of companies are not used to having these giant screw anchors. Through necessity, we’ve had to take a heavy engineering approach to everything.”

The company has taken that approach and has demonstrated that helical piling is a viable option for companies looking to drill foundations for projects. This has been done through innovative load testing, proof testing and research and development.

“The company evolved as a necessity to sell,” says Mr. Phang. “Everything it has become, or has been added to our repertoire, has fostered our outlook.”

HPS’s facilities for manufacturing helical screw piles are operated by dedicated and professional employees and use the most advanced equipment such as computer numerical control (CNC) plasma cutting equipment to accurately produce cuts on a repeat basis that allows the company to be responsive to customer specifications. HPS’s manufacturing facilities have been recognized by the Canadian Welding Bureau as Division 2 facilities, demonstrating the commitment to quality that HPS has become known for. The company maintains this designation through a combination of education and on the job training as well as industry audits.

HPS has a manufacturing quality management system that starts with the receiving of raw feedstock such as pipes and plates from steel manufacturers. It chooses suppliers with the knowledge and expertise to provide quality products that satisfy the various needs of its customers. The company also embarks on product quality training and monitoring throughout the manufacturing process to ensure the highest quality of its products.

For installation projects, HPS installers have years of experience and the equipment necessary to install any size of helical pile under almost any condition. Areas of expansive soil, high water tables, permafrost, or unstable soil are not a problem for the company. Unlike auger cast or driven piles, using helical piles allows for immediate loading at a fraction of the time required for other types of installations, saving time on foundation construction projects.

HPS operates the largest fleet of installation equipment in North America and distributes to a network of certified installers throughout Canada, United States, and Europe. Installers are trained and certified and operate proper equipment such as Trimble robotic total station, Trimble LM80 user interface and Spectra long range laser levels to ensure install accuracy. It equips, trains and certifies its contractor’s installers to meet company standards before allowing them install HPS products.

HPS is unique in the industry; no other company offers extensive services such as equipment sales, maintenance and tooling in addition to HPS installation methods such as its Inteli-Pier, digital data logging and patented installation torque monitoring devices.

The company has a wide range of equipment from skid steers, to boom trucks and excavators, giving HPS the ability to install in almost any working environment. The company also supplies and rents hydraulic motors between standard torque capacity ranges of 8000 foot pounds to 250,000 foot pounds for its drive heads.

HPS has a certified team for field welding operations and procedures for shielded metal arc and flux core capabilities with portable welding units. This diverse array of equipment and experience gives the company the ability to install any size helical pile for a variety of applications such as oil and gas, power transmission and distribution, alternative energy, industrial, commercial and residential applications.

The company’s in-house engineering department is staffed by award-winning geotechnical and structural engineers with many years of experience and knowledge specific to helical piles within the field of foundation engineering. HPS’s engineering team is continuously finding new and successful applications for the company’s products. “Our recent advancement was utilizing bi-directional load testing along with third party validation as part of our helical pile load testing program, an industry first.”

“Like any construction company, our workers have special training that they partake in,” shares Mr. Phang. “They need the basics to do work inside the fence line such as refineries or big builds. Our operators who put piers in the ground – they don’t go to trade school for that, they learn a lot by doing and seeing and putting in 5000 hours or piers in the ground, so we have extensive in-house training. Engineers aren’t taught this in university, so they learn how to effectively design these piers, imparting that experience with proof testing. We are a pioneer in design and we have some the world’s best installation crews due to our unique service.”

HPS’s specialized services have given the company the opportunity to work on a number of unique and complex projects throughout the world. “We were recently awarded the SATR (Southern Alberta Transmission Reinforcement) line transmission project. It’s the largest foundation project in Canadian history for a transmission line and this is a huge win for our company.”

The SATR project will alleviate existing system constraints and integrate wind developments throughout Alberta. HPS will be responsible for building structure foundation work to embed poles on over 800 structures.

Another key project was the installation of helical piers and culvert relocation at Kidd’s Creek in Ontario. Helical piles were installed in naturally occurring peat and sand layers, because the ground was unfit for bearing and an alternative to grouted piles. This approach produced savings in labor and construction time since grouting was not required. About 640 helical piers were installed to a predetermined depth, and a concrete slab was then constructed to support the culvert and pipe at pile locations.

HPS has won more work in the oil and gas industry throughout North America, including work in the Marcellus oil play in Western Pennsylvania, the Bakken in North Dakota and the Eagle Ford oil play in Texas. The company opened its Houston office about three years ago to service these markets and has rapidly grown in that short amount of time. “We are active in the oil and gas industry and are looking to corner the shale gas market,” Mr. Phang says.

Dedication to teamwork, community, safety and quality has led to the success of HPS and its growth. “A lot of times, the same contractors will hire us because we’ve proven ourselves to them. We have to be second to none; failure is not an option.”

For almost forty years, HPS has provided high-quality piling services for its clients and has been a technological pioneer in its offerings. Mr. Phang says that helical pier technology should be seen as an alternative to more expensive piling operations rather than a novelty.

“We are here to create solutions to your problems; we are world class in what we do and how we do it. A certain service level is expected and we are here to provide guidance for our clients during a project and let them know what is happening every step of the way and show them how we can save them money but still take care of load. Our accessibility and willingness to look at solutions and go outside of box allows us to stay competitive in our markets.”

June 21, 2018, 11:32 PM EDT

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