PND Engineers tackles tough projects in the north

By Mike Stimpson

Innovation, adaptability and finding solutions for the challenges of building in Arctic and marine environments: PND Engineers has developed a solid reputation for all these things over the course of its 37-year history. That pattern of excellence continues as the U.S.-headquartered civil and structural engineering firm expands its reach in Canada’s north through a Canadian subsidiary.

A prime example of PND’s innovation is the firm’s proprietary (and award-winning) OPEN CELL® sheet pile technology, used over 200 times since PND Engineers developed it in the early 1980s for bridge abutments in Alaska’s North Slope region. PND’s website says OPEN CELL systems have “been used effectively in locations where other traditional bulkhead systems cannot work, including severe ice conditions, soft soils, exposed bedrock, deep water, high loading conditions, extensive scour and seismic events.”

“The OPEN CELL system has been used for a variety of projects including bridge abutments, shoreline erosion control, temporary module offoading facilities and break-bulk and container terminals,” said Gary Watters, PND Engineers Canada president, from his office in Vancouver, adding that the OPEN

CELL bulkhead can be installed quickly with limited equipment and manpower needs, making it an exceptionally cost-effective solution whether in a remote or urban location.

“Time is money, and construction costs decrease considerably with the OPEN CELL system,” said Watters. “The OPEN CELL system’s main advantage is cost reduction via schedule-tightening compared to other types of systems.”

Another example of the company’s innovation is its SPIN FIN® piles – steel pipe piles with angled fins for anchoring them into the ground. Thousands have been installed in numerous locations since SPIN FIN piles were developed in 1983.

“You take a normal pile, which relies on skin friction, and weld angled steel  fins to the lower end of the pile,” said Watters. “ at not only increases your skin friction capacity, it’s like driving a screw into wood – you get more resistance both in tension and compression. It can dramatically reduce the number, size and length of piles needed. We’ve had some applications where we were able to reduce the number and tonnage of piles needed by 50 per cent.”

With decades of experience in engineering, the last 20 of them with PND, Watters is very much an expert in these matters. He’s putting his expertise and experience to work for the international engineering  rm as head of operations in Canada, where PND has been making a name for itself by taking on tough projects and succeeding admirably.

A full-service civil and structural engineering company, PND Engineers has distinguished itself as designers and consulting engineers in Arctic and marine projects, roads and bridges, geotechnical consulting, construction engineering and other applications of engineering expertise for a wide variety of clients in locations from Nunavut to Texas and beyond.

Founded in Anchorage, Alaska in 1979 as Peratrovich and Nottingham, the firm incorporated in 1981 as Peratrovich, Nottingham and Drage before doing business under its current name. PND has grown to comprise a staff of more than 110 in four U.S. states, having recently opened a Houston office.  e company established PND Engineers Canada Inc. in 2013 with Watters in charge of the Canadian subsidiary. Seattle-based principal Bill Gunderson and Houston-based senior vice president Kenton Braun also have important roles in the Canadian enterprise.

“A milestone project we just finished last year was a design-build project we did with [Prince George, B.C.-headquartered] Ruskin Construction for Baffinland Iron Mines,” said Watters. [Editor’s note: Read Piling Canada’s project spotlight on the Baffinland Iron Mines in the Quarter 2 2015 edition, available here.] They designed and constructed an iron ore dock facility on Baffin Island in Nunavut that includes a 22-metre-tall structure. Completed in 2015, the entire project progressed from concept to completion in a year and a half – a tight timeline that was all the more difficult to meet given the tough environmental conditions in the Arctic Circle. PND’s proprietary OPEN CELL technology was a key ingredient in the project’s success.

Soil conditions (including permafrost), weather conditions and months of round-the-clock darkness all added to the project’s degree of difficulty, but Watters says the most challenging part of the Ba n Island project may well have been getting materials to site. Large components were shipped in by water from fabrication facilities in Ontario and Quebec while Arctic climate patterns allowed it, as the shipping season in the region runs only from August to October.

At a considerably lower latitude, PND Engineers Canada is currently working with Ruskin Construction on another design-build project – this one for Seaspan Ferries Corporation, building a new ferry terminal on Vancouver Island. “We’re able to save some significant money and time for the owner,” said Watters, “and for that reason, we were accepted for this project.”

Asked to describe the PND brand, Watters says the firm is “advanced and innovative. We’re known for our Arctic experience and proprietary systems, OPEN CELL and SPIN FIN piles, and for finding ways to save clients time and money.

“We’re not a generic marine engineering company,” he said. “We like to do the unusual, and not the typical engineering focus. We are a go-to engineering  rm for when projects are challenging and need resourcefulness.”

Watters sees a bright future for PND Engineers Canada.

“We expect to have a growing company here in Canada, and meet our target objectives here in the next two or three years,” he said.


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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.