How innovative products from American Piledriving Equipment are proving their worth in the Canadian North

By Mark Halsall

It’s called the Polar Penetrator. When it comes to piling work in the Canadian North, it’s hard to think of another piece of equipment that’s more aptly named.

The Polar Penetrator drill bit was invented by American Piledriving Equipment (APE) and is part of the company’s HD Driver system that’s uniquely suited to deep foundation construction in cold, northerly locations.

“It’s a drill bit that executes typically in frozen tundra or ground with permafrost or discontinuous frost, and I tell you what, it’s a game-changer,” said Colin Grindle, Canadian regional manager for APE. “We’ve been able to tackle any project in any terrain with our HD system.”

A prime example is the Keeyask Camp project, a planned community in Manitoba’s far north to support construction of the Keeyask Dam installation for Manitoba Hydro.

In excess of 5,000 helical piles had to be put in at depths of 40-plus feet to support facility structures for the 3,000-person work camp. During a bone-numbing winter in 2013-14, they were all installed with excavator-mounted HD Drivers from APE, which also supplied the seven-, nine- and 11-inch high- strength steel HD piles used for the project.

“More than 5,000 piles were driven in temperatures as cold as 55 below, but there wasn’t a failed pile, no injuries, not a down day up there,” said Grindle. “It was a challenging project to say the least, but it was a huge success.”

In addition to bitterly cold weather, soil conditions were exceptionally tough, with a thick layer of seasonal frost, massive boulders and Canadian Shield bedrock to contend with. Pre-drilling was required and according to Grindle, the HD Driving system with the Polar Penetrator and the down-hole hammer tool (another APE innovation used to break up subterranean obstructions) were definitely up to the task.

“We were drilling holes in about 18 minutes, which is phenomenal,” said Grindle, adding that driving each pile after pre-drilling only took 25 minutes on average.

More recently, the HD Driver system was used to install piles for the Keewatinohk Converter Station, which is part of the Bipole III transmission line project under construction in northern Manitoba.

APE’s HD Driver system is among the broad range of products offered by the company. APE rents and sells an extensive lineup of vibratory pile drivers/extractors, diesel hammers, hydraulic impact hammers, wick drivers, drills and other equipment.

“APE offers a wide scope of equipment to install every type of deep foundation including the largest piles ever driven,” said the company’s president, Dan Collins.

Long presence in Canada
As one of the world’s leading manufacturers of piling equipment, APE has long had a presence in Canada. The company’s branch office in New Jersey handles business for Eastern Canadian customers, and APE opened a branch office in Edmonton, Alta. four years ago to service the western provinces along with the Yukon and Northwest Territories.

To accommodate growing business in this country, APE moved its Western Canadian branch office this past summer to Nisku, an industrial hub located near Edmonton International Airport.

“It’s the industrial heartland of the Edmonton region. Nisku has a lot of oil and gas and big industry players, and the presence we have here is phenomenal,” said Grindle. “It was the right move at the right time. We grew out of what we were in and needed a bigger yard space and more shop and office space.”

A privately owned firm, APE is based in Kent, Wash. The company designs and manufactures its own products, and then loads and ships them directly to the contractor client. Once the equipment is on the job site, APE professionals will help set it up.

APE has offices throughout North America and China in order to service customers directly. In other parts of the world, distributors bring the product to the customer along with U.S. based APE support and service. It’s a business model that serves customers exceptionally well.

“APE’s wholly owned branches are an extension of our factory that puts the contractor in direct contact with us, the manufacturer,” said Collins. “We are on thousands of projects each year where we are always learning from our customers. That knowledge flows directly to the factory and right back to the next job.”

Conversations between APE and its customers are the cornerstone of the company’s success, as the relationships built move the industry forward.

“Contractors depend on the close relationships with our branches, their representatives and their service team to be ready with answers, to be ready with a quick response to keep their equipment moving and to keep their project moving forward,” said Collins.

He says this responsive model not only results in better communications of contractor clients’ needs but also makes for better designs in the field.

“It’s what leads to the innovation APE is known for,” he said.

The HD Driver system is good example. It’s designed to align APE products with customers looking for versatile, multi-functional piling equipment that can be easily attached to machines like skid steers and excavators and operated by light crews to provide cost savings – a growing need within the foundations industry, says Collins.

Since installation is extremely efficient, with the HD system, the contractor can deliver the highest load capacities per dollar of any deep foundation, says Collins, adding that difficult and unforeseen job conditions only make the system shine even brighter.

“Many projects will bene t from innovations like this that move fast and hit hard, are dependable and testable and provide the load criteria for the structure,” he said. “The industry is going to reap great benefits from it.”


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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.