ICE USA has formed a Netherlands-based subsidiary, iCON® Foundation Equipment BVNovember 11, 2011
In the United States, buildings more than 200 years old are considered extremely old and located mainly in the original colonial cities and settlements. By contrast, in Europe, structures built 400, 500 or even 600 years ago still stand. Many are seen as national treasures that demand extreme care from those building or excavating nearby.
Currently, construction requiring pilings represents a serious hazard to these historic structures. International Construction Equipment (ICE®), headquartered in Matthews, N.C., is changing that. The international manufacturing company has formed a Netherlands-based subsidiary, iCON® Foundation Equipment BV, which offers a technology designed to protect nearby structures.
MOMENT AND FREQUENCY
During foundational work, low-frequency vibrations from pile driving equipment are transmitted to nearby structures with results not unlike tiny earthquakes. "Structures can break, fall down or offset on their foundations," says Brock Hemmingsen, managing director of iCON® and general manager of ICE®. Hemmingsen says research shows that lower frequencies pose the greatest hazard. A vibratory pile driver operating at a 600 to 1,200 vibrations per minute (vpm) produces tremors at 20 cycles per second through the surrounding soil, he explains. These waves easily travel to nearby structures. A hammer operating at 2,300 vpm produces about a 40-cycle vibration. "Because the peak soil particle velocity decays more rapidly with the higher frequency, you have less of a tendency to transmit the vibration at damaging resonant frequencies to nearby structures," he says.
The challenge comes when starting and stopping the hammer, Hemmingsen continues. When started, most hammers gain speed gradually and pass through the dangerous range of frequencies on the way to the safe range. ICE® has designed a hammer that reduces this eccentric moment force to zero while the hammer is at dangerous frequencies, he explains. Moment is effectively the force that a vibratory hammer applies to the piling. Once the hammer's hydraulic drive is at a safe frequency, a variable moment mechanism activates and the hammer begins applying vibratory force. While accelerating and decelerating, the hammer is inactive. "Historically, the technology to do that has been very unreliable and very expensive. We have developed a new technology that does it with far fewer moving parts. It's a much more reliable solution and, as a result, much less costly," Hemmingsen says.
Power for the Zero Resonance (ZR) vibratory hammer is provided from a hydraulic power unit manufactured by iCON®, a partnership between the USA manufacturer, ICE® and Hycos, a Netherlands-based firm.
The need to protect structures using reliable equipment is universal. But there are challenges to the European market that Hemmingsen says require a change in mindset. "If a U.S. contractor mis-sizes the hammer and it takes 45 minutes to drive the pile, the contractor will request a larger hammer for the next pile. In Europe, they have never had the option to make this request. Now iCON® provides this option with a rental fleet," he says. "We need to educate and adapt to the different cultural methods so that the customer understands we are there to serve them well."
Educating users about the specifications and capabilities is also a need. "One of the technical specifications of a vibratory hammer is how many inch-pounds or kilogram-meters of moment it has, he says. In Europe they tend to specify using centrifugal force." This often has contractors using an undersized hammer, Hemmingsen says.
FAVORABLE FEEDBACK AND FORECAST
Hemmingsen reports that the contractor response to the new product line has been excellent. The iCON® ZR vibratory hammer is entering the market at substantially below competitors' pricing. Contractors also like the overall size of the equipment as compared to the competition. Individual parts of the equipment are also known for their reliability. "We tend to use very well known names of component manufacturers to better enable our global market's access to parts," he says.
Hemmingsen says the European market represents a powerful opportunity; the company is conservatively targeting about $13 million in revenues within three years.
Currently, iCON® has five distributor partners in this area; the goal is 10 to 12, Hemmingsen says. As customer volume increases, the company will also be developing a larger service team in more European locations. "One of the keys to this business is having the best in class service availability to the customer because downtime is very expensive," he comments.
The strategy calls for servicing some customers directly by iCON® and then having dealers cover the remote areas. "You establish a situation where you're never more than a few hours away from a customer job site," he says. "So, if a situation arises, equipment goes down, or they need an application change, we need to be able to service that request within a couple of hours and have somebody on site. That's what we really excel at in the United States and Canada."