Some piling contractors can be rather secretive about their activities. We contacted a dozen or so leading players with a view to discussing what investments they had been making lately. Of those inclined to reply, a typical response was: “We don't want to share this information with the rest of the industry.”
One firm that is not shy about showing its hand is Van Elle; maybe not being a subsidiary offshoot of a big construction corporation gives Van Elle greater freedom to speak as it sees fit. Whether its openness is a result of recent commercial success or a cause of it is a moot point. Either way, here is a company that has seen strong growth.
Van Elle’s turnover rose from £46m for the year ending 30th April 2014 to £72.5m for the year to April 2015. That’s 57% in one year. Profits more than tripled, from £2.8m to £9m. Employee numbers have grown in the past year or so from around 300 to more than 400. Over the past two years, while many competitors have tightened their belts, Van Elle has invested £15m on new equipment. Business development manager Mark Williams says: “We produced a five-year plan last year and it’s already out of date. We have hit our year four target in year one.” While much of that is down to market growth, it is also partly a result of Van Elle moving into the rail sector and investing in road-rail vehicles. In its first year as a separate division, Van Elle Rail generated £8m revenues. With HS2 on the horizon, rail is a key sector that the company is targeting, and it is already specifying rigs to meet the needs of that mega scheme.
Van Elle has eight Colmar road-rail vehicles (RRVs), all specified for piling work, of which two are tracked and cost £500,000 each. The all new tracked FS10,000T is the largest, most powerful and most versatile RRV on the market, Van Elle says, and there are only four of them in the whole world currently. Recent rail projects for Van Elle include sheet piling for Carillion’s Stockley flyover project, part of a Network Rail scheme to link Heathrow Airport to the new Crossrail line. During two intense line closures over the Christmas and Easter holidays, Van Elle installed more than 1,500 sheet piles. Restricted-access drilling rigs were used to pre-auger the locations to minimise resistance and hence the time taken to vibrate the sheets to depth, which Van Elle did using a number of excavator-mounted Movax side-grip vibrating hammers.
Van Elle’s origins are in compact rigs for sites with difficult access and it continues to invest in equipment for this market. For example, earlier this year it took delivery of the first Hütte HBR 207 MP, which is a low-headroom rig capable of driving large diameter piles. In fact, the machine was largely bespoke to Van Elle’s specifications, although it has since gone into Hütte’s standard product range.
The HBR 207 MP has a 16m mast and 40 tonne extraction force for CFA and DTH applications. It is completely radio remote controlled and reckoned to be one of the most powerful of its size on the market. An 880mm centring device and a 55,000Nm rotary head are mounted on the rig for optimum performance.
Van Elle also has eight Klemm compact rigs and at the back end of 2014 took delivery of the first Klemm 708-2 rig to land in the UK, in time to go to work on the Gateway Project at Birmingham New Street during the Christmas shutdown. With the ability to install both 450mm diameter and 600mm diameter deep piles below 3.5m headroom, the Klemm 708-2 will primarily be deployed on Network Rail projects where there is a fall zone limit next to the rail. However, while restricted access piling remains an area of expertise for Van Elle, it has also broadened its inventory at the larger end, with new Llamada and Soilmec rigs.
The company is now eyeing up more large rigs for cased CFA work, which is a popular technique for secant wall construction in London.
This article first appeared in the June 2015 issue of The Construction Index magazine. To read the full magazine online, click here.
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