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Screw Piles: The New Tool in Fighting Construction Delay

Updated: Jul 30, 2019

All of us working in the world of construction are aware of this one sad truth; project delays happen.

No matter how diligent or organized we are there's almost always something in the chaos of a big project that can slip past our guards and cause a project to fall behind schedule. Welcome to organizing large groups of people, fleets of equipment, and yards full of supplies.

To highlight that point, a 2017 survey from the UK found that oversight-caused delays lead to over half of construction companies going at least 10-20% over budget on 8.6% of their projects.

In an industry where that kind of overrun can decimate a project's profit margins, we need every tool possible to help us stymie the negative impact project delay can have.

One of the more modern tools gaining momentum in this area is a foundation solution called a screw pile.

A New Tool in the Belt

Screw piles -- steel foundation piles that are screwed into the earth rather than driven -- are a tool that specifically excels at helping to push projects through to completion when they're suffering with issues affecting their foundations. From working with a company that specializes in installing screw pile foundation systems; I've seen first had how effectively they can be employed to quickly bring a struggling project back on track. They're specifically capable of doing this because of a few unique traits they possess.

Screw piles being installed at an oil and gas facility in Texas
A screw piling rig installing a foundation system in the Permian Basin

A. They Install Quickly

The longer a foundation takes to install, the longer a job can be delayed. On average a traditional pile-driving rig can install anywhere between 10 and 30 piles in a day, with the average falling around 22 piles per day, per rig. In contrast a single screw piling rig is able to install anywhere between 40 and 120 piles in a day, depending on the size of the piles and the quality of the soil.

A recent client in the Permian basin had the completion of their E&P plant delayed by a backup on the part of their traditional piling contractor. The backup left them waiting on the installation of a 210 pile foundation system before they could start installing their tanks, pipe-racks, and flare towers. Already behind, this client opted to install a screw pile foundation rather than wait the nine days it would take to install driven piles (assuming a single rig). Within seventeen hours on-site, a single screw-piling rig and crew installed all 210 piles, with almost to change to the budget, and the project was able to push on to completion.

Screw piles being quickly installed at the site of a stalled drilling rig.
A screw piling rig quickly installing a stabilizing system at the site of a stalled drilling rig.

B. They Mobilize Quickly In Challenging Locations

Getting a solution on-site quickly is a key element to combating the losses caused by construction delay. Standard piling rigs are large and can take significant time to properly mobilize and setup. This makes it hard for driven piles to come in as rapid, last-minute solutions in emergency situations.

However even large screw piles can be installed by something as small as a 3.3 tonne excavator, letting a screw piling team mobilize quickly and gain access to even difficult-to-reach parts of a job site.

Another client found themselves losing $30,000+ a day on a stalled horizontal drill-rig, which had been stopped in its tracks after hitting an unexpected shale deposit. Because of its compact size, a screw piling rig was able to get on site and access their confined installation point within seven hours. Because screw piling rigs are able to install piles at almost any angle, the piling crews were able to quickly install a battered-pile system that allowed our client to quickly get on with drilling.

Screw Piles: A Better Tool

I've seen first-hand the effectiveness of screw piles in combating construction delay. While they obviously can't solve every delay-causing problem us PM's face, they're a tool that gives your team the flexibility to quickly and affordably solve foundation-based issues as they arise.

But tell me what you think. What experience do you have with screw piles in your construction projects? What issues do you see in their use? And how can we as an industry get even better at reacting to delays and setbacks in our high-value projects?

Screw piles being installed by an excavator and crew at a petroleum facility in Texas.
A crew detaching an installed screw pile from the piling rig. Well trained crews can install over 100 piles in a single day.


- Survey of Construction Companies in the UK (2017):

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