Kochi piledriver knocks out rivals across the world
A company based in Kochi Prefecture’s capital has gained an international reputation for its disaster resistant construction methods.
Kochi City-based Giken’s “implant method”, so called “because it is like teeth held by a jawbone”, says the company president Akio Kitamura, uses a pioneering technique for installing piling for a building’s foundations. A critical part of construction, piles have many uses, for the foundations supporting structures, retaining walls to keep back earth, and cut-off walls to hold back water.
By driving a pile that combines both the frame and the foundation deep into the earth, the firm’s implant method enables structures to be more solidly fixed into the ground. They are, in turn, much more resistant to earthquakes and tidal waves.
Giken’s method differs from conventional methods which use percussive or vibratory energy, which cause noise and vibration disturbance.
The implant method is made possible by the Silent Piler, a pile-jacking machine Giken developed. By firmly gripping several of the piles that have already been pressed deep into the ground, the machine uses the withdrawal resistance of those piles to silently drive the next pile into the ground using hydraulic power rather than percussive power.
Among many UK developments that have seen the company’s Silent Pilers in action, the system was used on the Crossrail Isle of Dogs Metro Station project in 2009 in London. Silent Pilers hired by Expanded Piling, but operated by Giken staff, installed 300, 122cm diameter 18.5 metre long piles over a 30-week period.
Among mainland European projects, Silent Pilers were used to rebuild the Wulfenwehr lock and weir on the Müritz-Elde canal that passes through the German city of Neustadt-Gleve.
The company’s products have also been used on major developments in France and the US.
A lone pile is already very strong by itself, says Mr Kitamura, who founded the company in 1967. “So when you have piles jacked side by side, the structure is very resilient,” he says.
Another major advantage of the method is that a piling platform does not need to be built, and a place to store the piles is not required, Mr Kitamura says. “Those things are more costly than the construction work,” he says.
At home, in addition to reinforcing levees along the coast in Kochi and Aichi prefectures, Giken’s system is also being used for the construction of levees and reconstruction projects along the coast and rivers in areas affected by the Fukushima disaster of 2011.
The company says its techniques are used for upgrading and reinforcing areas along rivers, roads, harbours, and bridges in more 30 countries around the world.
Giken’s subsidiary, Giken Seko, does the actual contract work using Silent Pilers. The Giken Group has two major profit sources, selling Silent Pilers, and construction work using its own Silent Pilers, says Masaaki Katami, the international business planning section manager for the company.
Giken has offices in Berlin, London, Shanghai, Singapore, Almere in Holland, and Orlando in Florida. “It is certain that we will focus on developing new markets in, mainly but not limited to, countries in South East Asia and Oceania,” Mr Katami says.
Giken Group had a 2015-2016 turnover of ¥22 billion (Dh705.6 million), of which ¥15bn was generated from machine sales and the remainder from construction contracts. Mr Kitamura says those figures do not reflect the company’s potential. “We should have over ¥100bn in turnover,” he says.
Year on year Giken grew revenues 16.9 per cent last year, from ¥18.82bn to ¥22.02bn while net income improved 26.3 per cent from ¥2.16bn to ¥2.73bn, according to the Financial Times.
In 2016, cash reserves at Giken fell by ¥1.45bn. However, the company earned ¥4.62bn from its operations for a cash flow margin of 20.9 per cent, the FT said. In addition the company used ¥5.15bn on investing activities and also paid ¥850.2 million in financing cash flows.
What Mr Kitamura feels is the company’s underperformance can in some respects be put down to Japan’s traditionally conservative construction industry and its hesitancy in embracing new technologies.
The Institute for Disaster Mitigation of Industrial Complexes president Masanori Hamada acknowledges the sector’s conservatism but says the benefits of the Giken method is gradually being recognised.
Mr Hamada, a civil engineering professor emeritus at Waseda University, points out that the Giken technique does not fall foul of existing Japanese restrictions on vibration and building site space. “Compared with other construction methods, the Giken method better satisfies those conditions,” he says.
Fuminori Katou, the coast division head at the National Institute for Land and Infrastructure Management’s river department, says that the Japanese government acknowledges the Giken method’s superiority, pointing to the fact that Tokyo authorised the company to work on disaster management projects at home. For instance, “The government has adopted the Giken method in construction for earthquake resistance measures along the Kochi Prefecture coast,” he says.
To meet the requirements of Japan’s ministry of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism’s new technology tender system, Giken’s method has other advantages that give it a competitive edge over its rivals. For one, the Silent Piler is firmly attached to the piles already in place, so there is little danger of it falling, unlike traditional pile-driving towers, when it drives a new pile. It can also drive piles at angles, which makes it more flexible.
“It becomes possible to select the optimal pile structure by combining pile diameter and pile arrangement,” Mr Katou says.
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