Customers in Action

Almita Piling

THIS INNOVATIVE PONOKA, ALBERTA, FIRM MANUFACTURES AND INSTALLS PILES – BUT NOT JUST ANY PILES

February 10, 2015

Great success with Komatsu equipment

Almita Piling

Piles, which provide a strong foundation for a variety of structures, are a staple of modern construction. When you think of piles, you probably think of a steel shaft that’s been pounded into the ground or an underground concrete cast-in-place structure. But a Ponoka, Alberta, firm, Almita Piling, believes there’s a better way to do piling, and it starts with a better pile – a screw pile.

“A screw pile is essentially a steel pipe shaft with a 45-degree angle cut at the bottom and two or more formed helical plates welded to the outside of the shaft,” said Almita Piling President Jeff Lloyd. “The angle cut and helical plates allow the pipe to be screwed into the ground rather than pounded in. When comparing it to a traditional pile, it’s like the difference between using a power drill to advance a screw into a block of wood or using a hammer to pound a nail into it. The screw goes in more smoothly and holds better.”

Lloyd says screw piles have many distinct advantages, especially if you’re putting piles in softer soil.

“It’s typically much quicker to install screw piles, the process is less costly, the installation is quieter and it’s more environmentally friendly. Screw piles can carry the same load as a steel-driven pile, with a shaft half-as-long, so you don’t have to go as deep. Additionally, if you’re in an area where you’ll eventually need to reclaim the piles, it’s much easier and less costly to remove screw piles. So in many applications, screw piling is faster, cheaper and better.”

“Another advantage, compared to other methods, is our ability to place piles in relatively tight spaces,” said Almita Vice President Rich Hiron. “There’s no excavation and no need to position a big rig and raise a mast for pounding. Our units are very agile – they just reach into the work area and screw in the pile. It’s ideal for retrofits.”

Almita Piling is both a manufacturer and installer of screw piles. The company services all of western Canada, from Manitoba to the British Columbia coast. Its two primary customer groups are the power transmission/telecommunication industries (towers, electrical poles, substations, etc.) and the oil and gas industry (compressor stations, pipe supports, tanks, well pads, modular structures, etc.).

“The large energy companies that are located here in Alberta have embraced screw-piling technology,” said Lloyd. “It’s the same with electrical-transmission line owners and contractors. Some of our largest-diameter piles are used for power lines, where there’s really soft, swampy soil, such as muskeg. We’ll put in a 30-, 36-, or 42-inch ‘bucket’ pile, set the wood or steel pole inside of it, then fill the annulus around the pole with rock for support.”

In addition to the power and energy industries, Almita Piling installs screw piles for other industrial and commercial construction projects and sells screw piles to smaller installers throughout the region.

From welding shop to foundation-solutions provider

Almita Piling

Almita was started in 1986 by Adrien Trudeau, a former high school welding teacher, and his wife, Louise. It originally started as a welding shop, but in 1991, Almita began manufacturing screw anchors and piles, in part because the Alberta Provincial government passed legislation that required all service rigs to be earth-anchored for safety. In 1995, Almita expanded beyond manufacturing and began installing the piles as well as making them. Lloyd and others bought the company in 2005, and Lloyd became President in 2012. The Trudeaus remain shareholders, and Adrien sits on the Almita advisory board.

In the beginning, Almita consisted of Adrien, Louise and two other employees, one of whom, Ken Stebner, was just out of high school where he was one of Adrien’s students. Stebner is still with the company today and serves as Director of Maintenance and Special Projects.

“We started as a very small company, and when we began making anchors, they were also small – initially just 3 inches in diameter, but fairly soon we started making 8-inch pipe shafts,” explained Stebner. “Today, we have about 250 people company-wide, and we make pipe shafts up to 42 inches in diameter.”

“We obviously owe a lot to Adrien and Louise for having the vision to start manufacturing screw piles,” said Lloyd. “Adrien was an innovator, and we’ve tried to maintain that spirit of always trying to find a better way to do our job.”

Innovation goes hand-in-hand with professionalism, which Lloyd says is a huge factor in Almita’s success.

“The professionalism of our people can’t be beaten. We have 17 full-time engineers, and I think our nearest competitor has two. We do our own design work on the piles and the installation processes, and we’ll customize both, as necessary, for the job at hand.”

Komatsu machines and SMS support

Almita Piling

To screw the screw piles into the ground, Almita uses Komatsu hydraulic excavators with rotating drive heads attached to the end of the boom.

“We have more than a dozen Komatsu excavators, including two PC360s, four PC450s and three PC490s,” said Stebner. “We also own about 10 Komatsu wheel loaders, primarily WA250 and WA320 models, and we have half-a-dozen or so on rent at any given time.

“We like Komatsu equipment and have had great success with it,” he added. “It’s reliable and productive. No major problems. We bought some of our oldest Komatsu wheel loaders, used, at auction many years ago. They now have up to 20,000 hours on them. They’re still in our fleet, and we’ve done very little work on them.”

As pleased as he is with the Komatsu units, Stebner says the support he gets from Sales Rep Mike Trask and the SMS Equipment branch in Red Deer is the biggest factor for Almita staying loyal to Komatsu.

“We’re doing some things with excavators that they weren’t really designed to do. For example, our heavy-torque heads often require a reinforced boom to carry them. We also have four PC450s with custom front ends and some valve configurations to increase flow and pressures that enable them to handle 40-foot pile lengths in one shot, which nobody else does. Right now, we’re also looking at the possibility of putting an excavator on pontoons to allow us to work in an area that’s underwater.”

Stebner added: “Mike and SMS seem to share our can-do spirit of innovation. From the beginning, they’ve been willing to work with us to modify the equipment to meet our needs, while maintaining the warranty, which is important to us. They also have branches throughout our primary territory. For those reasons and more, SMS is our dealer of choice for new machines, parts, service and rentals.”

Rapid growth and education

Growth at Almita Piling has been impressive at about 20 percent annually for the last several years. That pales, however, compared to the company’s future plans.

“We think we have tremendous potential to expand, so we’ve developed a business plan for the next decade called X10 by ’25, which means we intend to be 10 times larger in 2025 than we are today,” said Lloyd.

“Right now, the western-Canada market is excellent for us, and we intend to be the dominant player here, not just for screw piles, but for the entire piling industry,” he added. “Longer term, we want to take our show on the road. Expand throughout North America and perhaps beyond. Wherever the soils are friendly for screw piles, and there’s infrastructure to be built, we want to be there. We think we will be welcomed by builders wherever we go because, given the right conditions, we’re going to save them time and money whenever they need to put in piling.”