Pile driving is often associated with heavy-construction applications, such as new construction of bridges, docks, wharfs, highway overpasses and skyscrapers, and contractors in these applications use massive machines to complete the work.
However, applications for pile driving equipment have expanded beyond the traditional uses, creating a growing need for smaller, more nimble models. For example, pile drivers have become a go-to machine in the renewable energy market for the construction of ground mount solar projects. They’re also being used frequently in fencing and guardrail installation applications — but, these uses all require machines with a lightweight, compact footprint.
As construction in niche applications like solar panel installation have grown exponentially in the last decade, contractors have begun looking for alternatives to the larger, traditional pile drivers. This has led them to approach brands they already know and trust for help.
Getting into the market
“About 10 years ago, customers approached us and opened our eyes to what potential was in the pile driver market, especially for the installation of ground-mounted solar panels,” said Ed Savage, product manager at Vermeer. “They had been operating other Vermeer equipment to help connect solar farms to the utility grid. They appreciated the local support of Vermeer dealers and high-quality service we provide and commented that they wished they could get that same level of support and innovation on the pile driver side of their business.”
Listening to their customers, Savage said that Vermeer set out to learn more about the market, which involved doing a deep dive into understanding the application itself. In solar panel installation, ground-mounted solar power systems consisting of solar panels held in place by racks, or frames, are attached to ground-based mounting supports or piles. These piles can measure anywhere from 7 feet (2.1 m) to more than 18 feet (5.5 m) long.
No matter the size, these piles need to be driven into the ground to precise levels, which will depend on ground conditions (soil type and stability), weather conditions and the type of panel (either fixed or tracking). “There were already pile driving attachments on the market that contractors could put on a skid steer loader or an excavator, but the accuracy and productivity with these options is not what it needed to be for this type of application,” said Savage.
Vermeer recognized the urgent need for quality equipment that would keep up with the quick pace of solar field installations. This demand drove Vermeer into developing a range of pile drivers that are specifically designed to meet the demands of commercial solar contractors and the expansive solar fields they install.
Choosing the right model
According to Savage, solar contractors typically want to average 150 to 200 piles driven per day per machine. And, large-scale solar farms can have hundreds of thousands of piles to be driven. This makes efficiency and accuracy so important because contractors don’t want to have to go back and redo anything. On installation projects of any scale, it’s about efficiency — the quicker they’re in and out, the better it is for overall productivity.
To respond to the market demand for pile drivers that can quickly and efficiently get this type of work done, Vermeer offers two models: The PD5 pile driver can do up to 15-foot (4.6-m) long piles, and the PD10 pile driver can do up to 20-foot (6.1-m) long piles. “Choosing the right Vermeer pile driver model will depend on how fast and how many piles a contractor wants to drive in a day,” finished Savage.
According to Savage, project type makes a difference when choosing the right pile driver for the job. There are two basic types of ground mount solar projects, distributed (point-of-use) and utility scale projects. If a contractor plans to focus on distributed projects, they would want to consider a PD5 for its light footprint allowing smaller transport vehicles. The quick setup/teardown feature of the PD5 lends itself well for doing multiple small distributed sites per day. If a contractor plans to focus on utility scale projects, they could consider either the PD5 or PD10 due to having multiple units on the same jobsite for a number of days.
Another consideration is the mode of operation that best fits the customers. The PD5 is available as either a fully remote-operated machine or manually operated machine. The PD10 is available as either a ride-on machine or fully remote-operated machine.
According to Savage, what really makes Vermeer pile drivers stand apart in the market is their lightweight, compact footprints, as well as their ability to move from pile to pile accurately and efficiently — a distinct advantage over other pile driving options available in the solar industry.
For example, the precise ground drive control on both of these Vermeer models is specifically engineered to enable operators to spend less time installing each pile and move efficiently from one pile to the next. “We worked with GPS providers to develop onboard technology that makes it possible for Vermeer pile drivers to help reduce surveying time and install piles at the correct location, depth and plumb” said Savage. “Our integrated control system offers the operator a variety of machine information, including pile plumb and height, to assist with getting each drive lined up and executed correctly.”
Boasting a smaller design compared to traditional pile driving machines, the PD5 weighs in at 10,380 pounds (4,708 kg) and measures 9.2 feet (2.8 m) in length by 12.5 feet (3.81 m) in width. The larger PD10 only weighs 14,135 pounds (6,411.5 kg) and measures 10.2 feet (3.1 m) in length by 10.1 feet (3.07 m) in width.
Responding to the market need for operator-friendly, productive machines, Vermeer pile driver models come standard with unique features like auto plumb, which allows operators to set piles perfectly straight up and down. With auto plumb, the mast automatically moves to a plumb orientation with a touch of a button, reducing both cycle time and out-of-plumb piles. And for added versatility on jobsites, Vermeer offers remote-controlled variances of the PD5 and PD10 machines.
But most importantly, said Savage, of all the distinct advantages that Vermeer pile drivers offer is that these machines come with the extensive Vermeer dealer network to support the customer and the equipment after the purchase.
This is a huge advantage for the Vermeer brand as many of the existing products on the market are only sold directly from the manufacturer and only supported by the factory. “Since many solar-installation contractors travel frequently, equipment service and support are critical to their overall efficiency,” said Savage, “Whether it’s California, Minnesota, Florida or Texas — they’re all over the place. So, they cannot wait week after week to get parts and service from the factory that’s nowhere near them.”
He finished, “As solar started really taking off, these crews were on their own, more or less. They need local support, and the Vermeer dealer network provides that.”
If you have questions about Vermeer pile drivers contact your local Vermeer dealer.
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