The piling and diaphragm walling industry has long raised issues concerning the standard of prefabricated reinforced cages both from a safety and quality perspective and the Federation of Piling Specialists (FPS) as the sector's representative body is extremely keen to improve standards. However, the FPS recognises that the issues are not one-sided, with the prefabricated reinforcement cage suppliers having equally a number of concerns, which require the support and assistance of the piling and wider construction industry to address.
The issues raised by FPS members include, bars and objects falling out of cages once delivered to site; variability in quality standards, some cage manufacturers not recognising the importance of health and safety culture or developing that within their businesses; health and safety concerns surrounding sonic pipes and other items fixed inside the cages, and splicing systems - users have their preferences, but suppliers consider them as their intellectual property and as such there is a real need for these systems to be risk-assessed, especially in relation to tolerances and limitations. A number of FPS members have been auditing suppliers' facilities and defining their required standards but there is currently no common standard.
Cage supplier's concerns focus on the industry lead-in times being too short leading to inadequate time to prepare and unrealistic manufacturing periods with all too often notices of intent to accelerate appearing, which means having to start fabrication before designs are finalised; the recognition of efficient bar lengths longer than 12m, with 15-16m long bars being more ideal; the designing of cages for piles with helicals, not rings, to tie in with automated manufacturing processes; designers varying cut-off levels for wall cages for every pile/panel even when differences are small, when it would be much more efficient to standardise cages where possible; and clients wanting different types of lifting bands - inside/outside/triple wrap but then wanting different sizes, welding requirements, etc.
It is clear that with such a spread of issues there is a real need for the FPS to work with suppliers to overcome the challenges with the aim of improving standards and the efficiency of the process. The process has already begun with a meeting being held between representatives of cage suppliers and the FPS.
One initiative proposed by the FPS is the establishment of a common standard to cover the manufacture and supply of reinforced cages. With such a standard, an audit could easily be developed and carried out by the FPS rather than by each and every piling company. With the results of the audit shared among FPS members, the number of audits suppliers would have to submit to would be vastly reduced as well as the number of audits FPS members have to carry out. More importantly, it should facilitate a way of ensuring continuous improvement in standards.
While members would always be free to use any cage supplier, it is clear that having established standards it will be difficult for members to use suppliers that do not meet these standards.
Although early days the willingness of both parties to work together to solve what are quite complex issues is almost a blueprint for the resolution of other problems in the sector. In the first instance, we will hopefully see progress made towards establishing a standard and an associated audit for the supply and manufacture of cages that improves safety, raises quality and improves efficiency both in the manufacturing facility and on site.
Phil Hines is the chair of the UK's Federation of Piling Specialists (FPS)