For over 50 years, Japan's Giken Group of Companies (Giken Ltd.) has been making revolutionary advances in piling technology. Their aim has been to use their innovations to create dynamic, positive change that enhances efficiency and delivers social benefits. Following the devastation of the Second World War, Japan had a lot of rebuilding to do. In fact, Japan's major cities were massive construction projects, with people living side by side with heavy equipment, clouds of dust and constant noise. This was the world in which Akio Kitamura, founder of The Giken Group of Companies, started his career as a builder and innovator. Kitamura got his start in construction as an assistant equipment operator with the Kochi Construction Centre back in the 1960s. He learned much and was able to take this forward with the founding of his first enterprise, The Kochi Giken Engineering Consulting Company, a firm he launched in 1967. The company was busy, and Kitamura soon learned that citizens of the city were unhappy about the constant noise of vibration hammers that were pounding foundations into the ground as the country rapidly rebuilt. Following an incident where an angry resident, whose restaurant business was hampered by the construction noise, assaulted one his workers, Kitamura vowed to find a solution. Solutions to the noise problem proved challenging. To make progress, Kitamura enlisted the help of Yasuo Kakiuchi, a construction professional with an engineering background. Together, the pair was able to create the world's first silent, vibration free piling machine in 1973, with the Giken Silent Piler making its local market debut two years later. In 1975, the Silent Piler was introduced to the world at the International Environmental Prevention Exhibition in Osaka. And, while the patent gave sole use of the Silent Piler to Kochi Giken Engineering Consulting Company, a fact that could have presented a strong business hand for the firm, Kitamura saw the benefit the device could have for society, so he agreed to allow the sale of the Silent Piler widely in Japan. By the 1980s, the Giken Silent Piler was in use globally, with Sweden taking the first European order in 1983. The Silent Piler is a "reaction-based" hydraulic pile-jacking, non-vibratory machine that operates with a minimal noise impact to install steel sheet and tubular piles. This technology can be applied in both soft and hard ground conditions and for the installation of U and Z profile sheet piles in both singles and pairs. Unlike traditional impact hammer and vibratory systems, Giken's equipment utilizes forceful hydraulics to push the piles down into the ground in a manner that greatly reduces noise pollution. These systems are also compact, which means piling contractors can more easily access challenging sites. With the Giken Silent Piler making positive advances in construction, the company began opening international offices to consolidate support for sales. The London, U.K., office opened in 1990, followed by another European location launched in the Netherlands the next year. Driving Giken farther still has been the company's "Construction Revolution" concept, based on five core principles: environmental protection, aesthetics, safety, the economy and speed. Since 1993, Giken has advocated and promoted this "Revolution" to create a new standard that surpasses the conventions of the current construction industry. According to the company, "The 'Construction Revolution' breaks the shackles of convention and leads to a great paradigm-shift of the global construction industry." A good case-in-point has been the development of EcoPark and EcoCycle, two examples from the 1990s of revolutionary design approaches to a city planning challenge. EcoPark is an earthquake-proof underground car parking facility that uses a robotized system to place vehicles in a silo-like below grade garage. EcoCycle offers a similar set up, but for bicycles. Behind this is Kitamura's philosophy that a culture of a city should be above ground for the people to enjoy, while the functionality of a city should be below ground and out of view. Both EcoPark and EcoCycle allow for greater harmony within the urban environment and conform to Giken's core principles. Both projects also demonstrated Giken's abilities to create complex underground structures that met the challenges of Japan's unique geology. Working to further develop its press-in technology, Giken joined forces with Cambridge University in 1993. This initiative has led to the launch of the International Press-in Association (2007), a group tasked with research and development of the technique that has gained wide-global acceptance. Internationally, Giken Ltd. has been able to grow its global market though an expanding network of sales offices. Already mentioned are the European branches that opened in 1990 and 1991. By 1996, Singapore had come on board and the U.S. joined the team in 1999, with an office in Orlando, Fla. It was during this period in the 1990s that Giken announced it had sold its 2,000th Silent Piler machine. It also announced a major addition to the product line-up with the Crush Piler (1997), a press-in piler that featured a simultaneous auger to tackle hard subsurface jobs hampered with boulders and rock layers. A major test of Giken's engineering came during Japan's earthquake of 2011. Using its press-in method, Giken had created a number of implant structures designed to withstand strong ocean forces following an earthquake. While other devices such as concrete buttresses were washed away in the post-earthquake tsunami, the Giken implants worked as designed. Today, Giken has built and delivered in excess of 3,500 Silent and Crush Pilers. This success has generated real value for stakeholders of the company that is now listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Revolutionary thinking Giken reports that its growth has been steady and measured. The mission to challenge traditional methods has been consistent all along the road from 1967 to 1975 to 2018. An example of this thinking can be seen in how Giken looks at permanent structures. The traditional approach is to see functionality as never changing. Giken said, "In this decade, when the progress of technology development and cultural development is significant, we need to change our way of thinking regarding the 'permanent structure' that makes its purpose, location and functionality unchangeable. This endorses the need for society to demand a new approach to construction. "In order for us to sustain our society, we need to adjust ourselves according to changes of time and development of culture. It will require us to flexibly manage the life cycle of functional [structures] such as changes in function of infrastructures, restoration of natural environment and re-cycle of construction material. "The issue of how to demolish and re-use or recycle structures at the end of their life should be 'engineered' into every structure. This is the key to sustainable development and total design, incorporating flexible functional changes and end-of-life recycling processes." Behind this thinking is a desire to discover solutions. Certainly, the provision of solutions to engineering challenges is what drives Giken forward. For example, in New York City, Hurricane Sandy hammered the 114-year old subway in 2012. Repairs have been fraught with challenges. To get on the right side of these challenges, the New York Transport Authority approved the use of Giken's Hard Ground Press-in Method to get around problems such as rock and buried metal, and limit damage to existing below grade infrastructure. The reports have been so positive on Giken's Press-in pilers in New York's subway repair that expectations are that these devices will make themselves better known across the U.S. The path from a Kochi work site and an angry sushi chef that resulted in the development of the first Silent Piler has been a long one. However, the socially positive philosophies of Kitamura and the engineering prowess that sought those first solutions is one that promises to maintain the drive to innovate and push The Giken Group of Companies to even greater heights. Expect much from this company in its next 50 years. t This article first appeared in Piling Canada and is reprinted here with permission.
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