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Rising to the engineering challenge


“The Rethe Bridge in Hamburg was a particularly challenging project from the point of view of its technical difficulty, its scope and also the risks it presented,” says Director Tim Neidhardt, who joined the family company in 2009 and is responsible for its commercial and international activities. “However, our activities are not just limited to large scale projects, we cover everything from big to small.”

The main criterion for Neidhardt Grundbau’s involvement in a project is a need for some form of special foundation support. Here it is able to provide the technical equipment and experienced operators needed to carry out the actual work as well as the engineering know-how to advise architects and clients exactly what measures are needed to ensure the long-term stability of the completed structure.

“In terms of this highly specialized niche and in terms of our size and capacities, we are the only independent operator able to tackle projects of a similar size,” says Mr. Neidhardt. As cities continue to evolve and new buildings replace dilapidated structures, the need for Neidhardt Grundbau’s services can only grow. Part of that service is checking for unexploded ordinance from the second world war.

“Even 70 years after the end of the war, we still find unexploded bombs when excavating under older buildings,” says Mr. Neidhardt. “This makes the work even more dangerous but it is now part of the routine of our job, even if these bombs still make the headlines.”

Removing them safely is vital when you consider that the nature of Neidhardt Grundbau’s work means it has to drill deep into the earth in order to set structural piles. “The main tools that we use are highly effective drilling machines that are able to work in very confined spaces,” says Mr. Neidhardt. “On average these are just 2 m wide and 7 m long but 25 t in weight.

The company also holds a number of patents regarding installation methods. It currently holds a patent for a method of working underwater without the need for divers.

“Each project brings its own challenges and often we have to come up with an innovative new way to solve the particular problem facing us,” describes Mr. Neidhardt. “That is one of the fascinating aspects of the job. As engineers, we are constantly using our skills and knowledge in new ways.”

The Rethe Bridge project in Hamburg is a prime example. The presence of groundwater complicated the work by exerting enormous pressue on the drill holes. Here, the company’s engineers were working against a water column of up to 15 m to drill holes up to 18 cm in diameter.

For the future, Neidhardt Grundbau is keen to expand further in foreign markets. These activities account for between 5% and 10% of turnover. “These projects are often much more complex, particularly when they concern infrastructure,” says Mr. Neidhardt. “However, if we want to retain our technological leadership, we have to challenge ourselves with such projects and the steep learning curve they present. That is more important than growth on its own.”

Through the ups and downs of the construction sector in the past 30 years, Neidhardt Grundbau has overcome difficult times in the past by focusing on sustainable growth in the boom years. This will continue to be its strategy for the future.

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