Interview with Phil Brackett, Deep Foundation Specialist for New York and New Jersey
You’re here at EAS after 17 years at CHANCE Civil Construction, the world leader in helical pile manufacturing, how did you get here?
“I started at CHANCE with the goal of finding and establishing the right distribution partners in Northeast. After successfully finding the right distributors, I was challenged with doing the same in Canada and Alaska. After 7 years of interviewing and negotiating, I established four new distribution alliances to serve the region and revenues increased by 241%.
In 2006, CHANCE lost their use patent which “opened the door” to competition. The competitive landscape seemed to change overnight with anyone-and-everyone making a helical product. We went from being the only manufacturer of helical piles at national trade shows to being one of a dozen within a few years. I quickly realized the need for innovation and new product and market development. I brought on new sales agents in the Midwest and Northeast for an under-performing product and fortunately sales shot up.
After hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast, I was tasked with developing a strategy for CHANCE to address the massive need for new sectional foundations under the thousands of impacted structures. I worked with local municipalities and state agencies to provide foundation solutions to restore homes and businesses affected by Sandy. From 2013 to 2018 we provided deep foundations for over 3,200 structures.
In 2016, I was made aware that 18 billion dollars had been allocated for infrastructure upgrades in NYC over the next 5 years and most of that would be for water and sewer. This meant that piles would be needed. I had developed relationships within the NYC DDC and the contractors that serve them. I then reached out to two close colleagues and within a week we had come up with an innovative and patentable concept.
We scheduled a date to test and install the pile and after a few field modifications to the pile; the installation went better than expected including excellent grout take. We tested the pile and it tested twice the expected capacity. This was the launching point for the DRIVECAST displacement pile. A principle at GZA Geotechnical was intrigued with the potential of Drivecast. GZA has been a part of all the testing and development of the pile ever since.
After a year of testing to satisfy the requirements of the NYC DDC we received acceptance of the product and it was used in project number 1. HUBBELL Power Systems (the parent company of CHANCE) was quick to acquire DRIVECAST and is the sole owner and manufacturer.
Getting back to the question of “how did you get here?” I enjoyed working with the people of HUBBELL, and still do, but I discovered that my passions lie with being on the front line. Working so closely with both the engineering community and with the installers, I’m able to turn real-world experiences into actionable plans and solutions much, much quicker and with greater satisfaction.”
What are some of the changes you’ve seen over the past 17 years?
“I’ve seen a significant increase of helical pile manufacturers enter the market and create momentum. There’s a more prolific awareness of helical piles and their uses among the engineers and designers. This market shift has brought challenges. It’s created misnomers such as pipe is better than square shaft with no science or data to back it up… being driven by convenience. Manufacturing costs have gone up, manufacturing labor is more challenging, raw materials have increased exponentially, and there’s a significant amount of competition “polluting” the marketplace with inferior products.
What’s a big “eye opener” for you now being on the front lines of helical pile distribution?
“The challenge of supporting the market with the right inventory, managing time and resources to support those who are aligned with us and keeping them profitable…the good news… so far we’ve been able to do just that.”
What part of the business are you drawn to most… why?
I am drawn to identifying those engineers, installers and owners who are the most closely aligned with EAS’ focus on value delivery and not just the “no price low enough” mentality, which doesn’t serve anybody.”
Do you stay in touch with your former coworkers at CHANCE… what input do/would you have for them now that you’re on the “other side”?
“I do, and I would suggest that management should engage with the end user at the job-site level on a frequent basis. It’s invaluable to experience their challenges. It makes all the testing and manufacturing tasks very real.”
With all the changes you’ve seen, do you feel like “crystal balling” any predictions or trends you see on the horizon?
“Yes, I’m confident that those who collaboratively innovate to provide greater efficiency will rise to the top. They’ll gain market share. Those who don’t, will waste their resources on fighting price wars with those who are on a race-to-the-bottom.”
Can you please relay a recent story that will help illuminate these changes or predictions?
“Yes. Due to the recent ascension of DRIVECAST and its measurable advantages, we have been able to displace competing technologies and provide the city of New York a $4.7MM savings on one 1,100 pile project. The savings is on hard costs alone.
There are other considerations that make this an even better “win” for the city, for example; the project was able to be completed in a shorter time, there was less traffic disruption, less noise and mess in the neighborhoods, less spoils, more trees preserved, and most importantly, a more reliable higher capacity pile. It’s a project that’s a real source of pride for me and the EAS team.”