Welcome to vulcanhammer.info, the site about Vulcan Iron Works, which manufactured the durable air/steam line of pile driving equipment for more than a century. Many of its products are still in service today, providing reliable performance all over the world. There’s a lot here, use the search box below if you’re having trouble finding something. Also look at the end of an article, there are helpful links to more information with every post.
Leaders is the generic term for the guide which allows the pile hammer to be positioned on top of the pile and then started to drive the pile to its desired head elevation. Although not a prominent part of Vulcan product line, the company did produce leaders of many kinds. This page is also intended to give an overview of pile hammer leaders in general.
Leaders can be broadly categorised in two ways: the method by which they interface with the hammer and the way by which they are connected to (and guided by) the crane.
Pile hammer leaders basically guide the hammer in one of two ways: from the side or from the back.
Vulcan hammers–in common with most American pile hammers–were guided from both sides of the hammer, with both hammer and pile between the guides. Leaders such as this are referred to as “U-type” leaders. Most of the Vulcan hammers shown on this site are riding in U-type leaders, both onshore and offshore.
European practice prefers to guide the hammer from the back. This is generally referred to as a “spud” type leader. The spuds have both a structure for stiffness and rails to interface with the hammer. These rails can be of several types, including round rails (Delmag, Nilens) or two channels back to back (Russian.)
A Delmag diesel hammer using a European spud-type leader. Although not a Vulcan hammer, this photo was taken in the process of preparing a bid for Vulcan to design and fabricate the leaders for this hammer. Photo taken near West Palm Beach, FL.
Vulcan hammers were also driven in front of the leaders. This Super-Vulcan hammer is using what Raymond hands referred to as an “outboard extension.” Because air/steam hammers tend to be heavy, the extension had to be very rugged.
There are several methods of interfacing the leaders with the crane, depending upon the nature of the job and the preference of the contractor:
Fixed Leaders and Spotters
Offshore Leaders, Stub-Type Leaders or Flying Extensions
The most common type of leaders, these are simply suspended from the crane (at some distance.) For most plumb pile applications, they are suitable.
An example of swinging leaders in use. The concrete piles are being driven for a marina in Norfolk, VA, September 2009. The leaders are suspended from the crane and are hanging from the hook block. There is an additional line for the Vulcan hammer as well. the “headache ball” immediately to the left of the leaders is a useful part of the rigging. Although the hammer is heavy, when the hammer is disconnected from the cable, if there is no weight, the weight of the cable behind the boom point will pull the cable back through the boom point. To remedy this problem requires one of two solutions: Lay the boom down and rethread the cable. Send someone up the boom to pull the cable through, a very dangerous operation and one that should be avoided at all costs (although this webmaster has seen it done.) The headache ball, in reality, saves many other headaches on the job.
Swinging leaders used to drive a batter pile in Arkansas. Swinging leaders can be used to drive batter piles, but this requires a) leads with good structural integrity (a must in any case,) b) a good place on the ground to stab or secure the leaders, to prevent slippage and c) a skilled, experienced crane operator.
The Vulcan IC-30 diesel hammer in “U-type” leaders. The leader is a swinging type adapted to work as a stub-type leader, similar to the offshore hammers.
Underhung leaders are attached to the boom point, either rigidly or through a cable. Underhung leaders at one time were popular, but have been largely displaced by fixed leaders.
Underhung leaders using a spotter at the base to adjust the angle of the leaders.
Underhung leaders, using the barge itself as the method to keep the leaders at the proper angle.
Fixed (Extended) Leaders
Fixed leaders are connected to the crane at two points: the boom point, generally using a swivelling connector, and at the base of a crane using a spotter. This setup allows the maximum manoeverability of the pile hammer, which is especially important for complex batter piles. It is also generally more efficient in moving from one pile to the other. The concepts and examples of the various features of fixed leaders are shown in the photographs below.
Definition of “in” and “out” batter in English and French, from the Nilens literature, showing a spud type leader.
An example of a complete fixed leader system is shown. The leaders themselves were fixed at two points: the boom point and the spotter. Included in fixed leaders is the ability to perform in and out batter using the spotter, to lift and lower the pile and hammer using the headblock and rooster sheaves, and in this case to perform side batter using the moonbeam spotter.
The “universal saddle adapter,” to mate the fixed leaders to the crane boom. Note the ladder on the sides of the leaders are made of rebar, to create a skid-resistant rung.
The hydraulic moonbeam spotter, built for the U.S. government. Unfortunately,even in the 1970’s, the moonbeam spotters were being displaced by hydraulic “parallelogram” type spotters, which afforded more flexibility in manoevering the leaders and hammer.
Transition to hydraulics: a cable spotter in Vulcan’s facility in the early 1990’s, a part of Vulcan’s nascent used equipment efforts. In the front is the connection to the leaders, the back to the crane. The spotter is hinged at the rear so that it can move up and down; at the front it is set up to allow the side motion of the leaders as well.Completely hydraulic spotters have displaced cable and moonbeam alike. Also, some leaders are able to move vertically relative to both the boom point and spotter connections. These are very useful for driving piles that are well below the crane, such as is common with railway applications.
The “universal saddle adapter,” to mate the fixed leaders to the crane boom. Note the ladder on the sides of the leaders are made of rebar, to create a skid-resistant rung.
Details of various types of leader-crane interfaces, left and right, by number: 1. Drop hammer leads. The hole between the channels allows for the cable which lifts the ram to run. 2. Lifting bale for swinging or underhung leaders. This bale is commonly hinged with swinging leaders. 3. Straight adapter places, also used with underhung leaders. 4. Straight Saddle Adapter, for fixed leaders which don’t require side batter.
Details of various types of leader-crane interfaces, left and right, by number: 5. Universal Saddle Adapter, which allows side batter of the leaders. 6. Trackback slide carriage, which adds another degree of freedom: up and down the boom point, if not too often. 7. Trackback wheel carriage, for more frequent up and down the boom point. 8. Rooster sheaves, to help direct the hoisting lines from the boom point to the headblock at the top of the leaders.
A headblock for leaders the Special Products division built for the U.S. Army. Headblocks are essential with fixed leaders as the lines which raise and lower the hammer, lines for picking up the pile, and in some cases lines for drills and other accessories are included.
A telescoping spotter with manual adjustment for the extension and no provision for side-to-side motion for the batter. The simplest form of spotter.
Stub (Offshore) Type Leaders
These leaders are a shortened version of swinging leaders. They are intended for use with a template, which both holds the pile in place and sets the batter angle of the pile as well. Virtually all of Vulcan hammers used offshore were run in these leaders.
From a corporate standpoint, the Vulcan Expanding Mandrel (right) was one of its more forgettable products. But the application of mandrel-driven shell piles is an important one in deep foundations, as it represents, from a design standpoint, an interesting combination of driven and drilled piles.
Pile Shells and Mandrels
Driven piles can be divided into two types: low displacement piles (such as H-beams and to some extent open-ended pipe piles) and high displacement piles (wood piles, concrete piles and closed-ended pipe piles.) Which one you use depends upon the application and the geotechinical environment you’re working in.
Advocates of drilled piles, such as drilled shafts and auger-cast piles, note that, once you’ve drilled the hole into the ground (or while you’re drilling,) you can fill the hole with reinforcing steel and concrete and have a deep foundation. The main weakness to that approach is that, in many soils, the soil will either completely collapse into the hole or contaminate the concrete during the pour, thus compromising the integrity of the foundation.
Closed-ended pipe piles eliminate this by providing a barrier between the concrete (which the pile is filled with after driving) and the soil, both along the shaft and at the toe of the pile. They also provide whatever advantage there is in displacing the soil during driving. However, to prevent collapse during driving, a minimum wall thickness is required for driving which is beyond what is necessary for the structural integrity of the foundation.
So what if the wall thickness could be reduced, saving the expense of steel unnecessary to the foundation? The answer to that “what if” is mandrel-driven piles. By using a heavy mandrel which is inserted into the pile before installation and driving the mandrel, the impact force is transmitted along the pile shaft, thus reducing the driving stresses the pile experiences (as opposed to transmitted all of them through the pile head.) Getting a mandrel that can survive the rigours of driving has been one of the greatest challenges of driven piles.
The most elaborate system of shell piles (as opposed to regular pipe piles) and mandrels developed was the Raymond Step-Taper system, with its matched system of pile configurations and mandrel cores. This was used successfully for many years, but is a very specialised operation. (Another solution to driving Step-Taper Piles was a hammer which actually was inserted into the pile, as described in the Vulcanhammer.info Guide to Pile Driving Equipment.)
A more generic solution was to use corrugated steel pile, similar to the corrugated pipe used in storm water drainage. Thin walled, reasonably rugged in handing and economical, corrugated shell pile is probably the most common type of mandrel-driven pile in use. The shell is lifted into place in the leaders, the mandrel is inserted into the pile and locked into place, the mandrel and pile are driven into the ground, the mandrel is removed and the shell pile filled with concrete. To prevent soil from plugging the shell, a boot is frequently used at the pile toe. Shell piles can also be installed on a batter (as shown above,) something that drilled piles have serious difficulty with.
An interesting side note is that it is necessary in many cases to cut off portions of the shell for proper pile length. In Third World countries, the cut-offs find their way into use as culverts in poor sections where the authorities have not seen fit to provide proper drainage.
More details on this can be found in Vulcan Bulletin 90, which you can download by clicking on the cover image to the right. This also shows a cross-section of Vulcan’s mandrel as well.
Vulcan Expanding Mandrel
Vulcan’s Expanding Mandrel was designed by Clemens Hoppe of Hercules Concrete Pile, patented under U.S. Patent 2,977,770, and licensed to Vulcan. It was produced in two sizes, 12″ and 14″, which corresponded to the two sizes of shells it was intended to mate with. The driving head at the top of the mandrel was configured to mate with either a Vulcan #1 or Vulcan #0 series of hammers.
The mandrel used a system of cams to expand the mating surface of the mandrel to the corrugations of the shell. A manual cam lever at the top of the mandrel is used to expand the mandrel once it has been inserted into the shell. Once the pile is driven, in theory the lever could be used to radially collapse the mandrel and permit its extraction from the driven shell.
“In theory” is important because the Vulcan mandrel, in common with just about every other mandrel in use, was prone to become jammed due to the impact of driving. This brings up one aspect of mandrel use that is well known amongst those who do it: mandrel driving is some of the most difficult driving a pile driver can experience (offshore pile driving is probably the most difficult of all.) To start with, the mandrel is by definition a “high impedance” transmitter of force, which means that it presents a high apparent resistance to the hammer.
Beyond that, when the mandrel jams, the most common method of freeing it up is a delightful procedure called “bumping out,” where a sling is wound around the mandrel head to a beam above the ram. The ram is sent upward to impact the beam; like a pile extractor, the sling transmits the upward impact to the mandrel head and (hopefully) loosens the mandrel to allow its extraction. Raymond superintendents were especially adept at this, which helped earn them a reputation as hard on the equipment. It also inspired Raymond to develop the full-length column rods and later cables to hold its hammers together, something which Vulcan belatedly adopted.
The Vulcan Expanding Mandrel, manufactured primarily at the West Palm Beach facility, was mildly successful, but never dominant in the shell pile market. Although Vulcan’s distribution system was part of the problem, the Vulcan mandrel lacked the durability of the more popular Rusché and Guild Mandrels (something that the latter’s inventor, Charlie Guild, wasn’t shy about reiterating!) Both Guild and Fred Rusché were serious Christians; perhaps their experience in the shell pile installation business was an impetus for that!
Charlie Guild may not have cared for the Vulcan mandrel, but the air/steam hammer is another story: below is a photo showing one of Charlie’s Cobi mandrels used with a Vulcan hammer.
The Vulcan Expanding Mandrel, probably having just been removed from the shell pile it has just driven at a job in Indio, California, near Palm Springs. At the start of driving, the shell is hoisted into the leaders and the mandrel lifted above the head of the shell and inserted into the shell. In the event that the leaders weren’t long enough for both mandrel and shell, a “doodle pipe” could be used. This is a pipe slightly larger than the shell’s outside diameter, driven at one place on the jobsite and completely clear of internal soil. A shell would be first inserted into the doodle pipe, then the mandrel lowered into the shell and expanded, and finally the assembly would be lifted out of the doodle pipe and positioned for proper installation.
Expanding Mandrel on the same site, being driven with its shell by a Vulcan hammer.
Nice job sites were a fringe benefit of the mandrel. Here it’s being used in the installation of the foundation of an addition for the Cadillac Hotel in Miami Beach, FL. Today the Cadillac Hotel (a Marriott Courtyard hotel) is on the National Register of Historical Places. Guess that includes the foundation!
And after your’re done: because they were intended to be filled with concrete, it was sometimes necessary to clean them out. Vulcan’s solution was the Sly-Vac Pump, which used compressed air to lift the sand and water out of the hole and prepare it for concrete placement.
The 1970’s saw the end of the production of the Vulcan Expanding Mandrel.
Energy conservation is an important consideration today in a world where the competition for energy sources is intensified by rising demand. But making best use of fuel isn’t new, and both the Vulcanaire Supertherm and the Airmizer hammers were Vulcan’s contribution to energy savings.
Both of these products were the original idea of Moses Hornstein, the owner of Horn Construction in Merrick, NY. He was evidently focused on saving fuel and energy in the operation of his hammers.
The installation of the VULCANAIRE SUPERTHERM is intended to raise the volume of air produced by compressor through the expansion of air by the use of heat. To achieve this; exhaust gases, which are normally wasted, are diverted through the use of a diverter valve and transferred through a heat exchanger through which also passes air from the receiver on the compressor. The temperature of the air is maintained within certain limits by the use of an automatic control device to produce the greater volume of air to be used on equipment at an elevated temperature.
The objective for the contractor was to use a smaller compressor to power the same size of pile hammer.
Although the unit worked as intended and performed well, the simple concept didn’t translate into a simple design. With numerous parts and complex fabrication and assembly, the unit was uneconomical to produce and difficult to install. Air compressor manufacturers learned how to use hot exhaust gases in other ways to improve the energy efficiency of their products.
By the late 1970’s, even with the elevated energy prices of the era, production of the Vulcanaire Supertherm had gone cold.
Hornstein was not content with increasing the efficiency of his compressors: he and Vulcan commissioned the Austrian engineer John J. Kupka to develop the “Airmizer” hammers. These were compound hammers similar to MKT’s “C” hammers, and used a similar cycle that James N. Warrington used with the California hammers. Some photos of this hammer are shown below.
HC-6 hammer, front view. It had a 6,000 lb. ram, and, unlike many of the other Airmizer hammers, was held together with cables rather than tie rods. Vulcan’s aversion for tie rods was consistent; addition of cables was probably a major improvement for the hammer.
Back view of the HC-8 hammer.
Front view of the HC-8 hammer, which had a 8,000 lb. ram.
An angled view of the HC-8 hammer.
HC-10 Airmizer hammer, with a 10,000 lb. ram.
HC-10 Airmizer hammer, with a 10,000 lb. ram. The “front door” of the hammer both protected the fluid valve from being hit (the MKT and Nilens hammers did not) and allowed for easy access. Vulcan wags, however, would say that easy access was necessary with a fluid valve, which was a long-standing Vulcan peeve.
The general arrangement of the HC-8 Airmizer hammer with cables holding it together.
Expensive to build and complex in construction, the Airmizer hammers were less successful than the Supertherm, and the remaining inventory was scrapped in the late 1970’s.
Creating excitement in a “need-driven” type of equipment like pile driving equipment isn’t easy, especially one with as long of a history as Vulcan’s. Vulcan tried to do just that with the 106 hammer, a hammer which both technically and from a marketing standpoint came in with a great deal of promise but never quite lived up to it.
The introduction of the Vari-Cycle in the late 1960’s made it possible to change the energy of a Vulcan hammer without having to change the operating pressure. Installing the Vari-Cycle in the #1 and #0 series hammers was problematic due to leader clearance issues, but another issue was that many specifications required a certain ram weight. Additionally, the desire was there to make some improvements to the design which, although successful, was certainly not perfect.
The result of this was the 106 hammer, the “Switch-Hitter,” complete with the baseball theme as shown in the literature cover at the right. Although it was certainly possible to change the ram in a #1 hammer to an 06, the idea here was to allow this to be done without disassembling the hammer.
Other than the removable weights, the biggest objective for this hammer was to remove the keys, which are the most persistent maintenance item on a Vulcan hammer. That included the ram keys (the “Octo-Conic” system worked, but not the way it was designed,) the slide bar key, and the upper column keys, which were replaced with the column nuts. The lower column keys were left on the hammer. The 106 saw the introduction of the valve detent, designed to reduce valve flutter and the use of the ubiquitous door springs on the valve.
The 106 was introduced in 1971. Vulcan was issued a patent on these innovations (U.S. Patent 3,566,977) but, as was all too often case with pile driving equipment, the innovations didn’t pan out as expected.
The biggest problem was in the removable weights. Once installed, these would “belly out” and freeze in the space provided, and the “Switch-Hitter” would no longer switch. So the central purpose of the hammer was defeated.
Beyond that, the column nut/key combination was soon to be overshadowed by the installation of tie cables on Vulcan hammers. Already standard on Vulcan offshore hammers and Raymond hammers, the “cable through the column” arrangement was superior to the set-up on the 106.
The only innovation to be propagated from the 106 to the other hammers was the valve detent, which, although helpful, did not overcome thing such as hammer icing and the use of motor oil.
When Vulcan designed its open type differential hammers in the early 1930’s, it developed the single-acting product line from the 014 up from that. Here’s an attempt to “back engineer” the concept onto a classic Warrington-Vulcan hammer: an 06 with a raised steam chest, from the early 1960’s. Mercifully this was never tried, because the longer passage from the cylinder to the steam chest would have only encouraged more core burn-it, as it did with the offshore hammers.
A good idea gone awry: the “810” hammer. The 106 hammer featured removable weights from the ram in order to change the energy of the hammer by changing the ram weight. Here we have an 8,000 lb. ram which could be “up-weighted” to a 10,000 lb. ram. Unfortunately the weights got stuck in the ram, and the concept got stuck in the “round file.”
Vulcan produced a fair number of proposed sizes for its offshore hammers. It was frequently difficult to keep up with its customers’ demand for new sizes, in part because the size requirements could change during the development of a hammer size. One hammer that did not get built was the 430; this drawing dates from 1976. With the 560 five years earlier, Vulcan broke out of the 3′ stroke restriction and never looked back with its offshore hammers. The 430 “split the difference” with a 4′ stroke, a common stroke with some lines of hydraulic hammers. Two years later the 530 (and later the 520 and 535) appeared in Vulcan’s line. One big difference was the cables: this hammer put them to the top of the hammer like the 3′ stroke hammers, while the later hammers went only to the steam chest.
An attempt to expand the DGH hammer line was the DGH-500. The California series of hammers had at least three active sizes, and this was an attempt to match that, from 1971. Unfortunately the popularity of hydraulic tools made life hard enough for a pneumatic tool like the DGH-100, and with the uninspiring sales of the larger DGH-900, Vulcan opted to let this concept sit.
The 1960’s and early 1970’s saw hammers such as the 040, 060, 560 and 3100 push the Vulcan line to new horizons. Yet, the design was basically the same as the Warrington-Vulcan hammers of the 1890’s. The question then arose: would the design “upscale” indefinitely? This pair of hammers showed that some at Vulcan were beginning to have their doubts. Like the first differential hammers, the 3250 (3′ stroke, 150 kip ram, 450 ft-kip energy) and 4150 (4′ stroke, same ram, 600 ft-kip energy) had a “closed type” construction. Drawing some inspiration from the IPH-16, the hammer employed the “ram in a can” approach, where the ran ran in a tube like the diesel hammers. A protruding rod at the top had a cam for the valves, which were actuated by rods similar to Raymond’s 150C hammer. The ram was connected to the cylinder using the Warrington-Vulcan type connection (as opposed to the Super-Vulcan type connection) but rods were wedged into place to hold the connection together. The new Hydra-Nuts and cables were used to hold the hammer together. Patented in 1974, Vulcan presented the hammer to some of its customer base. So why did they not try this? McDermott, with the memory of the IPH-16, was probably unenthusiastic about a new style hammer this large. And the size may have been the key issue: going to a new concept with this size hammer may have been off-putting in general, better to stick with the “tried and true” design. That’s what Vulcan did with the 5100, but had this or another different approach been tried with the larger hammers, many of the difficulties Vulcan ran into with them may have been avoided.
As we noted elsewhere, Vulcan was an innovator from the beginning of the air/steam line in the 1880’s until the end of the Illinois corporation and beyond. Unfortunately, from the mid-1990’s on, Vulcan was unable to take its ideas and put them into reality. An example of this is the Sea Water Hammer. But there were other projects in the works; below are just a few of them.
Offshore wasn’t the only place where Vulcan was applying Raymond technology. When faced with hammers with ram weights larger than 10 kips, Raymond opted to use the #0 frame for hammers such as the 3/0, 4/0, 5/0 and 8/0, all with 3.25′ strokes and 12.5, 15, 17.5 and 25 kip rams respectively. This resulted in a lighter hammer than, say, the Vulcan 014, 016 or 020 hammers.
Vulcan had plans to directly incorporate cable versions of all of these hammers, but ultimately developed 5′ stroke versions of them, incorporating Raymond features both from existing Raymond hammers and from those which they were unable to bring to reality. The “flagship” of this line was the 525, featured at the right. It was a 5′ stroke version of the 8/0, albeit with a single piece ram. It would have incorporated a 125 ft-kip hammer into a 37 kip machine.
Below are links to the general assemblies and specifications of this series of hammers:
Interestingly enough, Vulcan’s last new production hammer model was the 5110, which “did a Raymond” by putting a 110 kip ram into a 560 frame. This hammer was delivered to Global in 1996 and has been successfully used offshore.
Vulcan 488 Vibratory Hammer
In 1994 Vulcan put together a design for a successor for the 4600 hammer. It was intended to compete in the larger vibratory market, especially for the driving and extraction of casings for drilled shafts. It was also suitable for driving larger sheet piling projects as well. The result of that effort was the 488 hammer; a view of the exciter is shown at the left. It included many of the features of the Foster vibratory hammers that Vulcan was producing at the time.
Vulcan 1400A Vibratory Hammer
The 400 and 1400 vibratory hammers, the first high frequency vibrators produced in North America, were introduced in 1987 and 1988, respectively, and both were successful models. Both, however, had their limitations. Both were long hammers, and although they could get into tight places, low centre-of-gravity vibros are easier to handle. Moreover neither hammer was really suited for excavator mounting and downcrowding.
The 400A addressed these concerns and became a successful hammer. In 1997 a preliminary design was drawn up for the 1400A, shown below. Unfortunately Vulcan abruptly discontinued all work on vibratory hammers after this. Click here for more information on this hammer. The design has since been completed by Pile Hammer Equipment for its excavator mast.
Everyone has an experience in their life that they count the greatest. Corporations do, too. For Vulcan Iron Works, that experience was its involvement in offshore oil development.
Come join us as we take a look at Vulcan’s involvement offshore, which follows a fascinating (and very profitable) saga of American commercial history. You can click here to start or pick one of the topics below:
Vulcan Presentation, and Menck Offshore Steam Hammer Data. A presentation prepared by Vulcan’s Executive Vice President, P.M. Warrington, for use at sales presentations for offshore customers during the mid-1980’s. Also contains valuable and additional information on Menck offshore steam hammers.
About the Photos
When putting together this collection, we wanted to tell the story of both the construction of conventional platforms. It’s tempting just to surf the web and take “stock photos;” however, we chose to use something closer to home. Virtually all of the photos in this section were either taken by Vulcan employees or were commissioned by Vulcan and taken by professional photographers. Many of these photos were rescued from destruction when Vulcan sold its Chattanooga facility; they are a priceless legacy of a great endeavour.
For their part Vulcan’s employees were not photographers; they were service, sales, technical and management people. The photos weren’t always the best, but they told the story better than just about anything else we can think of, and modern digital processing has improved many of these shots. Most of them are named in the narrative.
Although there may be others, three professional photographers are known to have their work in this collection:
Much of what we have presented about Vulcan’s offshore adventure has been done in the past tense. This is a little misleading; Vulcan hammers are still used to install offshore platforms all over the world today, simple, reliable and economical as always. The sun still does not set on working Vulcan equipment.
However, it is a fact that Vulcan equipment is not as universal offshore as it was in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The reason for this is due to the nature of the offshore industry today. To use a trite phrase, the industry itself isn’t what it used to be.
The greatest motive force for offshore development–sustained elevated oil prices–was not in place from the collapse of the oil industry in the early 1980’s until the Iraq War in 2003. In the meanwhile, the nature of offshore construction has changed, conventional platforms giving way to all kinds of structures such as undersea completions, tension leg platforms, guyed towers, gravity platforms, and the like. Some of these do not require piling at all; others require underwater hammers such as the IHC Hydrohammer. Horizontal drilling technologies have reduced the sheer number of platforms needed for a given field. In 1977 a consulting group predicted that Vulcan would literally be “left on the shelf” if it did not develop an underwater hammer, which ultimately meant a hydraulic hammer. Vulcan lacked both the expertise and the financial resources to develop such a machine; the larger steam hammers were enough of a stretch. (Click here for Vulcan’s last foray into product development of an underwater hammer, the sea water hammer.) The Gulf was not the ideal venue to develop such a machine; the harsh conditions of the North Sea, along with the superior state of mobile hydraulics in Europe, were better incubators of underwater hydraulic technology than those which were available to Vulcan.
Any product line, however, that can span three centuries and two millenia in active use must have something going for it. Today Vulcan air/steam hammers continue to support one of the greatest expeditions the human race has ever undertaken.
The second was Vulcan’s effort with its Russian associates. This concept was developed in 1994-5; one of the developers was Dmitri A. Trifonov-Yakovlev, son of Alexandr Sergeivich Yakovlev, founder and designer for the Yak aircraft design bureau. Unfortunately, Vulcan’s difficulties prevented its commercialisation. However, a patent was obtained on it (U.S. Patent 5,662,175).
The rest of this page will concentrate on the latter concept.
Purpose of the unit
The use of underwater pile hammers for the installation of foundations for deep-water offshore oil platforms dates from the 1970’s. Most of the hammers used in this application are hydraulically powered. The hammer case (they are always of closed construction) is evacuated using compressed air and the hammer is lowered onto the pile for driving.
Although these hammers have been generally successful, there are two major drawbacks.
The first concerns the possibility of spillage of hydraulic oil by the breaking of the hose or couplings or simple leakage. This is environmentally unacceptable in many jurisdictions. One obvious solution to this problem is to use vegetable or other “environmentally safe” oils; this is common with vibratory hammers. However in some applications even this type of contamination is unacceptable (food preparation, for example) and others (such as ours) the governing authorities (such as the U.S. Coast Guard) have systematically refused to enforce the laws as written and require cleaning up “safe” fluids, even edible ones.
The second concerns the evacuation of the “diving bell” for the unit, which adds to the complexity of the hammer.
To address these concerns, the sea water hammer was developed. It is in reality a special type of hydraulic impact hammer and is primarily intended for driving into the soil steel tubular piles in onshore and offshore conditions. The main fundamental differences between a sea water hammer and more conventional hydraulic hammer are the working fluid and the open construction of the sea water hammer. Both of these features will be described below.
Overview of the design
The hydraulic hammer (Figures 1-10,12-13, see below) consists of the following components:
Ram 42 in the shape of a massive, thick walled cylindrical pipe with two circular sliders 84;
Tubular casing 30 which is used as a central guide along which ram 42 moves;
Pile cap 24 inside which damper 36 is located to decrease dynamic efforts acting on casing while pile driving;
Hydraulic cylinder 96 with the system of control valves and accumulators that are located inside casing 30 of the hammer;
Traverse 88 attached to the rod ear of the cylinder 96. The ends of traverse 88 are passing through longitudinal slots in walls of casing 30 and are attached to the ram 42 via dampening blocks 84;
Upper cap 66, which is attached to the casing 30 and cylinder 96 via a flange. There are guides provided to support the high-pressure hoses. There are provided ears 64 to hang hydraulic hammer to the hook of the crane;
At the bottom of the hammer there is a system of adjustable mechanical supports 58 to prevent hammer from rollover while driving of batter (inclined) piles.The hydraulic operating and control system (Figure 11) likewise is made up of the following:
Power pack comprising two parallel 3-plunger pumps 128 equipped with electric drive and thyristor control, coarse filters 126 and fine filters 132, safety valves 136 (which are included into pumps 128), back valve 130, valve unit 138, manometer 140 and drain valve unit 142;
Working cylinder 96 with rod 102 and control cylinder 188, the upper part of which is fixed to the working cylinder 96;
High-pressure hose 110 to supply working fluid from the power pack to the cylinder;
Hydro-pneumatic accumulator 116 to smooth pressure fluctuations in the pressure line.
The control system (Figure 11) is constituted as follows:
Two-position main valve 180 with large nominal bores which provides either connection piston end or rod end of the cylinder motor or disconnection of these ends and connection piston end with drain line;
Two-position control valve (“pilot”) 176 with small nominal bores which controls main valve 180’s position;
Ram height adjuster made in the shape of a plunger 210 attached by its bottom end to the rod 94 and passing into the internal slot of control cylinder 188;
Hydro-pneumatic accumulator 120, which is connected via pipe lines with internal cavity of control cylinder 188 and via back valve 204 with pressure line of the power pack;
Mechanism of impact energy adjustment comprising of the adjustable reduction valve 146, valve unit 144, hydro-pneumatic accumulator 118 and manometer 148;
Differential hydraulic block 192 of pressure comparing in which values of fluid pressure from ram height adjuster and reduction valve 146 are compared. Block 192 is designed in the shape of piston-valve with a pusher. The area of the piston from the side of hydro-pneumatic accumulator 120 is half of the piston area on the side of hydro-pneumatic accumulator 118.
Hydraulic system of hammer starting and stop (Figure 11):
Sliding valve 156, which is driven from mechanical device providing its switching directly after ram 42 impact upon the pile cap, valve unit 150, adjustable valve 152 and hydromechanical pusher 175 which controls pilot valve 176 position.
Two (2) small flexible high-pressure hoses 112 and 114 supply working fluid into the control system of the hammer. Hydraulic system of control provides to perform from the control panel, located at the base platform, hammer starting, impact energy adjustment, stop of the hammer and making single blows of the predetermined impact energy.
The control system is free of electrical or electronic control. To accomplish this there is a centre bore in the cylinder’s piston rod. A tube extends from the top of the cylinder which fits into this bore; in turn a rod from the bottom of the main piston rod fits into the centre bore of the tube. The accumulator connected direct to the control valve has its pressure set to a desired level before the hammer’s operation starts. As the ram rises, the fluid above the central rod and inside the tube is forced upward into the accumulator. When the accumulator’s pressure (and thus the pressure of this control fluid) is sufficiently high, the hydraulically operated control/pilot valve is shifted, which in turn shifts the main valve.
Opposing this motion is the pressure on the other side of the pilot cylinder; as this pressure is varied, the point in the stroke at which the valve shifts is likewise varied. This opposing pressure is controlled by the needle valves on the power pack.
To shift the valve back at the bottom of the stroke, a roller-actuated valve is mounted so that the ram releases it near impact. This admits pressure on the other side of the control valve and shifts the valve back to depressurizing the topside of the piston. It is noteworthy that the lower side of the piston is always pressurized and pressure is alternately applied to the upper side of the piston. This helps even out the flow and also always provides for some kind of downward assist.
Vulcan commissioned a set of drawing for a prototype unit. Specifications for it are shown below. The actual production hammers could of course range in sizes comparable to hydraulic hammers suitable for the large offshore pipe piling.
Rated Striking Energy, kJ
Rated Striking Energy, ft-lbs
Ram Mass, kg
Ram Weight, lbs.
Energy with Free Drop, kJ
Energy with Free Drop, ft-lbs
Percentage of Energy w/Free Drop
Percentage of Energy w/Free Drop
Blows Per Minute
Blows Per Minute
Power Output, kW
Power Output, HP
Hydraulic Flow, l/min
Hydraulic Flow, gpm
Maximum Pressure, MPa
Maximum Pressure, psi
Hydraulic Power Input, kW
Hydraulic Power Input, HP
Percentage of Hyd. Energy over Theoretical Minimum
Percentage of Hyd. Energy over Theoretical Minimum
20 pile hammer
21 lower end portion
22 hollow piling
24 annular pile cap
25 inwardly directed lower end flange
26 recess or shoulder
27 central body recess
30 elongated, upstanding, hollow tubular base
32 annular, circular support ring
34 radial pins
36 shock absorbent material
38 upper end portion
40 annular, upper end face or anvil surface
42 hollow, heavy, generally cylindrically shaped ram
44 annular lower end surface
46 plurality of radially oriented, upwardly and outwardly sloping vent passages
Vulcan never developed an underwater hammer of its own for offshore use. Although today use of these hammers for deep water projects is routine, the road to viable offshore hammers was a long one, even for companies better situated than Vulcan to get there.
The Ocean Pile Hammer
Vulcan’s first underwater hammer was the Mariner Pile Hammer, which was an adaptation and upgrade for its original closed differential-acting hammers. Vulcan made a few of these units, but the limitations of other aspects of underwater technology made onshore construction preferable “in the dry” for a long time.
For offshore platforms, however, working in the dry wasn’t an option. With conventional platforms, it was necessary to drive piles through the legs from the top. This had two disadvantages:
Piles had to have additional length to reach from the top of the jacket to the ocean floor, which both added to the pile weight and created a long transmission line for the stress wave, with the lossses to go with it.
The “add-on” length was limited both by the working distance under the barge crane and the weight of the hammer assembly, which (on batter piles) creates a bending moment .
As long as water depths and jacket heights were limited, these disadvantages were outweighed by the ease of construction that came from driving “from the top.” However, as the exploration for offshore oil progressed further from shore and projected water depths for platforms began to approach 300 metres, it became obvious that underwater driving–which would eliminate both of the problems described above–was the long-term solution.
Steam hammers weren’t the only type of pile driving equiment Vulcan sent offshore; this Vulcan 4600 vibratory hammer is shown driving piles into the Gulf in the early 1990’s. Vibratory hammers were an excellent choice in certain applications, and they were naturally adept at underwater driving.
Steam hammers weren’t the only type of pile driving equiment Vulcan sent offshore; this Vulcan 4600 vibratory hammer is shown driving piles into the Gulf in the early 1990’s. Vibratory hammers were an excellent choice in certain applications, and they were naturally adept at underwater driving.
Vulcan’s eventual response was the “Ocean Pile Hammer,” which it presented to one contractor or another in a 20,000, 40,000, 60,000 or 80,000 lb. ram version. The hammer was basically a very large DGH-100 concept hammer, only with a single-acting mechanism. It envisioned the use of air or steam to power it, with additional air furnished to prevent the incursion of sea water. None of Vulcan’s customers took interest in the concept and so it languished.
Raymond and the “Air Gun” Hammer
Vulcan wasn’t the only entity thinking about air/steam hammers underwater. Raymond, which had produced its own steam hammers for more than half a century, financed an interesting experiment in underwater hammers which didn’t work out as expected.
Raymond recognised early on that one of the virtues of an underwater hammer would be that it would be thin, i.e., no larger than the diameter of the pile it was driving. This allowed the hammer to be threaded down through the pile guides on the sides of the platform. Also, by the early 1970’s Raymond had more experience than just about everyone else with hydraulic impact hammers with their 65CH and 80CH hammers. They understood that mobile hydraulics needed significant advances to be practical and reliable in an environment where both were crucial for economical platform installation.
Raymond turned to Bolt Associates to develop an air hammer suitable for underwater use. The Bolt Associates hammer was the invention of Stephen Chelminski. This hammer attempted to replicate the basic construction and principle of tubular diesel hammers by placing an air gun at the base of the hammer. As the ram struck the anvil, the air gun would release highly compressed air between the two, giving the ram upward momentum. The air gun also cushioned the ram impact to some degree, which was more important for onshore application than offshore. Raymond took the concept and modified it for the “thin” style hammer it desired.
Raymond was large enough of an organisation to finance extensive testing of the unit. Beginning in September 1974 they tested the RU-200 unit at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, TX. The 60,000 lb. ram hammer was placed in a 120′ deep cased hole which was filled with water. The hammer struck over 100,000 blows at refusal, performing well during the test.
Bouyed by these results, Raymond purchased an RU-300 for a job at the Maui field in New Zealand. It arrived on the jobsite in late 1975. A conventional platform, there were two types of piles to be driven:
Pin piles, which were driven through the corner legs of the platform into the seafloor. Grouted to the platform after installation, these both provided geotechnical anchoring of the platform and structural reinforcement of the tower. They were to be driven from the surface, using a Vulcan 560.
Skirt piles, driven around the pin piles (see diagram below.) Since they did not extend to the surface after installation, using an underwater hammer to drive them was advantageous as it eliminated long followers which dissipated driving energy.
Anyone who is involved in pile driving equipment development feels that new concepts and equipment always seem to get their first try on the most difficult jobs, and that was certainly the case with the Maui field.
To begin with, the sea and weather environment was poor, rivalling the North Sea. Throughout the first half of 1976, there were what seemed to be interminable delays due to weather, and the job was finally stopped in June. The hammer performed reasonably well when it had the occasion to operate. At the end of the year Brown and Root’s Atlas barge was replaced by Netherlands Offshore’s (NOC, the same company which bankrolled the HBM Hydroblok, shown below) Blue Whale.
The Raymond hammer worked its way through the first part of 1977 with several breakdowns due to dirt getting into the system (lack of sensitivity to this kind of thing was a strong point with Vulcan steam hammers, and Raymond ones for that matter.) The oil company consortium (made up of BP, Shell and Todd) felt that the Raymond wasn’t getting the energy to the pile, so they turned the job over to NOC’s Menck steam hammers. They didn’t do much better; what was happening is that the piles were experiencing severe plugging at the pile toe, a phenomenon poorly understood then. They resorted to jetting the plug with pressurised water (an unusual procedure offshore,) which helped some but not enough. NOC’s Blue Whale then was damaged during a severe storm in May 1977. The Raymond hammers, working off of a temporary work deck on the jacket, continued to perform, but in the meanwhile additional boiler capacity was installed on the Blue Whale during its repairs. The pile installation was completed in the last half of 1977 using the Menck steam hammers.
One major reason for laying down the RU-300 at the end was the hammer’s greatest weakness: its blow rate, which was only 8-10 blows/minute, as opposed to 45-60 BPM for the steam hammers. This made for slow pile installation. That blow rate was doubtless affected by the long hose that extended from the surface down through the ocean water to the hammer. The hose acted as sort of a “reverse Supertherm,” cooling the air and degrading the hammer’s performance
Raymond did not use the Bolt hammer again. Raymond was active in the offshore market for the remainder of the decade and into the early 1980’s, purchasing a number of Vulcan hammers for its offshore operation.
Menck, HBM and the “Thick” Hammers
As the 1970’s progressed, it became evident that underwater hammers were the “wave of the future” for at least some offshore oil development. Getting to that future, however, was not a straight line proposition, primarily for three reasons:
Oil companies, sensibly, would develop their shallower water fields first. Steam hammers were by far the more economical way of installing piling for these platforms.
Although elevated oil prices do encourage development of marginal and otherwise expensive to develop fields (and that includes deep water,) during the 1970’s and early 1980’s the imperative to bring oil onstream quickly discouraged the experimentation necessary to perfect new underwater technologies.
The market for these hammers was a classic monopsony, with literally a handful of buyers to sell to. Changes in the status of these buyers could make or break an expensive development programme.
Combining the last two meant basically that, in order for a hammer manufacturer to put these hammers into the marketplace, it was necessary to find a “patron” who would finance the development of the equipment. An example of this on a much smaller scale was Vulcan’s IPH-16 with McDermott.
With Raymond’s problems with its air hammer, it was also evident that hydraulic impact hammers were the best way to achieve an underwater hammer. The fact that American hydraulic component manufacturers during this era had allowed their technological edge to be seriously dulled in the field of high pressure mobile hydraulics favoured development in Europe. Beyond that, the North Sea, with its limited construction season, encouraged development of more technologically sophisticated solutions for platform construction.
The company with the longest continuous history of underwater hydraulic hammers is Menck. Menck’s patron was the Dutch contractor Heerema, which was a technological leader in self-propelled, high-crane capacity barges for the demanding North Sea environment. Heerema largely financed Menck’s entry into the market and both tested and utilised their hammers (steam and hydraulic) extensively in their platform construction projects. (More information on Menck steam hammers can be found here.)
A model of the MRBS steam hammer in its guide cage, at the 1975 Offshore Technology Conference.
A Menck underwater hammer model displayed in an aqueous tank, at the 1975 Offshore Technology Conference.
Menck’s underwater hammer programme had its moments. The first underwater hammer Menck produced for Heerema was the “thick” MRBU 6000. By Heerema’s own admission the hammer was “maltreated offshore after having driven only a single pile.” The “thin” MHU 1700 saw its first job as a prototype on the Fulmar field in the North Sea in 1980, and a year later on the Magnus field. These confirmed the basic viability of the hammer, and Heerema used the hammer on 3-4 jobs per year during the early and mid-1980’s.
As is the case with most underwater hammers, it is necessary to feed compressed air to the unit to prevent the incursion of water, making the hammer a type of diving bell. As the MHU 1700 went deeper, the increased pressure and air density resulted in a signficant increase in the drag on the downwardly travelling ram. This occasioned the re-design of the interior of the hammer. On the Eider field, the hammer’s driving was so hard that the seals gave way and allowed ingress of water into the hammer itself.
Nevertheless, through all of the changes in the marketplace and in Menck itself, the company continues to produce working hydraulic impact hammers capable of underwater construction.
A successful underwater hammer which suffered an entirely different fate was the HBM (Hollandsche Beton Maatschappij) Hydroblok hammer. This hammer was developed by HBM for concrete piles onshore, and featured a gas cushion mounted into the ram. Adjustable, it lowered the peak force and extended the impact time of the hammer, which was a very favourable feature for concrete piles.
The Hydroblok first came to Vulcan’s attention in the late 1960’s, and so it asked its Belgian partner Nilens to investigate. In a 17 February 1969 letter to President H.G. Warrington, Nilens‘ H. Hellings described the hammer and its manufacturer as follows:
The “Hollandse Beton Maatschappij” is the biggest Construction Company in the Netherlands. Since 1966 this company is trying to build an hydraulic hammer. The a.m. (aforementioned) patent (U.S. Patent 3,417,828) is the theoretical background for their invention.
They built one prototype, a double acting hammer of 6000 Kg (+ 13.228 lbs) total weight, 100 blows per minute and with a rated striking energy of 5000 kgm (+ 36.150 ft.lbs) per blow. This hammer drives a pile four times faster than a Delmag D 22 hammer.
They have now a bigger hammer in construction based on the same principles with 14.000 kgm (+ 101.220 ft.lbs) energy per blow, 100 blows per minute and a total weight of 15.000 Kg (+ 33.070 lbs).
Mr. JANSZ of H.B.M. told me that they have the possibility to make a double acting hammer of 30.000 Kg (+ 66.138 lbs) total weight with a striking energy of 25.000 kgm (+ 180.750 ft.lbs). I suppose that the H.B.M. wants to sell this patent only to an American firm, building pile driving hammers, to build the hammer for the American market.
It is not clear whether there was any follow up by either Vulcan or HBM to this contact.
Although the centre of the hammer’s development was in the North Sea, a major incursion into “Vulcan territory” (the Gulf of Mexico) took place in 1977, when two HBM 3000’s was used on Shell’s Cognac platform. Performing at water depths of 300 metres, the hammers performed well, although, driving as they were into soft clay, the blow count generally did not exceed 20 blows/ft.
Although the Hydroblok hammers were doing well, there were storm clouds on the horizon.
The first was that, although well designed hammer, the Hydroblok was a complex one. With the high impact loads, pile driving equipment does not deal with complexity gracefully. One reason Vulcan’s line has survived for more than a century is its simplicity. The HBM hammers tended to be “high maintenance.”
Third, the gas cushion that was the hammer’s most interesting feature was well suited for concrete piles. But for the high-impedance steel piles common offshore, a high peak impact force is the best. The Hydroblok hammers did well in easy to moderate driving, but against either steam or the Menck underwater hammers, in hard driving the Hydrobloks would reach refusal too soon.
Fourth, all of the Hydroblok hammers produced were “thick” hammers. Platform designers were increasingly drawn to configurations that required “thin” hammers.
HBM was working to address these problems, but time ran out rather suddenly when NOC was sold to McDermott. The latter decided that it had enough Hydroblok hammers for its requirements, and HBM’s entire underwater hammer programme collapsed. HBM’s parent sold the Hydroblok’s rights to Menck in 1981, and (except for some activity at BSP) the underwater hammer market seemed to be in the hands of one supplier.
Although BSP had some success in the offshore hydraulic hammer market, it never achieved success to the degree that its Continental competitors–Menck and IHC–did.
The IHC Hydrohammer
Dik Arentsen, who had been head of Hydroblok’s R&D at the time of NOC’s sale, initiated the development of a new line of hydraulic impact hammers for offshore driving that addressed many of the weaknesses of the Hydroblok. It took some time finding a suitable corporate harbour to drop anchor in, but he and Ernst Mudde finally did so at IHC, where development of a new competitor to the Menck hammer took place.
Vulcan first made contact with this group in 1982 and discussions went off and on throughout the 1980’s. The main stumbling block from Vulcan’s standpoint was that Vulcan was unwilling to invest in a large hammer (which were and are several times more expensive than their air/steam counterparts) give the market conditions it was facing. In the meanwhile IHC found a more receptive (and larger) customer in Heerema. Starting with an S-70, they proceeded to an S-400. Both of these hammers were successful, notably in the Gulf of Mexico, cutting into both Vulcan’s and McDermott’s territory. In 1988 Heerema ordered the S-2000. IHC was established and, with oil prices coming off of their mid-1980’s bottom, offshore came alive again with two major manufacturers of large underwater hammers.
IHC’s line was not only set up for offshore but also for onshore application. L.B. Foster was IHC’s first distributor in the U.S., but some dialogue with Vulcan continued. After Vulcan’s merger in 1996, those discussions intensified, but to no conclusion. Finally in 2001, Vulcan’s parent sold the air/steam line to IHC, which formed Vulcan Foundation Equipment, and from 2001 to 2009 the two organisations were united until the Vulcan line was sold to Pile Hammer Equipment.
Other Hydraulic Hammer Efforts by Vulcan
Although the IHC and Menck hammers were offshore underwater hammers subsequently adapted for land use, for most hydraulic hammers (such as the Hydroblok) the reverse is true. The first hydraulic impact hammers were developed for onshore use and those for offshore came afterward.
In the early 1990’s, aware that hydraulic hammers were advancing in both markets, Vulcan investigated three types of hydraulic hammers.
One was literally the first hydraulic impact hammer to be used in the U.S.: the Raymond. Vulcan acquired several of the 65CH and 80CH hammers, and eventually rebuilt an 80CH for yard testing. The initial tests showed promise but Vulcan’s difficulties in the mid-1990’s put an end to this effort. More information on the Raymond hydraulic hammers can be found in the Vulcanhammer.info Guide to Pile Driving Equipment.
Another was the Sermec hydraulic impact hammer, developed in the North of England. (The patent for this can be downloaded from here.) A video below, taken near Great Bircham, England in September 1991, shows the hammer in operation. (It also shows a BSP double acting air/steam hammer for comparison.)
The Sermec Hammer. Note that there is only one hydraulic hose for the hammer. Both the supply and return oil came though one hose, which caused some hose whip. Also note the piping on the side of the hammer, which fed the oil to the impact area, which in turn cushioned the blow.
The “competition”: a BSP double acting hammer. The hammer is similar in appearance to the Nilens double-acting hammer, and to a lesser extent the MKT double-acting hammers. Note that in both cases the hammers are configured to drive the piles without leaders; the DGH series hammers could also be set up to drive piles in this way. (It wasn’t quite a easy for the conventional Vulcan air/steam hammers, but could be done.)
Vulcan also took a serious look at marketing the Junttan hammers from Finland. Below is a video of this hammer being operated at Junttan’s facility in Kuopio, Finland, in January 1994.
Vulcan also applied its vibratory line to offshore application, especially its largest model, the 4600. Vibratory hammers are fairly easy to adapt to underwater use, being generally hydraulic and with a closed case.
In addition to private correspondence and product literature, the following articles were very helpful in the development of this page:
“Raymond develops new underwater tool.” Offshore, 1974.