Hong Kong and the Straits of Hormuz: It’s Amazing It Took This Long

Although Vulcan exported its pile driving equipment from the start, it was it’s foray into the offshore oil business that gave Vulcan a truly international perspective.  That perspective put some of the world’s “hot spots” into its field of interest, and two of them are very active these days: Hong Kong and the Straits of Hormuz.


Most of Vulcan’s activity in East Asia was in South East Asia; thus, its main “centre of focus” for its equipment and travelling personnel was Singapore.  With Vulcan’s sale of its first pile hammer package to the Petroleum Corporation of the People’s Republic of China in 1981, Hong Kong became of interest.  At the time China was a very closed country; Hong Kong acted as a window to the world, although from a commercial standpoint Vulcan didn’t use it that way.

The UK’s decision to return the entire colony to the People’s Republic when the lease on the “New Territories” (the area of Hong Kong north of Kowloon and excluding that and Hong Kong Island) expired in 1997 was formalised in 1984; however, rumours swirled about a handover years before.  The attitude of Vulcan’s business associates towards such a reintegration was bluntly summarised by one of them: “They’ll screw it up.”  The contrast between the state socialism of the People’s Republic and the free-wheeling capitalism of Hong Kong was pretty stark, and it was hard to imagine that the former would allow the latter to go on in the same way for any length of time.

Up to now the PRC has surprised many people with the relatively light hand they’ve actually had on Hong Kong.  Some of that was the desire of the PRC to have Hong Kong be a “model province” for the “capitalist roaders” in the rest of the country, an incentive for economic development.  Another factor was to make the reintegration of the greatest “wayward” region–Taiwan–more attractive to those on the island.  Still another was the PRC’s desire to maintain Hong Kong as an economic powerhouse and thus contribute to the country’s overall prosperity.

Such desires have butted up against two things: the linking of Hong Kong’s people of free expression to economic freedom, something the mainland has avoided, and recent changes in the Chinese leadership.  Now the latent conflict of the two is out in the open.  The Chinese leadership will have to tread carefully; if they don’t, they could fulfil my business associate’s prophecy and China will be the worse for it.


The Straits of Hormuz has been the central “choke point” of world oil shipments for many years.  The Persian Gulf is ringed by oil-rich nations and 20% of the world’s oil supply passes through it.  That vulnerability really came into public consciousness with the Yom Kippur War and the first “oil crisis” of 1973.  It wouldn’t take much to mine or otherwise sabotage the Straits of Hormuz, which increased the Western military interest in the place.

The countries that ring the Gulf have been aware of this vulnerability for a long time.  Saudi Arabia built its Yanbu oil terminal on the Red Sea in an attempt to provide an alternative to the Straits.  Vulcan’s first contact with and sale to the Korean contractor Hyundai was due to the fact that they were contracted to build this terminal and need pile driving equipment to accomplish it.  On the other side Iran was looking to build a major port at Chabahar on the Indian Ocean using Vulcan’s long-time customer Brown and Root, but the 1979 Revolution stopped that effort.  (The Islamic Republic built a port there, currently operated by India.)

With the Sunni-Shia divide and the ill-conceived war in Iraq (which deprived the two sides of a buffer) the Straits had opponents on both sides, and it was only a matter of time before it would become a hot spot once again.

The amazing thing in both these situations is not that they’re points of conflict, the amazing thing is that it has taken as long as it has to reach the current situation.

Pile Buck Ads 4: Link Belt Diesel with a Mandrel — vulcanhammer.net

The fourth in our series on the ads which Pile Buck allowed vulcanhammer.net to run was this shot of a Link Belt 520 driving shell piles using the Vulcan Expanding Mandrel. The mandrel’s history and shell piles in general are discussed here. The Link Belt 520 is an interesting story in itself. The diesel […]

via Pile Buck Ads 4: Link Belt Diesel with a Mandrel — vulcanhammer.net

Port of Singapore — Construction and architecture

The Port of Singapore refers to the collective facilities and terminals that conduct maritime trade, and which handle Singapore‘s harbours and shipping. It is ranked as the top maritime capital of the world, since 2015. Currently the world’s second-busiest port in terms of total shipping tonnage, it also trans-ships a fifth of the world’s shipping containers, half of the world’s annual supply of crude oil, and […]

machine-shop-repair
Vulcan hammers gained their reputation in part because they were simple, thus free from breakdown and repairable to a great extent on a derrick barge with crews that were not full time mechanics. However, there eventually came a time when a hammer needed an overhaul. Vulcan field service personnel spent a great deal of time on these kind of extended repairs, where it was necessary to put the hammer into a machine shop, disassemble the hammer, clean and recondition the workings, and reassemble the hammer. A hammer with extended exposure to salt water could prove difficult to disassemble; shown here is a Vulcan 200C getting that kind of treatment in a machine shop in East Asia. Note the use of a jack–common with this kind of equipment–to force the components of the machine apart.

Singapore and its environs was an important place for Vulcan, because it was the gateway–and frequently the repair place, as you can see on the right–for many of the Vulcan hammers that operated in Southeast Asia.  Southeast Asia, with its large regions of relatively shallow water, was fertile ground for Vulcan hammers.  Many of Vulcan’s customers–including McDermott, Jardine and Brunei Shell–used its equipment extensively in this region.

via Port of Signapore — Construction and architecture

STADYN Wave Equation Program 11: Application of the STADYN Program to Analyze Piles Driven Into Sand — vulcanhammer.net

The newest update for the STADYN research project is available: Download Application of the STADYN Program to Analyze Piles Driven Into Sand The abstract is as follows: Abstract: The STADYN program was developed for the analysis of driven piles both during installation and in axial loading. Up until now the test cases used were in […]

via STADYN Wave Equation Program 11: Application of the STADYN Program to Analyze Piles Driven Into Sand — vulcanhammer.net

Pile Buck Ads 3: Nilens Diesel Hammer Driving Sheet Piles — vulcanhammer.net

The third in our series of vulcanhammer.net ads for Pile Buck include this one, showing a Nilens diesel hammer driving sheet piling using a “spud” or “rail” type leader in the back. Nilens was one of Vulcan’s more interesting adventures in pile driving equipment. The method used is a typically European practice that has found […]

via Pile Buck Ads 3: Nilens Diesel Hammer Driving Sheet Piles — vulcanhammer.net

Hand drafting – TECHNICAL INK PENS — Construction and architecture

From the first time it produced drawings (the oldest on this site goes back to the 1870’s) until the late 1950’s, Vulcan produced all of its drawings using pen and ink, as described below (although I’ll bet that many weren’t drawn using the Rapidograph type pen shown below!)  Many of these were drawn on linen.  Above is an example of one, the general arrangement for the Vulcan 18C, from 1939.  There are many more examples of these on the site.

More about Vulcan engineering is here.

via Hand drafting – TECHNICAL INK PENS — Construction and architecture

The Art of William H. Warrington

William-H-WarringtonThis post is something of a departure, in that it features the pencil sketch art of my great uncle, William H. Warrington (right, from his carte de visite.) But first some background is in order.

William H. Warrington was born 17 September 1846, grew up in Chicago, Illinois. He became the manager of the Vulcan Iron Works, the family business. Although he was very prosperous in business, he had an artistic side to him, and here we’ll present some of his pencil sketches. As is frequently the case in my family, I don’t have much “backstory” narrative for these, but what I do know I will share.

As best I can tell, most of these date from the 1860’s, when he was in his late teens. Some have an English or Scottish settings, and this may be from travels in the British Isles. His father Henry was an immigrant from Manchester, England, and his mother Isabella McArthur Warrington came from Scotland. Both made return trips to their native land; Henry in fact did not become a U.S. citizen until 1870, almost thirty years after he first came to the U.S.

WHW-Chicago-High-School-1864
Signature card for the seniors of the Chicago High School, 1864. William H.’s is at the lower right.

Above: Two studies of young women.

WHW-House-Plan
Below: large house plans, 1860’s style. The various rooms of the house are as follows:
1. Kitchen
2. Scullery
3. Store Room
4. Breakfast Room
5. Stairs
6. Lobby
7. Hall
8.Dining Room
9. Library
10. Drawing Room
WHW-Alloway-Kirk
Alloway Kirk, Scotland.
WHW-Winter-Quarters
Winter Quarters. A reminder of the great Civil War that was going on to the south. William H.’s father was busy producing cannons and cannon balls for the Union, while his uncle, Union general John McArthur, was leading the “boys in blue” at places like Shiloh and Vicksburg. His nephew Chet married the daughter and granddaughter of Confederate veterans, who had an entirely different view of Mr. Warrington’s products and relatives!
WHW-Sketch-From-Nature
Sketch from Nature? An odd title, but it’s a nice view of the plank sidewalks that were current in his day.
WHW-Rowing
Rowing has come a long way from this bucolic view.
WHW-Castle-Trees
Although it’s tempting at first to place this in Europe, the American flag gives away which side of the Atlantic it’s on.
WHW-Country-House
Looks to me like something out of Lord of the Rings, but being nostalgic about English country life (and, indirectly, that over here) was one of the reasons J.R.R. Tolkien wrote his masterpiece.
WHW-House-Lake
Another rural house scene.
WHW-House-Large
The house where William H. actually grew up, in Chicago. Note in the lower right hand corner the unusual way the artist “signs” his work.

William H. Warrington died 11 August 1921.

The Pile Buck Ads 2: Vulcan #1 Hammer in Action — vulcanhammer.net

On this, the twenty-second anniversary of the beginning of this site, we present another of the ads which Pile Buck allowed us to run in their books. It shows the Vulcan #1 hammer on the South Side of Chicago. It also features the URL of the vulcanhammer.info site, which is dedicated to Vulcan hammers and […]

via The Pile Buck Ads 2: Vulcan #1 Hammer in Action — vulcanhammer.net

The Pile Buck Ads 1: Vulcan 3100 Assembled — vulcanhammer.net

This site has never had an “advertising budget” but in the last decade the publisher Pile Buck gave it the opportunity to advertise itself in its books Sheet Pile Design by Pile Buck and Pile Driving by Pile Buck. There were five in the series, and this is the first, using the assembly of the […]

via The Pile Buck Ads 1: Vulcan 3100 Assembled — vulcanhammer.net

Picking Up Concrete Piles for Driving

One of the concepts students in geotechnical engineering courses seem to have the most trouble with is estimating stresses in concrete piles during pick-up and setting them in place to drive.  The basic problem is that it’s sometimes hard to get our heads around the analytical simplification of the actual situation.  Let’s start by looking at the operation itself.  These first photos come from a job in Delaware in 1998, using a Vulcan 530 to drive cylinder piles.

Concrete-Pile-Pickup-Delaware-1998-1
The pile starts on the ground. What we have here is “one-point pickup” where only one line is used to pick up the pile. It’s put in a certain place (more about that later) in this case using a “choker.” (Some piles have pickup lifting eyes, they are best cast into the pile at the time of manufacture.) In this position the pile is horizontal. Once the crane operator lifts the choker, the pile is supported at two points: the choker and the far end of the pile. This is the most severe case of loading during pick-up.
Concrete-Pile-Pickup-Delaware-1998-2
The pile is being lifted into position. As the pile rotates, more of the load is shifted to the choker, but that load is more and more axial in the pile and not bending.
Concrete-Pile-Pickup-Delaware-1998-3
The pile is now vertical, almost all the load is on the choker and the stresses in the pile are now axial.
Vulcan-530-1997-Dover-DE
The pile is set into a template (shown in previous photograph) and the hammer is set on top of it, preparing to drive it. The template keeps the pile vertical until enough of the pile is in the ground to support it.
Vulcan 530 Delaware 1998 7
The pile is nearly down to the desired elevation due to the blows of the impact hammer.

Depending upon the configuration of the pile, it’s also possible to have two- and three-point pickup, as we can see from these photos, taken at the construction of a terminal in Portsmouth, VA, in 2005-6.  The contractor is Weeks Marine, the same contractor that got Sully’s plane out of the Hudson after his famous “landing” in the river.

DSCN1851
A two-point pickup of a cylinder pile. The pile is off the ground and horizontal; it is simply supported at the chokers. Behind the pile is Weeks Marine’s Raymond 60X hammer.
DSCN1855
The pile is being lifted up at one end for driving. As this happens more and more of the load is shifted to the left (top) choker, just as is the case with one-point pickup. Note Weeks Marine’s large barge which they use to do this kind of work.
DSCN1858
The pile is almost vertical, almost all of the load is on the upper choker, suspended in turn from Weeks Marine’s crane.
DSCN1866
The pile is now vertical. Weeks Marine’s Raymond 60X is now atop the pile, ready to begin driving. Note the grips on the pile at the bottom of the photo. This is called a “pile monkey” and is very useful for pile alignment in the leaders (guides.)

So how to we solve problems like this?  Basically we assume that the pile is a horizontal beam, simply supported at the pickup points (or in the case of one-point pickup, at the pickup point and at the furthest end from the pick-up point) with the weight of the pile as the only load.  One thing that can be done is to raise the distributed load of the weight by a factor for inertial effects during handling.  An example of this is a 60′ long 12″ square concrete pile with a 50% increase for inertial effects with single point pick-up.  We used the CFRAME program from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to analyse the beam, although most any beam software (or in some cases tables or hand calculation) can be used for this computation.

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In this case we are displaying the output of CFRAME which shows each section of the beam/pile (i.e., one one side of the pick-up point and the other.)

According to the Prestressed Concrete Institute’s Recommended Practice for
Design, Manufacture and Installation of Prestressed Concrete Piling (1993), the maximum permissible stress (tension) for transient loads such as handling loads is as follows

F_b = 6 \sqrt {f'_c} (US Units, psi for both variables)

For SI units, this works out to

F_b = \frac {1}{2} \sqrt {f'_c} (SI Units, MPa for both variables)

Some specifications allow the prestress of the pile f_{pc} to be added to F_b , with the same units as the other variables.  Obviously with precast concrete piles (rare in the US but used elsewhere) the prestress does not apply.

FL DOT Concrete Pile Pickup
For several sizes of concrete piles, the Florida Department of Transportation recommends these permissible configurations and pick-up point locations.  The pickup locations relative to the length are fairly standard with concrete piles.

Other piles sizes and lengths can be computed using the methods described above.