Industry Insights

5 Heavy Industrial Concrete Foundation Challenges

We'll walk through some of the common industrial concrete foundation problems and how to address them.

If there’s one thing you want to ensure is done right on new industrial construction projects or renovations, it’s the foundation. Avoiding long-term foundation issues is especially critical when thousands of tons of equipment need to be supported.

Addressing industrial concrete foundation problems requires far more expertise than projects for a typical commercial property or multi-story building. Below, we’ll explore the complexities of building industrial foundations and highlight why it’s critical to work with professionals who understand the process and requirements.

1. Soil Assessment & Percolation Tests

Large industrial equipment foundations often require major excavations to depths of 15 feet or more to ensure adequate bearing capacity. The Chicagoland area, in particular, was built on swampland with high water tables and has a mixture of clay, bedrock, and sandy gravel, with each presenting potential concrete foundation problems. A construction site with bedrock might require drilling or blasting. A location with gravel or sand is easy to excavate but might fill up with water after digging only a few feet. 

A geotechnical investigation based on soil borings is a critical step that needs to be taken during the planning phase. The geotechnical report will help to determine soil bearing load capacity, water pumping requirements, and where that water can be displaced to ensure compliance with environmental standards. When constructed, the industrial foundation may require waterproofing with an exterior membrane system, and integral concrete waterproofing, along with water stops at the construction joints.

excavator digging out foundation pit for heavy industrial manufacturing line

2. Municipal Permits 

Project owners are aware that building permits need to be obtained for facility construction or renovations. Many may not be aware, however, that additional permits may need to be secured for hauling and disposing of excavated soil in landfills or elsewhere. Adding to the challenge is that different locations will have different governing authorities with varying permitting processes. 

The soil sampling and characterization testing will determine whether it is suitable for landfills, or may expose issues. Problems like soil contamination including old backfill, industrial waste, or heavy metal contamination from a bygone era might require remediation.

Industrial concrete professionals will have established relationships with various soil engineers, environmental testing companies, and governing authorities. Based on their experience, they’ll understand potential roadblocks and how to overcome them, helping to remove the burden from project owners.

3. Earth Retention Systems

Preserving the integrity and stability of existing adjacent industrial building foundations or property is paramount when excavating for industrial foundations. Without a properly engineered earth retention system, nearby structures or ground could settle, causing structural damage or even collapse.

image of concrete being poured in deep pit with water retention system in place

Steel sheet piling, slurry walls, and soldier pile and lagging are various earth retention systems used for deep concrete pit foundation excavations. Soldier pile and lagging systems are economical and can be installed in low-head room situations. They are installed by auguring holes into the ground and inserting steel I-beams. I-beams are encased in concrete at the bottom for support and, as excavation is done, wooden lumber lagging beams are inserted and lowered between the flanges of the I-beams to support the soils outside the excavation. The I-beams and wood lagging combine to form a retaining wall to support the ground and surrounding building foundations at the perimeter of the excavation pit.

Experienced industrial concrete foundation contractors who specialize in designing and constructing earth retention systems should be contracted for this specialized work to ensure the stability of surrounding soils and building structures and to ensure compliance with OSHA’s safety standards.

4. Precision Tolerances for Heavy Industrial Equipment Foundations

Because of the tolerances of the parts produced and the large dynamic loads that are created in the operation by this type of industrial equipment, it’s important that the concrete contractor can construct the foundations to a high level of geometric concrete tolerances. Layout of the foundation is critical and proper techniques need to be used to ensure the equipment will have a precise and level surface to sit on and be anchored to.

The industrial machinery manufacturer supplying the equipment will specify specific load-bearing requirements, detailed elevations, and geometric information particular to the machine being installed to ensure stability and proper operation. Often, the machinery manufacturer requires heavy steel embedded into the concrete foundation to properly distribute and support the equipment loads. These large embedments are set using cranes, and support within the concrete foundation must be supplied.

Mistakes made in setting steel embedments and constructing concrete to proper tolerances can result in problems down the road including machine malfunctions. Repairs to equipment or foundations based on faulty foundation construction can be expensive and cause production shut-downs.

5. Logistical Challenges

Halting production lines for weeks at a time to accommodate construction and renovation simply isn’t an option for industrial manufacturers. 

However, an experienced industrial concrete contractor will help develop a logistics plan that will maximize uptime and throughput during construction. At Raffin Construction, we not only specialize in industrial concrete, but we understand the complexities of working alongside a facility’s production and the importance of maintaining operations and safety standards. Through proper design, phasing, and sequencing, we work with project owners to determine logistics and timing to minimize disruptions and keep everyone safe.

Every organization requires a solid foundation. Rely on the industrial concrete construction experts at Raffin Construction to assist with your next foundation or concrete project. Contact our team today.