September 21, 2017

Franki Africa is 70-years old … … and going strong

Geotechnical icon, Franki Africa, famous for the Frankipile and the “Franki Blue Book”, amongst other things, is 70 years old this year and going strong.

In November 2016, Franki celebrates 70 years of continuous operation in Africa and, according to MD Errol Braithwaite, the company is more motivated than ever to move forward vigorously in spite of challenging times in the construction industry.

“Seventy years is a significant milestone and a time to stand back for a moment and reflect on the attributes that have made Franki so successful down the years – attributes like customer focus, technical excellence and product innovation.”

“While the construction industry both in South Africa and on the rest of the continent is facing challenges on every front, we are convinced that the attributes that have served us so well in the past will continue to do so in the future.

“We are proud and gratified to have worked on projects which have contributed massively to the development of South Africa and of the continent as a whole. Indeed, we see ourselves, along with all members of the built environment profession, as primary enablers of growth and development in Africa.

Our 2013 acquisition by the Keller Group, the largest independent geotechnical contractor on the globe, has greatly enhanced our portfolio of products and our access to world class expertise. There is no doubt that, involved early enough, we are able to bring the most cost effective and technically appropriate solutions to almost any geotechnical project almost anywhere in Africa.

Most recently, in addition to its traditional piled foundation projects, Franki has constructed several massive basements in Sandton; completed important marine projects in Port Elizabeth and Durban and ground improvement work in Cape Town.

Our growing list of successful projects outside of South Africa is equally noteworthy. In many instances,  this is no easy feat, especially in regions where the logistical challenges associated with the movement of large and specialised machines is acute; not to mention exchange-rate and legislative challenges, as well as security and disease concerns,” Braithwaite says.

“Nonetheless,” says Braithwaite, “Franki is well represented on the continent, having recently completed projects in Mauritius, Angola, Ghana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Swaziland, Botswana and Zambia. Our 70th birthday “resolution” is to build on this footprint wherever opportunities arise. Colleagues within the Keller Group already operate in Eqypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Ivory Coast. Indeed, the Keller/Franki partnership enables us to bring best practices in expertise, health and safety, quality, and technology to any location in Africa which, combined with Franki’s experience, constitutes a compelling service offering to our customers.”

The first office of the Franki operation in South Africa was established in Cape Town as a subsidiary of Frankipile, the internationally renowned Belgian-based piling company. The first local MD was Wally Rowland who celebrated Franki’s 50th anniversary with the company in 1996. Rowland, regarded by all as the founding father of Franki in this country, passed away in August 2006 aged 92.

From the fledgling start of the first contract – the installation of eight piles for a small building in Paarden Eiland near Cape Town, Franki has grown into a market leader with the capability and capacity to handle large and complex geotechnical projects. In the process it has shown its ability to successfully compete with international geotechnical companies both in South Africa and beyond the borders in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands where the company has been very active. It has not however lost its appetite or competitiveness on small projects as well – even today the majority of its projects are less than two million rand in value.

Franki however has become much more than a successful contracting company. It has led the way in piling technology, boasting some of the best-known geotechnical engineers in the country who have developed a reputation for their knowledge and expertise both here and abroad.

The Blue Book and the Franki Pile – symbols of Franki’s industry leadership

Franki’s “Blue Book”, as it has come to be known in the industry, is the definitive guide to practical geotechnical engineering in Southern Africa. Gavin Byrne, Franki’s recently retired technical director who now consults to the company, says that the book’s purpose was initially, and still is, a reference with a wealth of practical information on geotechnical topics, which countless readers over the years have found to be very useful.

The first edition was written and compiled by then managing director, Ian Braatvedt in 1976. Its main focus was aspects of soil investigation and piling in southern Africa. The second edition, published in 1986 by Franki’s technical director at the time, John Everett, placed more emphasis on design aspects.

Along with fellow co-authors, Byrne was extensively involved on the third and fourth editions, which were rewritten and updated in 1995 and 2006 respectively. He is currently working on a new edition which will provide insights into some newer technologies including vibro-compaction, vibro-stone columns and rigid inclusions.

The Franki Pile

The origins of the iconic Franki driven cast in-situ pile – the Franki pile – can be traced back to Franki’s Belgian founder, Edgard Frankignoul, who invented the system and patented it in 1910. Whilst it is just one of the many piling techniques employed by Franki Africa today, the Franki pile – with its characteristic enlarged base – has been the cornerstone of the company’s success in southern Africa.

“The Franki pile is a unique system for generating excellent load capacity and we have developed a number of techniques to install the Franki pile in a variety of soil conditions,” says Byrne. “This is a very flexible system and its key advantage is that the large base enables one to found the pile at approximately half the depth of other piles, making it more economical and much faster than alternative cast in-situ methods,” says Byrne.

Changing of the Guard

Meanwhile in January 2016 there was a change of guard at Franki with Errol Braithwaite taking over as Managing Director from Roy McLintock who retired in December 2015.

Braithwaite says that one of McLintock’s most important legacies was decentralising operations, which has been key in the efficient running of Franki. “Each of Franki’s divisions, big businesses in their own right, is run autonomously by experienced and highly competent managers and this is fundamental to Franki’s efficiency and excellent service delivery”.

Braithwaite, after having previously been at Franki from 1996 to 2000 as a design engineer, says he is delighted to be back.  “Franki Africa is stronger, more focused and better equipped in skills and machinery than ever before,” he says “Our in-house design capability – probably our most significant market differentiator, enables us to develop technically robust and cost effective solutions in collaboration with our clients and consulting engineers. This routinely results in real benefits for the project”.

Franki offers a comprehensive range of geotechnical and marine engineering services including both design and construction for the General Construction, Civil Engineering and Mining industries.

Franki’s work in both commercial and infrastructure projects is implemented to the exacting standards required by its ISO 9001 accreditation and undertaken with safety as a major priority. Franki is OHSAS 18001 certified.

Franki are specialists in: Piled Foundations; Soil Improvement – In-situ Compaction; In-situ Replacement; Rigid Inclusions; Deep Soil Mixing; Jet Grouting; Grouting; Underpinning; Lateral Support; Pipe and Culvert Jacking; Marine Foundations and Structures; Environmental Remediation; Geotechnical Investigations and Geotechnical Design and Advice.

Conclusion

It’s a great achievement for a company to last 70 years and to still be such a dynamic force in its industry. But for Franki, it will be business as usual for one of South African industry’s best-known brands and companies. “Our motto is ‘Quality is our Foundation’,” says Braithwaite. “This refers not only to the installation of our various products but also to our culture of working successfully together with all our stakeholders in producing quality work in a friendly and productive environment.”

“But our real foundation is undoubtedly our people and we look forward to working together in building on our successes of the past to create a dynamic and productive future for all,” he concluded.

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