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How Pile Driver Operators Power Growth in the Solar Industry

18 Oct 2022

The sun is shining on the solar industry – lots of growth due to prices coming down, government incentives and more competition in the market. In fact, solar accounted for 39% of all new electricity-generating capacity added in the U.S. in the first half of 2021, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association. Demand for solar panel installation is projected to grow 40% over baseline projections through 2027, so construction professionals and dealerships work together to deliver solutions.

According to Kenneth Hugen, RDO Equipment Co. General Manager of Sales says they do this because they need to source one key component: pile drivers

Kenneth, who has more than 38 years of experience, equates a “pile driver” to a train’s locomotive engine. A pile driver is a piece of construction equipment used to install piles, which are a crucial part of the foundation of large utility-scale solar projects.

“On any utility-scale solar site, all the panels are mounted on racking which is bolted to steel I Beams (W6 Piles) that a pile driver then installs,” he said. “The pile driver builds the foundation of the site.”

For example, a utility-scale solar site can easily have 200,000 or more piles that must be installed prior to any panels being installed, Kenneth explained. If a pile driver is inaccurate in placement or gets behind, 200 or more skilled labor professionals must wait to do their job.

“Also, if piles are misaligned, the racking won't bolt together,” Kenneth said. “And the problems continue to amplify since projects like these include so many moving parts.”

Besides the pile driver operators, many skilled workers are needed to ensure solar panels are installed correctly including:

  1. Solar PV installers and technicians,
  2. Designers and engineers  
  3. Solar installation managers and project foremen
  4. Energy auditors
  5. Site assessors and remote evaluators
  6. Electricians with specific skills in the solar installation
  7. Roofers with specific skills in solar installation, and more.

This need for equipment, efficiency, and accuracy inspired RDO Equipment Co. team members to partner with Vermeer experts to create a solution to save time and money. Vermeer manufactures the PD10 Pile Driver.

And about 8 years ago, RDO Integrated Control team members first developed the Carlson PD Grade GPS machine control system for the Vermeer PD10.

“This was a big step years ago and not easy,” Kenneth said. “But after many years we have an excellent solution that combines machine control for X, Y and Z axis.”

In fact, Carlson Product Manager Tom Potter at RDO Equipment Co. explains how team members turned their experiential knowledge over the years working with Carlson PD Grade on Vermeer’s PD10 to real-life applications.

“Carlson PD Grade Machine Control assists the operator in accurately placing piles with specified tolerances, and an easy-to-read display that shows real-time alignment,” Tom said.

To put it simply, using this machine control, any operator can control the pile at the hammer and efficiently drive the pile to its correct location – consistently.

“On sites with many pile drivers, there will be a large range in quality and quantity of piles placed due to variation in operator experience and skills. Carlson PD Grade is designed to bring the less experienced operator’s productivity closer to the more experienced operators,” Tom said.

Watch the PD10 in action.

In addition, Bart Rehbein – an Account Manager based at RDO Equipment Co.'s store in Phoenix, Arizona with more than 40 years of experience, highlighted that project managers can also use Carlson Command, a cloud-based software platform, to track data in real-time on all piles placed within a job site to analyze any machine GPS issues or training needs.

This data along with the Vermeer Confidence Plus unlimited-hour warranty and prepaid service contracts reduce the time it takes for a project manager to schedule planned maintenance for a solar company’s fleet. For example, Kenneth describes how resources are combined to support solar projects.

“We supply additional Vermeer equipment needed to build these sites including plows, trenchers, skid steer loaders — even grinders to dispose of and recycle the waste created from crates and material fall within our scope of duties,” Kenneth said.

At any given time on larger sites in California, Kenneth says RDO has five field support technicians.

“We continue to dispatch technicians to help train and support our partners whenever needed,” he explained. “Usually, we service a unit after every 250 hours of operating time.”

The partnership among RDO team members, pile driver operators, and Original Equipment Manufacturers like Vermeer and Carlson Technology continue to fuel the growth in the solar industry.

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