Q&A with G-Octopus’ Emilio Nicolini

Emilio Nicolini

Hi Emilio, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your experience? 

I’m Emilio, the Technical Director of G-Octopus and Cathie France. I’ve worked in the geotechnical and foundation engineering business for the last 25 years for the private and industrial sectors of civil engineering, for the oil and gas sector, offshore wind, and for ports and harbours. I’ve managed G-Octopus and the Cathie offices in France and Italy since 2012.

I’m here to tell you about the Cathie Group of companies, including G-Octopus, what we do and how we support projects onshore, nearshore and offshore.

1. So, who are G-Octopus?

G-Octopus are a Cathie company. We have 15 years’ experience performing quality assessments and testing of deep foundations as well as pile instrumentation solutions and advanced interpretation of pile driving monitoring data onshore, nearshore, offshore and underwater. We also supply quality equipment for foundation control and instrumentation.

2. Can you tell us a bit about the G-Octopus team?

Our team is made up of very experienced engineers and technicians who have a deep understanding of the pile installation process and the geotechnical phenomena behind it. This is essential because our main challenge and success is instrumenting piles and monitoring their installation without interfering with, or causing delay to, client’s field activities. We are proud of our “zero lost time” reputation. To achieve this, we need a good understanding of how to work with our client’s installation processes and to optimize the engineering of our solutions. These are then fine-tuned with the technical competence and experience on site and in our warehouse, where all the instrumentation and sensors are prepared for the project.

Our team works across G-Octopus and Cathie projects so they are able to recognize where
G-Octopus could support or improve a project in an effective way for our clients.

3. What are they motivated by?

The G-Octopus team are motivated to understand our clients’ problems and our people are profoundly committed to the understanding of the pile’s behaviour. This spirit is the deepest motivation of our team, alongside a culture of continuous improvement in our engineering capabilities by using the field data we collect. This provides us with the energy and fuel to improve our services to clients.

It is amazing to see our team preparing a field operations campaign; how each detail is discussed and improvements are proposed and how continuous improvement translates into new, more robust solutions. This commitment makes me proud to be their leader and technical director.
I see how our clients benefit from this “commitment to serve” attitude of the G-Octopus team and again, I am proud to receive appreciation and feedback on behalf of our team.

4. You mentioned Cathie, what do they do and how do G-Octopus fit in?

Cathie are the global offshore geoscience and geotechnical engineering consultancy. The Cathie team provide a complete ‘expertise, seabed and below’ solution to clients in the offshore and nearshore sectors, throughout a project lifecycle, including wind, marine energy, ports, subsea cables and oil and gas.

static pile test on installed pilesOnce the analysis and design of a project is complete and the project is commissioned, G‑Octopus supports during the foundation installation phase to effectively monitor the process and help our clients to manage risk. We use specialist equipment to carry out Pile Driving Monitoring with traditional electric, but also with fibre-optic based instrumentation. G-Octopus can also carry out pile static testing and pile quality controls.

5. What is pile driving monitoring and why is it important to a project?

pile driving monitoring The main aim of Pile Driving Monitoring (PDM) is to easily determine the pile axial capacity during and/or after pile construction. Associated with an initial static testing, it is considered by Eurocode as a valid means to avoid costly repeated tests and confirms pile design assumptions. In the case of offshore piles and monopiles, it also assists in the management of the risk of pile tip buckling which is becoming a more prevalent issue as pile design optimisation and cost saving is a major industry focus.

It is especially important to projects where a risk of premature driving refusal is anticipated or where challenging geological conditions are highlighted by the geotechnical studies. By means of PDM you can check the pile capacity while driving the pile, detect the probable cause of refusal and mobilise countermeasures in a planned and reliable manner, so improving the success rate of the remedial actions. We can also easily determine if the pile capacity can be accepted “as is”, thus avoiding complex modification to the planning of your field operations.

6. What other services do you offer?

Given the unique perspective of our team working across foundation design and installation, we’re also able to offer other services, including advanced interpretation of pile driving monitoring (PDM) data.

We can also supply the instrumentation equipment and train our client’s staff on how to use it for the acquisition of the piling records, while remaining at their side for any technical issues that may be encountered during operations. This allows our clients to leverage all our experience in the interpretation of PDM data that we have gained through decades of activity and to use calibrated and well-maintained instruments, thus fully realising the benefits that PDM brings. Of course, most of our clients prefer to leave the PDM and analysis in the capable hands of our expert team.

7. It isn’t mandatory in all locations to test the foundations on a project, so why should we make it best practice?

Experience shows that testing always delivers a demonstrable return on investment (ROI) for a project, if it is carried out properly, and therefore allows our clients to obtain reliable data from which useful and credible interpretations can be obtained. The ROI comes from realising the permitted efficiencies (less conservative safety factors) in design codes if PDM is used, the potential to verify the capacity of piles that terminate prematurely and in the reduction of risk related to failures when structures are being built. Finally, it provides hard data to contribute towards the certification of a project.

8. What are the benefits of working with Cathie and G-Octopus?

Having an experienced offshore engineering consulting company, specialized in foundations and piling, allied with a team of experts in pile instrumentation across a wide spectrum of pile types (concrete, steel drilled, driven, etc.), provides a fully wrapped design and installation solution which also provides continuity of risk management. This is delivered both in advance during mobilisation, and during installation in the field when engineering solutions to unforeseen circumstances are required. We also ensure proper levels of redundancy and continuity throughout the project to deliver on one of our key mottoes; “zero lost time”.

9. You work on some major engineering feats around the world. Are there any particular successes or satisfying projects you can share?

Yes indeed, there are several, but let me provide you with two.

Piling monitoring in TrinidadAt the forefront of my mind is a “theoretically” simple piling project in Trinidad, where our geotechnical and foundation expertise allowed us to solve an intractable problem for our client which had caused the construction activities in the field to be suspended.

The project exhibited a strange soil profile, incorporating layers of “pitch” (bituminous asphalt material) with clays and sands; this caused concerns with attainable pile capacity due to long-term creep behaviour of the bitumen but there was only a finite length of piles available on the site. We were able to understand the issues occurring during construction and propose a pile monitoring and acceptance procedure which allowed construction activities to restart.
I can still see how happy the client was during our video conference because we’d solved the problem, without asking for longer piles!

Finally, of the many amazing and challenging offshore projects in the wind industry we have performed, I have to admit I am still attached to the Merkur offshore wind farm site. In this project, (uncommon even in the offshore industry) piles were to be approved in real-time on site according to procedures involving the strict application of the Eurocode, taking full advantage of pile set-up effects. We devised novel offshore pile testing procedures to allow for all of the possible different installation cases with senior engineering staff available onshore, 24/7, to green-light the final pile installation. This was quite complex and challenging, but also greatly satisfying to get a successful project outcome despite the usual “surprises” of the monopile’s behaviour. The client was very happy indeed – a great result for everyone.

Sunset offshore

If you’d like more information, you can contact us at info@g-octopus.fr and a member of our expert team will be in touch.