Got it nailed – PRESS RELEASE

Specialist contractor Universal has designed a bespoke drilling rig for an especially tricky application.

Ground engineering specialist the Universal Group was contracted by Amco Rail to carry out the stabilisation of 21,000m2 of cutting on either side of a running line at Studley Grange, near Swindon.

The final design required the installation of 1,169 soil nails to a depth of nine metres on the north-facing cutting and another 1,428 soil nails to the same depth on the south-facing cutting.

To compliment the nails, a mesh system comprising Deltax mesh, steel rope and tension anchors was installed across the entire surface of both cuttings.

Under normal circumstances, Universal would have used a long-reach excavator with a TEI boom-mounted drilling head to install nails of this length.

But due to access restrictions and weight limitations at the crest of the embankment, this conventional soil-nailing plant was not an option.

“The only feasible alternative was to use traditional rope access rock drilling equipment,” says Universal’s joint managing director Richard Lowe, “but installing 9m-long, self-drilling nails into stiff clay and mudstone using this method would have been a slow and expensive solution, especially when considering the number of nails to be installed.

“The challenge was to develop a rig with the capability to safely manoeuvre up and down the cutting but with the power and speed of a conventional excavator-mounted rig,” says Lowe.

“Our design and fabrication team rose to this challenge and developed a steel-tracked slope-climbing system with a powerful mounted drilling head, clamps and a telescopic mast, capable of installing 2.5m bars.”

Universal’s fitters stripped components, including hydraulic pumps, valves and controls, from an existing Italian-made Joy 2 rig and used these to build a new machine of their own design.

“The track base, chassis and mast were all bespoke – designed and fabricated entirely in-house,” says Lowe. The machine was then retro-fitted with a powerful Krupp drilling head on the mast.

Three of the rigs – dubbed ‘Slopeys’ by the contractor – were specially designed, built, tested and approved for this project. The modified steel tracks glided up and down the cutting and the fixed mast and powerful head installed the 9m soil nails with great efficiency, says Lowe.

“We actually only used two of the machines, they were so efficient,” comments Lowe. “We kept the other one in reserve as a spare.”

Power for the machines was provided by a remote hydraulic power-pack located at the top of the slope. Although the machines were capable of tracking up and down the slope under their own power, Universal used a system of ropes and winches to secure the rigs in the event of any movement.

“We placed two kentledge blocks at the top of the embankment and attached a powerful winch and ancillary lines to make sure the rigs were safe and secure on embankments and cuttings up to an angle of 45o,” says Lowe.

Rob Taylor, the firm’s other joint managing director, comments: “Our team are experienced in working in challenging environments including live railways and restricted access. We used innovative thinking to provide a smart solution to this complex brief.”

Taylor adds that, with an installation rate averaging 250 linear metres of soil-nail per rig/per shift, the job was completed three weeks ahead of programme, with zero incidents or accidents.

Lowe says that development of the Slopey design continued even throughout the contract with Amco. “We carried on tweaking the design during the job. For example, it originally had rubber tracks but we changed them to steel tracks when we found that we needed better traction on the slope,” he says.

While the new Slopeys were capable of installing most of the soil nails on this project, they couldn’t access the very bottom of the embankments and so Universal was obliged to use more commonplace methods – a buggy-mounted Marini rig – to install the nails at the bottom of the slope.

However, this served to demonstrate the superior capabilities of the custom-built Slopey machines, says Lowe. “Using the buggy-mounted rigs at the bottom we were installing five nails per day, using 1m-long rods,” he says.

“But the Slopeys were installing them in 2.5m lengths – and installing more than 20 per day,” he adds.

Our first show

This week, Universal Group held their first show for the East Midlands Expo, at the East Midlands Exhibition centre. We advertised our five divisions and went into some detail of what these divisions could offer to groundworks projects across the UK.

We had a very busy day and it was great to meet so many new people and to discuss the services and expertise to potential new clients and customers.

Due to the success of this year, we hope to exhibit again next November.

Universal Group building empires

Universal Group are delighted to announce the opening of its new residential division as the business continues its growth trajectory. Our team brings with it over 30 years of experience in piled foundation solutions, groundworks and construction.
We live up to our company vision on a daily basis, which is:
“At Universal Group our people aim to consistently operate with the highest levels of professionalism and quality to deliver on our commitments and exceed client expectations and project outcomes through SMART thinking”
“Our buying power and reputation in the construction industry means we will be able to provide quality, reliability and cost effective solutions to residential projects across the UK” Rob Taylor Managing Director.
“We are proud to be able to share our experience and skills to a new sector of the construction industry, our commitment to our clients remains unwavering however big or small the project” Richard Lowe Managing Director.
If you are planning any extensions, conservatories, new build developments, retaining walls or have any other self build projects in mind, don’t hesitate to contact us for a no obligation quote.
Please send all of your enquiries to

Raising money for Macmillan

Last week we held our coffee morning at our Head Office in support of Macmillan Cancer Support, our teams got together to bake cakes and bring in savouries for us all to enjoy. We managed to raise a huge £135.00 which will help to make a difference to people’s lives.

It gave our team a chance to get together to enjoy a cup of tea and a piece of cake whilst having a chat – something we don’t get to do very often as everyone is so busy all whilst raising money for charity!

Business award finalist

We are very excited to announce that we have been selected as a finalist for the for the East Midlands Chamber’s Business Awards 2018.

Our next stage is to attend a judging panel day, we will be required to present our application to the panel and discuss why we feel we should win the category we have been shortlisted for.

This is the first time we have entered into the awards so we are extremely proud to have got to this stage.