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In-House Foundation Design is a Core Strength at Suvic
16 October, 2023

In-House Foundation Design is a Core Strength at Suvic

16 October, 2023

Good design can prevent waste and make foundation works more manageable.

At Suvic, the structural design of wind turbine foundations is seamlessly integrated into our projects. For instance, when it comes to wind farms, we offer multiple researched alternatives rather than a single compromise solution, particularly when it saves costs or provides a more risk-free option for the client.

New clients are often surprised to hear that Suvic conducts its foundation design in-house, as the industry traditionally outsources these services. Leading the design at Suvic is our Design Manager, Jaakko Norrkniivilä, who is also one of the company's founders. Suvic's CEO, Ville Vesanen, notes that in-house design has been a clear strength since the company's inception in 2017: "Jaakko is among the top European experts in wind farm foundation design. He introduces innovative solutions that benefit both the client and the environment."

Successful design is the result of many factors

The future production of a wind farm is ensured through successful design. So, what distinguishes foundation design when the laws of physics are the same for everyone? “I would say that, with our experience and expertise, we go further by seeking the best possible solution for each individual foundation site right from the preliminary design phase," Norrkniivilä explains, "Even with minor differences in foundation types, for example the amount of steel reinforcement can sometimes be 2000 kg less in one type compared to another. But when you have 10 foundations, the cumulative effect becomes significant. So, while a typical plan may involve, for instance, two foundation types, Suvic's plan may also encompass the 'in-between' foundations – each slightly different from the other."

Norrkniivilä emphasizes that a designer needs to take into account not just the client's preferences but also the foundation and site conditions. He explains, "While structural durability is one aspect, the other key facet of good design is streamlining the construction process on-site. For instance, we take the placement and size of casting openings into account for a smooth concrete pouring process." In Suvic's designs, clear and appropriately sized casting openings are integrated within the reinforcement, ensuring that concrete doesn't have to be dropped or spread, even in the very middle of the reinforcement structure.

In-house design offers numerous advantages

While the portion of the project's total costs dedicated to design may not be proportionally significant part of a project, in-house design yields time and cost savings at various stages. A strong connection between the office and the site ensures that the foundation-specific differences described above do not pose a problem. “On the contrary, if there's something that emerges from the foundation conditions during the site phase – whether it's a challenge or an opportunity – we can react swiftly and make changes to the plans safely,” notes Norrkniivilä. Changes can be implemented in production clearly when communication directly occurs between the site and the designer, without the need for site-level improvisation.

At Suvic, we continually seek and innovate alternative implementation methods and materials. Solutions are rigorously tested before implementation. This specialized knowledge results from the combination of education, experience, and boldness. Besides simplifying site operations, in-house design is a part of our commitment to quality. Suvic's designers often visit the site to inspect the reinforcement. “Experience has taught us how to practically and safely implement of reinforcement arrangements on-site, and we can incorporate this knowledge into our design,” says Norrkniivilä.

Good design produces structures that meet all the requirements of their intended purpose, while optimizing the use of materials. In the construction of wind turbine foundations, both concrete and steel are carbon-intensive elements. The benefits of using fewer materials are evident in both cost savings and reduced emissions. Reduced material consumption also has cascading effects in wind farms, particularly in terms of reducing the distance traveled for material transport. “Neither we nor the client gain anything by using more steel or concrete than structurally necessary,” Norrkniivilä summarizes.

What are great designers made of?

Suvic gladly welcomes students from civil and environmental engineering programs for internships. Academic success, self-initiative, interest, and a desire to specialize in the niche field of energy construction are advantageous if the path of a designer seems intriguing. “In the end, this glamorous green transition involves working on a computer, calculations, and mathematics, and they take butt muscles of steel,” Jaakko chuckles. 
Although structural design is well-taught in Finnish universities, mastering the art of wind turbine foundation design still requires independent learning and, inevitably, hands-on learning. “You can perform basic design tasks based on your education, but wind power brings many new phenomena into the picture. The task must be gradually taken over with time – I, for one, haven't come up with any other way to develop as a designer,” says Norrkniivilä.

Norrkniivilä clarifies that the excitement in his work no longer stems from witnessing the finished foundations in wind farms but rather from tackling design challenges at the drafting table. Nowadays, designers have access to an array of software tools, ranging from CAD to element and method analysis programs. Norrkniivilä underscores that, even with the extensive range of modeling tools available today, having a profound grasp of structural dynamics remains paramount. He elaborates, "While we can now generate highly precise calculations and 3D models of structures, yielding exceptional results, an absence of comprehension regarding forces and scale can significantly elevate the risk of errors."

Sharing Industry Insights

Norrkniivilä recounts that in the early stages of his career, roughly around the beginning of the 2010s, the wind power sector in Finland was relatively modest, with only a handful of experts in the field. However, knowledge has become more readily accessible over time. With a portfolio encompassing the design of foundations for virtually all major turbine manufacturers' power plants, Norrkniivilä shares his expertise to a broader audience. For several years, he has contributed to courses on WTG foundations as part of the Finnish Wind Power Association's educational program. “It's always gratifying when individuals who participated in these courses later reach out in various contexts. It's quite a contrast to the early days of my career when wind power professionals were a rare breed.”

Norrkniivilä underscores that the process of learning and education remains an ongoing endeavor, even as practical experience naturally accumulates over the years. He explains, "For me, keeping abreast of the latest developments in the field essentially translates to self-study in the evenings: delving into research, scouting for new studies and guidelines on a global scale, and acquainting myself with them."

Did you know: In addition to wind turbine foundation structural design, Suvic also possesses in-house expertise in cable route design, fiber optic network design, and telecommunications network design? 

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