Providing Unique Solutions
PND Engineers is a full-service engineering firm founded in Alaska in 1979. An expert in civil, structural, and waterfront design, frozen ground engineering, and extreme and remote projects, it has a reputation for coming up with innovative design solutions while providing a great place for employees to work and grow.
When PND Engineers’ original founders Native Alaskan Roy Peratrovich, Dennis Nottingham and Brent Drage began their careers in the early sixties, Alaska was a real frontier state and a great place for a new engineering company to work, as it had an extensive need for ports and harbors, roads and infrastructure.
PND Engineers has since expanded outside of Alaska to Seattle, Houston and Vancouver and now has 110 employees. “Because of our roots in Alaska, we have something that many other engineering firms in the United States do not have: a specialization in Arctic engineering and cold climate. We are experts in frozen ground engineering,” explains PND Engineers’ President Jim Campbell. “We do a lot of work in North Slope, Alaska and the Canadian Arctic.”
One of PND’s greatest strengths is its exceptional approach to challenges and problem solving. “The engineering community tends to be very conservative. Engineers typically use textbook solutions that have been used on previous projects,” explains Jon Keiser, vice president in PND Engineers’ Seattle branch. “But we’re different. We like to try new things. That’s what sets us apart.”
“We encourage our engineers to think and come up with unique solutions instead of applying quick book approaches to projects. In this way, we can truly provide value for our clients,” says Keiser. “Oftentimes, we’ll come into a project which simply cannot be built for the budget that’s out there and available, but we’ll find a unique solution and save the owner enough money to go ahead with construction.”
It’s that ability that has landed PND many projects, including its latest – a bulkhead for land reclamation to support the 35th America’s Cup in Bermuda in 2017. “When it came down to it, we were the only system that they could afford. We provided the function they needed while saving them $10 million dollars,” says Keiser. “There’s standard engineering – roads and streets, water and sewer and that sort of stuff – all of which we do, but the thing that really sets us apart is how we are able to show our clients how to build what they need at a much lower cost. That is real value.”
“We are also construction-oriented,” says Campbell. “Contractors really like working with us because we tend to think of things from the contractor’s perspective. Oftentimes, engineers do not do this. Not only do we think of whether or not the client will like the end result of the project that we are engineering, but we also think about whether or not the contractor will like building it.”
Presently, PND is working on a project in southeastern Alaska, where it has been invited by four different contractors to collaborate on a proposal simultaneously. “They have all agreed to let us be on all four of these individual teams at the same time, which is very unusual,” explains Campbell. “That shows how much these contractors like working with us.”
PND has received some very prestigious awards over the years. “We don’t have a large PR department, so sometimes it’s hard for us to take the time to apply for these awards,” explains Campbell. “I think the biggest award we’ve ever won was probably the OPAL award for the OPEN CELL™ design.”
The OCSP™ or OPEN CELL SHEET PILE™ technology is exclusive to – and patented by – PND Engineers. “Basically, it’s a large steel wall – sometimes called a bulkhead or retaining wall, and there are many different ways to build one – but we came up with a new unique design that had never been done before, and it turns out to be extremely strong and efficient,” explains Campbell. “It serves many different purposes and can be anything from a heavy lift bulkhead structure to a cofferdam to a trench containment bulkhead.”
“We love to form new ideas, and a lot of our technology, including our OPEN CELL technology, was developed in-house and tested up in Alaska,” explains Keiser. “We worked with universities on some of the research as well, to develop testing procedures to implement new technology.”
PND builds many cofferdams, those temporary structures that allow water to be pumped out so work can be done on a structure. It recently worked on a US Army Corps of Engineers project in New Orleans, in which the Corps is installing new pump stations to block storm surge and pump water out of the low-lying city “We had to construct these pump stations in very deep excavations and very soft clay. It was an extremely difficult construction problem, but we were able to provide a really good design for their cofferdams which enabled them to build these pump stations fifty to fifty-five feet deep, below the water surface,” says Campbell.
“This was a very big project for us, but we were a relatively small part of the overall project cost,” explains Campbell. “But since they have to build the foundation before they can build anything else, the cofferdams are the first thing that gets built. So, we were actually one of the most critical components of the entire design.”
PND has done work around the world, including many civil projects. “Right now, we’re doing major re-development for the Port of Everett’s Waterfront Place Central,” says Keiser. ”We’ve also worked on shoreline and marine facilities.” Other work that the company has done includes bridges, container terminals, cruise ship terminals, docks, road construction, Arctic infrastructure, wave barriers, upland projects and much foundation design for buildings, docks and bridges.
The company has worked in areas where the ground is hard or frozen, such as Alaska where it is all bedrock or glacially consolidated ground. It has also worked in areas such as Louisiana where the ground tends to be very soft clay. “We love new opportunities, and we really enjoy diving into unique projects in all parts of the world,” says Campbell. “And as we go to these new markets, there are some really different ground conditions.”
“We want to reach our full market potential,” says Keiser. “We want to continue growing and working in new areas, and we’re addressing this by teaming with other companies that can bring us into other projects.”
Another of PND’s strengths is the relationships it creates. “With some steel companies that sell a lot of our products, we design unique solutions that help them sell their products, and they look for opportunities to bring us into projects,” explains Keiser. “We also do a fair amount of value engineering, where we work with a contractor or steel supplier to provide a simplified solution that saves the client money.”
PND’s strategy for the next few years is to continue to move outside of Alaska and to diversity with a focus on expanding onto new markets. “We love new challenges,” says Keiser. “It’s fun for us to be able to come in and help our clients solve their problems.”
PND’s goal, however, is not only to expand. “We want to build a really good solid office in these new places. We want to grow organically by providing really good engineering, so clients will come to us,” explains Campbell. “In the last five years, we’ve expanded the amount of work we do in the Gulf area, and as people are catching on to what our capabilities are, and how we can help them, we get more projects.”
“Our focus is on seeking out the work and doing it well. This way, more and more clients will want to work with us, and we will inadvertently grow,” says Campbell. “Which is, in fact, exactly what has happened throughout the history of PND Engineers.”
The company wants to “perform well and get the job done.” And that applies to all its projects, from remote areas in Alaska to warmer southern states.