Porter Press Extra: Ongrade Drainage & Excavation

Ongrade Drainage & Excavation brings a comprehensive and specialised skill set to every job, usually along with several of their many trusty Hyundai excavators

Inner Christchurch’s leafy street count is endless. Despite the chaos wrought on the city a decade ago, there remain plenty of tranquil avenues lined with stout trees, behind which sit an ample mix of attractive, modern and heritage homes.

Of course, while everything above ground level in these quiet suburban byways might appear normal, the seismic events of 2010–11 have still left an imprint on what lies beneath. Major subsurface infrastructure replacement work is a constant in the city.

And in Christchurch that has its challenges, necessitating drainage operators with plenty of experience. "When it comes to certain jobs, such as dewatering, there’s a real art to it in this region," says Kent Blackler, director of Kaiapoi-based Ongrade Drainage & Excavation.

"Around these streets for example the water table is only at 1.3 metres, but this sewer and stormwater renewal is a 2.7-metre dig. What we do is essentially place the pipe on a 600x600 raft wrapped in geotextile bidum and ballast. With the pipe wrapped in cloth and on the raft, liquefaction won’t affect it.

"The industry has changed and adapted to new ways of working. When you think about it, we’ve had the best schooling in new techniques and thinking here. Canterbury is a great place to innovate."

While every job the company’s 34 staff take on requires plenty of skill, Kent is a firm believer in utilising an entirely different above ground skill set on every job at the same time—relationship building.

The HX145CR has plenty of power for a mid-size machine

"So much of our work takes place in quiet streets like this. We’re replacing stormwater systems right through Edgeware, so we’re a rolling entity through here. You just can’t work effectively if you don’t communicate with residents and build relationships with the people living where you’re working," he says.

"In reality, we’re only here for a short space of time, but we do represent a big impact on the place while we’re getting on with the project. Making the effort to make sure residents are okay is actually more important than laying pipe. It allows us to get on with our job and get it done faster."

Helping to lessen the tangible disruption, Kent purposefully chooses modern machinery tech that allows him and his team to work quieter and faster. To that end, he says these days Ongrade is "Hyundai through and through."

"We started with a Hyundai six-tonner, then added a 12-tonner, a 3.5-tonner, a 21-tonner, 23.5-tonner—the digger fleet has grown and grown, and now I wouldn’t go for anything else.

"I used to buy another brand early on in the business, but then Porter Equipment let us trial a unit before we bought. I was impressed with both the machine and the cost savings over anything similar. We’ve never looked back."

The HX145CR is Kent’s first Hyundai excavator from the current HX model range

The 14.6-tonne Hyundai HX145CR on-site in Edgeware is Kent’s latest addition and is also his first Hyundai excavator from the current HX model range. Despite having only recently arrived, Kent is both impressed and busy enough to need another 14.6-tonner, which will be arriving soon.

The cab is bigger and more comfortable to be in for long spells

"I’ve always thought Hyundai diggers were comfortable to be in for long spells, but this one just raises the bar again," he says. "The cab is bigger, and the multi-camera system is excellent, especially for what we do.

The multi-camera system is excellent, especially for negotiating obstacles

You’re always negotiating obstacles in this sort of setting, so you need eyes on everything, and the camera set-up helps hugely with that. "It also has plenty of power for a mid-size machine. It’s the right mix of size and power for what we’re doing here, plus it actually runs pretty quietly for what it is, which is another bonus. That’s why we’ve ordered another one."


The robust frame structure and the attachments show the real value of HX Series in tough working environments

As the name above the door suggests, Ongrade Drainage & Excavation specialise in more than just pipe laying. Kent branched out into civil earthworks several years ago. He now runs separate crews for each discipline, along with two other teams looking after kerb and channel and water mains respectively.

Having had to tool up with a dozer, rollers, dumpers, and a 30-tonne excavator, he naturally went to Porter Equipment to assist him in sourcing what was required.

"They always come through for us," he says. "They have a good reputation for supporting the local industry and you can see why. [Canterbury and West Coast sales representative] Chris Toase is great to deal with—a good bloke. We have lots of banter!"

Knock-off time is approaching as we wrap up our kerbside chat. The residents of this leafy street will soon be left in peace for the evening, completely unaware of the benefits skilled operators like Kent and his Ongrade crew—and their Hyundai equipment—are bringing to the necessary job happening just outside their gates and under their feet.

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