Dredging Contractor Innovation Shows the Way Forward

Dec. 15, 2015

If you’re a football fan, you’ve probably heard about “The Patriots Way,” an organizational philosophy where no one player is above the team and adaptability—innovation—is prized in an era when roster turnover and a revolving door of offensive and defensive coaches are the norms.

While there’s some debate about how formal or ingrained the New England Patriots’ “Way” is, there’s no questioning the value of innovation in an atmosphere of constant change and unflagging expectations.

J.F. Brennan, an environmental and underwater contractor based in La Crosse, Wis., gives all of its employees a pocket-sized brochure of 17 tenets called “The Brennan Way.” The 17 short paragraphs are words to live by for the company’s 400-plus employees: Each daily safety meeting includes a discussion of one the tenets.

The paragraph titled “Innovation” reads, “We look for innovation in every task that we perform, collectively understanding that some of the most innovative ideas start from routine or simple work operations. We are empowered to propose and implement innovative ideas.”

Under 40 in Construction Equipment award winner Greg Smith, director of Brennan’s environmental group, provides a great example of how the company took initiative to innovate.

“Scientists, engineers and potential clients have been putting different amendments into sand, like clay or carbon, as you might find in your water filter at home, because they want to make a more robust cap and cover [to control pollution that lies under river sediment],” Smith says.

“If anything does come up through the sand, they want something that can reach out and grab it—you could almost say it’s a filter on top of a filter.”

So, without a specific request, Brennan executed a large R&D project at its home office involving carbon mixed with sand. “What we wanted to prove,” Smith explains, “is that we can very accurately install carbon with the sand at an exact rate, and that we can get it mixed throughout the sand column when you’re putting it down into the water.”

The challenge is that carbon floats when it’s dry. Not a good thing when you’re trying to spread it on the bottom of a moving body of water.

“But we learned that you can soak the material and it will absorb its own weight in water, so a pound of carbon will turn into two pounds after it’s soaked,” Smith says. “We used this process to show the scientists and engineers that we can do what they’re looking for. We’re not waiting for these bids or projects to come out, and for someone to just put faith in us."

Does your company anticipate the future needs of your clients and innovate products or processes ahead of time? Or do you simply hope you can reward faith?

(For more on Greg Smith and J.F. Brennan, see the January issue of Construction Equipment. For an Under 40 award nomination form, click here. The deadline is Feb. 28.)

About the Author

Frank Raczon

Raczon’s writing career spans nearly 25 years, including magazine publishing and public relations work with some of the industry’s major equipment manufacturers. He has won numerous awards in his career, including nods from the Construction Writers Association, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, and BtoB magazine. He is responsible for the magazine's Buying Files.