Normrock’s Amphibex Machines are Versatile and Portable for Environmental Jobs
Four Amphibex units are lined up for on-water testing in the Saint Lawrence River near Montreal. They are, from left, an AE450 equipped with a backhoe bucket; the Amphi-Transport with the hopper raised in “dump” position; the AE850P equipped with the environmental clamshell; and the AE1200P with a standard cutterhead.
Norman Grant says he was “born between a piston and a crank shaft,” a reference to the mechanical interests that dominated his younger years. He is the founder and president of Normrock Industries Inc., whose Amphibex environmental dredges are working around the globe. The company is based on innovation and constant response to market needs.
Grant was the fifth child in a family of 12 children in Ville D’Anjou (now Anjou) in the French-speaking Matane area of Quebec. His father was a mechanic, and passed his interest on to his son.
“It was common sense that I would be in fabricating, repairing and building because that was my father’s trade,” he said.
Grant’s first jobs were operating and repairing equipment in Northern Quebec, Newfoundland, and other areas of Canada before joining Overseas Consultant Services, a U.S. company, as a consultant. While on a job in Africa, he became interested in environmental, floating excavating equipment. “We were doing rock breaking with floating excavators on barges,” he said.
Because of problems that occurred, he saw a need for creating the right equipment for these activities. Upon his return to Canada he purchased a small Finnish machine, and later built his own machine, which was the Model AE300 Amphibex, a combination of “amphibious excavator.” The vessel was capable of suction dredging and mechanical excavation, including rock breaking.
In 1987, he formed Normrock Industries Inc., based in Terrebone, Quebec, to produce environmentally friendly machines for dredging and other on-water jobs.
Working with him are his wife Louise, and sons Dany and Jimmy, who serve as vice presidents and equal partners in the company. The product line includes nine Amphibex models. All have similar capabilities, and each one is proportionately larger than its predecessor. Grant explains that each new model was the company’s response to the changing market, and to what the customers needed.
Performance and Environmental Protection
“Since we began in 1987, Normrock has believed that performance and environmental protection go hand in hand,” Grant said, adding that the overriding goal of the dredge designs is protection of the environment.
This goal plays out in “the way we fabricate the tooling,” he said. “The horizontal dredgehead doesn’t disburse the underwater silt. We have different accessories that are designed to contain silt, such as the environmental (clamshell) bucket that closes completely. We use biodegradable hydraulic and other oil, and for power use hydraulic diesel drive. One engine does everything, and the fuel tank is inside the dredge - a tank within a tank – so there’s no possibility of an oil spill,” he said.
Attachments include horizontal cutterheads, backhoe buckets, an effective closed environmental bucket with hydraulic opening and closing, rakes, and rock breakers, to name a few. Capabilities include aquatic weed cutting and harvesting (widely used in Africa), excavating and dredging, trash and debris collection, laying pipeline and underwater cables, marina maintenance, beach refurbishment, contaminated sediment handling and removal, and preventive ice breaking on rivers before the spring runoff.
“Every day we get new applications,” Grant said. The company responds by designing new tools as the need arises. A standard cutterhead working in aquatic weeds and debris can end up fouled with massive amounts of vegetation. Grant’s response to this problem was the Conical Cutterhead, in which an outer casing only allows entrance of small material through to the rotating cutterhead, while it sloughs off the weeds and debris.
The horizontal cutter is designed with side plates that contain all turbidity stirred up by the rotation of the cutter. This tool is in use by Normrock dredges working for Syncrude in the oil sands in Alberta.
This cutting head for the AE1200P is hydraulically controlled, and can be equipped with the Conical Cutter, designed to prevent plant material and other debris from winding around the blades.
In response to a need by a Russian customer, Normrock is creating a pile driving attachment for use by the two largest models – the AE850 and the AE1200 – to be delivered this year. “It will be quite fun,” said Grant. “It will pick up the piles and drive them,” while moving easily around the project site, he said.
AE1200Ps are pulled up to the bank on the Tigris River in Iraq. This is the first job site training Normrock did in Iraq for this model. Visible are the four tilting spuds, as well as the outrigger stabilizers with floats.
Machines Are Self-launching
The Amphibex vessels are self-propelled and equipped with four tilting spuds for stability while dredging and to self-launch the dredge. Two outrigger stabilizers are equipped with floats that steady the dredge while underway and while working. They can be tilted to the bottom as another leg to provide extra stability while the excavator is in use. In shallow water, the dredge can work while resting on the bottom. A quick connection system allows the rapid exchange of tools and attachments.
The AE1200 is the newest model, and is six times as large as the smallest model – the AE400. It is 60 feet long by 28 feet wide with a dredging depth of 38.5 feet, equipped with a Caterpillar C32 diesel engine that generates 1350 bhp (1007 kW).
The 400 is 37 feet, seven inches (10.85M) long, powered by a Caterpillar C9 six-cylinder engine generating 350 bhp (260 kW) with an excavation depth of 19 feet, eight inches (six meters).
The other models are the AE450E, the AE600E, the AE650E, the AE800P, the AE850P and the AE1000P. The AmphiTransports – the AT300 and AT430 – are workboats that can transport equipment to the dredge. Each model includes a removable hopper for transporting dredged material, aquatic weeds, or debris. The hoppers are easily transferred to trucks for transportation to a placement site.
The website, amphibex.com, has information on each model, including videos and photos of each one, in English, French and Spanish. Normrock has a 50,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Terrebonne, Quebec, with an additional 85,000 square feet under construction.
A second manufacturing location, at Marine Inland Fabricators in Panama City, Florida, provides Amphibex equipment to the U.S. market. Grant sold six units to government agencies for use in enclosed water bodies prior to being certified Jones Act Compliant in 2013 for work in the navigable waters of the United States and to engage in coastwise trade in the United States. Issued by the Department of Homeland Security’s National Vessel Documentation Center, the certificate judges that Amphibex vessels built at Marine Inland Fabricators meet the requirement that the hull and superstructure is manufactured in the United States, and that other equipment, including the lifting arms, front stabilizers, rear stabilizer, attachments and accessories, including extendable outriggers, though manufactured by Normrock in Canada, are assembled onto the vessels in the United States.
Grant describes his market as “all over the planet.” He rattles off a short list of locations where he has delivered machines – China, New Caledonia, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Mauritania, Russia, Latin America, Mexico and the U.S.
The AE1200P in the process of self-launch at Fort McMurray.
The Tigris and Euphrates
He has been selling machines to the Iraq General Directorate for River Dredging Works for many years, and has 27 machines there – several of each model he manufactures. They are all working permanently in the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and tributaries, where an annual sediment load of 30 million cubic meters per year is deposited, and must be removed to prevent flooding and for navigation. “We aren’t in the contracting business,” Grant said. “When we operate a dredge it’s either to demonstrate it or to perform specialized work.”
An example of such specialized work is at the Alberta tar sands project, where 16 Normrock employees are on-site with two machines – an AE1200 and AE400 equipped with horizontal cutterheads – under contract to Syncrude. “This was an experiment that went very well,” Grant said. The Amphibex proved to be ideal for the work.
The tar sands operation includes settling ponds for storing the water, debris, and particulates from the oil separation operation. Some of these ponds are now being remediated. The dredge pumps the liquid to separation stations, and then clears all foreign material from the bottom, in preparation for filling with the original soils, and planting with the original flora. “When we leave there, it’s going to be clean,” Grant said. “Nothing left.”
At the Oil Sands Trade Show in McMurray, Alberta in September, 2017 are Norm Grant, left, with sons Dany and Jimmy, at their display. Normrock has two units working on environmental restoration in settling ponds at the oil sands project.