As part of The Dewatering Institute‘s commitment towards knowledge sharing, TDI is developing a series of monthly interviews of industry leaders, and professionals from different parts of the world. This month’s edition features Guido van Tongeren of Henk van Tongeren Water & Techniek.
With over 70 years of technical experience, Henk van Tongeren Water & Techniek have recently become the largest groundwater dewatering company in the Netherlands. The company was founded in 1949 by plumber Henk van Tongeren which contributed to the reconstruction of the Netherlands during the time post-World War II. With few resources or money for expensive machinery, Henk made use of old war vehicles to build his own machines and tools. His inventiveness, decisiveness and will to always get things moving placed Henk ahead of his time with some of the most interesting creations and special projects.
The company has since grown to become an international leader in groundwater dewatering, and innovative groundwater techniques. The company expanded with a second and third branch in 1995 under the leadership of the 2nd generation of van Tongerens. This expansion also took them across the borders into Germany and Lithuania.
Since 2006 the company has been in the capable hands of the 3rd generation of van Tongeren, Guido, who continues to move the industry forward and execute on his grandfather’s mission. With his leadership role, Guido adopted Werner Wils’ DSI® technology (Düsen Saug Infiltration) from Germany which allowed the company to take an important step forward in establishing Henk van Tongeren Water & Techniek as the most innovative dewaterer. This technology gave the company the ability to handle water disposal in many large construction projects.
Henk van Tongeren Water & Techniek have recently taken the title of being the largest groundwater dewatering company in the Netherlands after their acquisition of Theo van Velzen and Tjaden Consultancy in January 2021. With 65 new colleagues, the company has now incorporated Theo van Velzen for soil well drilling technology and groundwater dewatering, and Tjaden Consultancy for Soil Mechanics. The acquisition was a no-brainer, given all three companies are cut from the same cloth with a passion for water and technology as well as being family-run and owned businesses.
We spoke with Guido van Tongeren to learn more about his role in Henk van Tongeren Water & Techniek, how he got his start in the business, some memorable moments on the job and his advice for future generations in the dewatering industry:
Could you share a bit of your background: tell us about your dewatering history and how you got into the industry?
I grew up in the family business, so it was only natural that I would continue in the industry. I would walk around the company from a very young age. It should not be surprising that I began my career early on when I got my first real job working for my grandfather’s company at only 11 years old.
In your opinion, what has been the biggest development in the industry through the years?
The biggest development in the industry is most definitely the technology and the machinery. The machines are continually getting much better and much more efficient. This is helpful to make the work less physically demanding in comparison to the early days of Henk van Tongeren. These developments in technology also allow our employees to work safely and sustainably in all conditions and environments. Manpower, technique and experience can only take us so far, but with the right machinery, we can complete any project that comes our way.
What are the biggest challenges that you’ve seen in the industry over the past few years, and what do you see as potential challenges in the future?
One of the biggest challenges in our industry is energy consumption and especially the consumption of diesel. In addition, we still use too many plastics. It is important that we eventually become completely carbon neutral. Since carbon emissions are significant in companies like ours, we have set targets to reduce our CO2 emissions and calculate our footprint every six months to remain on track. We are already seeing a nice reduction and all three companies currently meet the requirements of the CO2 performance ladder level 3. In order to be a frontrunner in sustainable entrepreneurship, it is our goal to become completely CO2 neutral by 2030. These are challenges that we will still face for many more years in the future.
Can you mention your most memorable moments in the industry if you had to think back over the years?
Firstly, in 2012 our company was awarded a contract to provide dewatering for the A2 motorway tunnel in Maastricht, Netherlands. This project took four years to complete.
For us, the biggest challenge was that the geology under Maastricht (a city in the far south-east of the Netherlands near the Belgian and German borders) is actually very un-Dutch. There is a 4-metre-thick layer of loam here, with around 10 metres of very coarse gravel and stones underneath. Underneath this is a thick marl layer that is tens of metres thick. Our challenge was to pump the marl layer dry so that the sheet piling of this enormous construction pit would remain firmly in place. The depth of this building pit was between 18 and 24 metres. The first Dutch double-layer motorway tunnel was eventually built in the pit. The extraction was always around 1,200 m3/h, with a maximum of even 2,300 m3/h. In addition, 80% of the water had to be returned to the soil by means of the DSI® infiltration system.
Secondly, in 2016 when my family gave me the opportunity to take over the family business completely.
What would you recommend to the new generations coming into this industry and why?
The most important factor for success is the people. Make sure they are always number one. If your people are doing well, then your company is doing well. At Henk van Tongeren Water & Techniek, we make sure our employees are number one by affording them the opportunity to continue developing themselves to continue doing what they are good at and the jobs that they love. Since technology and developments in the industry don’t stand still, neither should our employees. For this reason, our employees are given every opportunity to complete various training courses to always keep their knowledge up-to-date.
What’s the best piece of advice that you would give a younger version of yourself?
Always think entrepreneurially and keep believing in opportunities, but most of all in yourself. We are all heading towards a very bright future in which we can only make the world a better place.
There are constant changes in legislation from the government and the industry, are there any areas where you consider the legislation to be weak or on the other hand too strong?
There is far too little attention paid to energy consumption and the waste of fresh water. As previously mentioned, our energy consumption is a great challenge for our industry as a whole. There is currently a big movement in the civil engineering industry focusing on carbon neutral goals. Looking at how it affects our industry and how we see this being addressed in the future is something to specialize in. It is an important point to take into consideration and is the reason we are focusing on becoming carbon neutral as quickly and efficiently as we can.
Why do you consider TDI to be important?
TDI is a very good initiative. It’s great fun to be in an international network like this with similar people. People who are just as addicted to dewatering as we are at Henk van Tongeren.
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