Soil laboratory rolls with change

Rapidly advancing technology means all companies must innovate to keep up. Eustis Engineering’s 71-year-old soil laboratory in Metairie stays ahead of the curve because the soil laboratory has been creating solutions to problems since the very beginning.

“We had the first data acquisition system on the Gulf Coast for consolidation testing,” said Bobby Elkins, Corporate Quality Control Officer. Eustis Engineering obtained the equipment designer’s prototype, and “we did the tweaking for him,” Bobby said.

Soil laboratory at Eustis Engineering in Metairie

Felton Bingham, pictured, was the first soil laboratory manager at Eustis Engineering.

The data acquisition system was first obtained by Bobby Elkins’ father, Sid Elkins, the soil laboratory manager.

In the early days, all monitoring and measuring were done by hand with bulky equipment.

“We had an old consolidometer with a big wheel that I didn’t fool with much because if you bumped it, it would change the readings or pressures on the load the test was on. You could ruin the whole test and you’d have to start all over again,” said Connie Daldegan, assistant soil laboratory manager along with Ryan Rodrigue. Connie has worked at Eustis Engineering since 1985.

Building Equipment

In the soil laboratory, innovation extends to figuring out how to build a piece of equipment that doesn’t exist. This equipment includes settlement columns, used to test dredge materials for coastal restoration projects.

Eustis Engineering's soil laboratory

Sid Elkins checks time curves on a consolidation test in the laboratory at Eustis Engineering in the late 1970s. Elkins was the laboratory manager at the time.

“No one had them,” Bobby Elkins said. “We were the only besides the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the country who had settlement columns. We take samples from dredge, and then we mimic the makeup from the field. We tell them how long the material will take to settle out.”

Rodrigue said they are working on making a low-strain consolidometer for low-concentrated material.

Because Eustis Engineering performs such a large volume of testing, some companies will send prototypes of new equipment, and the Eustis Engineering soil laboratory will make adjustments to the equipment and help work out any bugs. A soil processor had no serial number because it was the first one ever made.

Everyone pitched in

The soil laboratory was first located in the main building, moving to its current home in 1996. When the soil laboratory was in the main building, everyone from secretaries to engineers ran lab tests when things got busy.

Lorraine Nicholls, who has worked in the Administrative Department at Eustis Engineering since 1983, recalls performing Atterberg liquid and plastic limits tests when she had down time.

“Rolling limits really helped us understand soil conditions,” Lorraine said. “When we’d read the borings logs, we could see what it was all about.”

Today in the laboratory, Connie manages data while Ryan handles production. The two assure laboratory personnel are certified with NICET and ACI to maintain industry standards.

Ryan, who has worked at Eustis Engineering since 2002, hires soil laboratory personnel along with Operations Manager Larry Rome. Ryan said they look for team-oriented employees with an attention to detail.

“The lab has changed tremendously over the past 20 years,” said Larry, who has worked at Eustis Engineering for more than half his life.

“Even with all the changes and adaptations to technology, the lab has always provided quality data efficiently to our engineers and clients.”