Design Engineering

Ice Breaker

By Treena Hein   

General hydraulics

Used around the world, the Amphibex amphibious excavator helps prevent spring flooding.

The Amphibex 400, designed by Normrock Industries of Terrebonne, Quebec, is an amphibious excavator that, among other tasks, can break up ice flows and prevent spring thaw flooding.

The Amphibex 400, designed by Normrock Industries of Terrebonne, Quebec, is an amphibious excavator that, among other tasks, can break up ice flows and prevent spring thaw flooding.

Bracing for a possible flood – that’s the worrisome reality of spring in many communities across Canada and around the world. The meltwater can’t move fast enough under the ice or floating ice pieces form ice jams.

Enter the Amphibex, a high-performance amphibious excavator developed by Normrock Industries Inc., founded in 1987 by CEO Norm Grant. For the Terrebonne, Quebec-based company, the first ice-breaking call came in early 1990 when the city was in danger of flooding.

“Terrebonne was in a difficult situation and we were asked if our machine could go on the water and free up the ice,” says Normrock executive vice president (and son of Norm) Jimmy Grant. “It worked well, and the rest is history.”

Since then, the Amphibex has been used to prevent spring floods on the Red River in Manitoba, the Mechako in BC and many others in Quebec. But ice-breaking was not at all the original intent. Rather, the Amphibex was designed to easily handle tasks that a traditional excavator can’t manage.


“The amphibious aspect is what’s needed in restoring waterways, installing water pipelines and submarine cables, cleaning wastewater treatment ponds, controlling vegetation and so on,” says Grant. “The Amphibex is tremendously powerful and maneuverable in these environments, with highly sophisticated positioning devices. Also, the propeller can be raised in shallow waters to protect vegetation and avoid disturbing riverbed sediment.”

Amphibex excavators have been used along the Tigris (Iraq), the Danube (Europe), as well as many other waterways in Canada, the US and Africa. Normrock is about to deliver its 182nd machine to Iraq.

If you guessed that the most critical aspect of an amphibious machine like this one (especially one used around deep icy water) is stability, you’d be right. “We designed the front stabilizers with big ball-shaped floaters around them, which we call ‘outriggers,’” says Grant. “When the excavating arm swings to the side, the balance of the machine changes and the floaters maintain stability. They also permit the excavation arm to handle heavier loads with a wider range of motion.”

The front stabilizers as well as the rear ones (nicknamed ‘spuds’) are also used to lift the Amphibex up for transport to and from the work site. “The spuds are also used to anchor the machine to the bottom when excavating,” Grant notes. “They can be operated independently and have two degrees of freedom: tilt and telescopic for several depths.”

Design changes over the years include adding more horsepower with stronger hydraulics, a better reach on the excavating arm and easier overall maintenance. Normrock also improved the electronics and designed several accessories for the excavating arm, such as a rake for invasive plant removal.

Another important accessory is the bucket pump for heavy duty dredging. With pumps placed directly on the excavating bucket, this attachment provides strong pumping pressure over long distances.

“Instead of suctioning the material from the bottom to the pumps on the dredge, we push the material from the bottom (pump bucket), which means more solid and less water,” says Grant. “It was a challenge to ensure it would handle several different types of materials.”

Normrock has also added special features for harsh environments. In 2005, the company added a larger model. The Amphibex 600 can handle depths of 10 meters and is able to process heavier loads and dredge more material at a faster rate than its predecessor. However, because requests kept coming in for even greater capacity, this year Normrock will unveil its newest amphibian.

“The Amphibex 1000 features two engines, a new hydraulic system, new electronic controls and a new bucket pump that will dredge deeper and pump up to 40,000gal/min,” says Grant. “It’s a complete redesign and a very powerful machine.”


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