Each year at the No-Dig Show, Trenchless Technology assembles leaders of the trenchless community to discuss various issues affecting the trenchless industry. As this year’s No-Dig Show was an international event, we decided gather perspective about the trenchless market inside and outside North America’s borders.

We were pleased to have trenchless leaders from ISTT and its Affiliated Societies share their thoughts on the global trenchless market, the downturn in the world market and its impact on the trenchless work in their countries. The roundtable discussion was held Tuesday, March 30 at the Sheraton Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The moderator was Trenchless Technology editor James W. Rush. The participants were:

  • Piero Salvo, NASTT (Canada),
  • Joop van Wamelen, SASTT
  • Chris Brahler, NASTT (United States)
  • Taigo Matsui/Kyoko Kondo, JSTT
  • Dec Downey, ISTT

How do you see the global economic downturn affecting trenchless technology? What impact is it having on your area?

Joop van Wamelen: The areas where the growth in trenchless technology would be most affected would be the developed part of the world. In southern Africa, which is basically the area south of the Zambezi River, the whole construction sector is still in a growth phase because of the backlog work that needs to be done. Another factor that is affecting South Africa is that the relatively new democratic government has instituted what it calls the Municipal Finance Management Act. This puts an obligation on municipalities to practice asset management and municipalities are being dragged into this kicking and screaming. But it is an act of parliament and if you don’t comply then the municipal manager could go to jail. So, the municipalities are now starting to implement asset management and in the process they are finding that their underground assets are in a bad state and more and more they are turning to trenchless rehabilitation. So trenchless technology in South Africa is in a growth phase.

Chris Brahler: In North America, I am very optimistic for the growth of trenchless technology. One indication is the success of the International No-Dig Show here in Toronto. It’s typical of the enthusiasm we hear in the United States. The United States right now is going through some interesting times but trenchless is one the area that is surviving all this economic turmoil. A lot of contractors have backlogs through the fall and they are cautiously optimistic that they their businesses will be fine. We are also seeing improved methods and higher quality if work, which is key to continued growth.

Piero Salvo:
In Canada, we do not see a slowdown either. The biggest problem that we have right now is we don’t have enough contractors. There are so many projects coming out. And it’s for many reasons. Trenchless is the way to go because it takes less time and it’s a lot greener. That’s been a buzzword lately, but in trenchless it’s really true. There’s a lot less disposal of materials and less material that you need to bring in, so all this comes into play when you are analyzing projects. In general, the trenchless projects cost less. So, you’re really getting a lot more bang for your buck. And I do not see it slowing down anytime soon.

Dec Downey: In Europe, we have a variable picture. There are huge differences between Eastern Europe and Western Europe. There’s much growth in Eastern Europe with new construction work going on. In Western Europe and Southern Europe we’ve got a lot more rehabilitation going on in different countries being driven by different mechanisms. Germany is very quality driven. The United Kingdom is a very privatized water industry and gas industry, so we’re driven there by the cycles of business. We had been going through a period driven by water quality in which we were doing 2,000 to 3,000 km of spray lining a year, but that is coming to an end. We’re going to see a lot of structural work. Delegates to this conference are confident that spending levels will be maintained, so I think were going to see quite steady growth. Although there are concerns about the economy at this moment, it’s mainly because we’re on the shoulder of one spending plan and moving into the next one.

Taigo Matsui/Kyoko Kondo: In Japan, trenchless is widely accepted and more people are using it. There are some new technologies that are coming out that made the scope of the applicable range wider than it used to be. More techniques can be applied to many soil types. The new technique we think will be used more. But the world recession is hitting us very hard. Trenchless projects are decreasing at the moment, despite of the newly developed techniques. In fact, pipe jacking construction for sewers has dropped from 1,200 km in 1999 to 750 km in 2007.

One example of a new technique is a form of pipe jacking called pipe eating in which the existing pipe is crushed and the pieces are basically swallowed and discharged to the surface, so you don’t leave any piece of the existing pipe in the ground. Municipalities would like that nothing is left in the ground. This method is a little more expensive, so growth is a little slow. But we are optimistic that it will continue to get recognized and gain in popularity.

Briefly describe the state of the trenchless market in your area.  

van Wamelen: In South Africa, the cost of installation and repair has very little to do with what methods are used. What we find more often is the backlash of the population of the deterioration of the infrastructure. For instance, last summer for a couple of months, we had electricity blackouts. Of course, the electricity utility had not been making the capital investments needed to maintain its infrastructure and it began to fail. When the blackouts finally began stopping, there was backlash and a lot of criticism from the public. As a result the major water suppliers in the country took the lesson to heart and are working very hard on asset management, finding out what is wrong commissioning rehabilitation work.
Brahler: In the United States, there is a lot of work resulting from federal mandates. For example, the City of Atlanta has been ordered to spend in excess of $3 billion to upgrade its sewer and water system. Similar to the case of the electric utility in South Africa, the city had not made the necessary investments until they were forced to. But as a result, there is a huge need for work and a lot of it will be done trenchlessly, including pipe relining and pipe bursting. Other trenchless methods for inspecting and monitoring pipes are being used for improved management and planning. Overall, these techniques will save cities a lot of money.

We are also seeing the use of trenchless in smaller communities. In some cases, smaller cities are more progressive than the larger cites. We’ve seen a lot of small communities do pipe bursting long before a big city will do it because there’s not as much loyalty to the pipe that they’ve been using for 50 years, so they’ll try a different type or more modern pipe. The rural areas actually have some of the best projects. Not as big, of course, but still very progressive.

Salvo: Recently, the government has come up with an infrastructure program with hundreds of millions of dollars to stimulate the economy. They’re trying to get projects out as quickly as possible. Which projects are quicker to develop and be able to be done?  It’s the trenchless projects. In addition, there are policies in Quebec where they actually force the municipality to spend a percentage of their replacement of water main using trenchless. So as far as the economy, yes people are cautious, but it seems to be going forward quicker than we can react at this point.

Downey: In the United Kingdom, local revenues of the water companies are down because they’re large sellers to industrial and energy customers, who are buying less water. For example, the car industry has almost closed down completely. It’s probably not having any effect on the trenchless proportions because the industry is extremely willing to use trenchless technology, but usage levels are running at 60 or 70 percent so there is less money for projects overall.

Matsui/Kondo: Since 1997 as a means of financial reform, the government began reducing spending on public works projects. In 2008 spending for sewers was down 50 percent. However, one positive sign is the government’s willingness to spend on safety measures, including burying electric cables and building improved communications networks. The government is also taking other measures to boost the economy that could have a positive impact on trenchless.

What methods of construction and rehab are common to your area? Are there any innovation products, processes or practices that have come from your area?

van Wamelen: In South Africa, pipe bursting and lining for sewers are the most common forms of trenchless technology. At this time all lining materials are imported and as a result are expensive. It would help if we were able to develop resins and felt locally to drive make them more affordable. Pipe jacking is still very common for new installation of sewers and directional drilling is having a boom time as the result of a large-scale installation of fiber-optic cables for broadband. Some new techniques are sometimes viewed as risk. SASTT is working on standards that would go a long way to ease entry into the market.  

Brahler: We are seeing many innovative methods, which in many cases are coming from the contractors in the field. In some cases you see a merging of technologies, like HDD being used with pipe ramming. Pilot tube work is an area that’s been growing dramatically in North America — and sometimes you will see them used in conjunction with pipe rammers on difficult projects too.  

Salvo: In Canada, we are seeing a lot of CIPP lining of water mains. Here at the International No-Dig there are a lot of companies with new lining products available, and I see that as an emerging area. There is also a lot of sliplining, tunneling and jacking. One thing that I’ve noticed too is that there are a lot more diagnostics. Municipalities know what they have, but there seems to be this additional drive to be able to really assess what they have, so that they come up with a better plan. There’s a lot of planning going on as well as execution.

Downey: Historically there has been a lot of innovation coming from the United Kingdom. CIPP and spray lining started out there. And in the last few years, we’ve seen a lot more innovation. Even in very basic activities, like pipe cleaning, there is a new technology using an ice pig for cleaning that is a really innovative technique. I think we will see more innovation as there is going to be an upswing in sewer rehabilitation as there is more emphasis on that going forward. I see more of a need for structural repair of water pipes going forward too because of the past emphasis on addressing red water problems. Traditionally U.K. water companies have been willing to embrace new technologies. In fact, companies like Wessex Water embrace innovative technologies because of the cost-savings.

Matsui/Kondo: Japan is still the country of pipe jacking, even though we are doing less now than 10 years ago. Trenchless technologies are well accepted in Japan because of the small spaces available for construction in the cities. Most of the newly developed techniques can be used in any areas and in all soil types.

It seems that many times different regions go through their own learning process with certain techniques. What can be done to help facilitate information exchange so that we don’t have to keep re-learning the same lessons?

Salvo: One venue is right here at the No-Dig Show. The fact that it’s the International No-Dig Show encourages information exchange across borders. Improved communications are also facilitating information exchange. There are newsletters, blogs and Web sites that have a wealth of information, in addition to industry magazines. The information is out there. In North America, there is a good exchange of information between Canada and the United States as technologies going both ways. As an example, CIPP lining of water mains is beginning to take a foothold in the United States. It’s slowly starting, but you do see it more and more.

Brahler: The ISTT has set up a committee to answer technology questions from municipalities or utilities. That’s a great tool to transport information globally.

Downey: Yes, the technical panel from ISTT is beginning to be very effective. We also have the ISTT master class program which offers a comprehensive look at trenchless techniques. The plan is to offer those four or five each year.

Additionally, the U.K society and the Japanese society have a very interesting exercise where the Japanese were kind enough to host our young engineer of the year. He had two weeks learning about all kinds of technologies. I’d like to see people from Japan coming to the U.K. on that basis. We’ve also seen activity from the Italian society. That’s a huge program with an outreach into the North African countries. They received a large amount of money from the government to go do that, which is really encouraging. So there are all kinds of activities going on the formal and informal level, which will help to break down the barriers and promote technology exchange between countries.

How has the global marketplace changed in recent years?  

Salvo: There is more of an acceptance of trenchless techniques. The technology is improving and the contractors are improving, so it makes it easier for the municipalities to use. They are not as afraid to do it because now there is a track record. Now they’re not the guinea pig.

Downey: If you look at what’s happening in India currently, trenchless technology has really shot off to a massive start; $100 million is being spent in every major city in India. That’s a country where they can afford to pay people to do work in trenches. They’re choosing deliberately and the funding agencies are insisting on using trenchless technology because they’re going to get the job done once and get it done properly. 

van Wamelen: We are also seeing cases where trenchless is being done for social considerations. If the costs are close, they are going to use trenchless because they don’t want the backlash from the public.

Downey: That’s a very strong point. If you look at what’s happening in India currently, trenchless technology has really shot off to a massive start; $100 million is being spent in every major city in India. That’s a country where they can afford to pay people to do work in trenches. They’re choosing deliberately and the funding agencies are insisting on using trenchless technology because they’re going to get the job done once and get it done properly. 

Brahler: With all the progress we’ve made and all the people we’ve educated, there are just as many people who don’t understand it. Our job is still, in my mind, in the beginning. One problem we are facing is that we have all these great technologies, but with open, low-bid procurement, sometimes we have a hard time getting contractors that operate at a high-quality level.

What are the emerging areas or markets for trenchless technologies?

Downey: We tend to think of trenchless being water and sewer, but in our conference in Rome in 2007, we learned that 70 percent of the trenchless work in Italy is sponsored by Italian Telecom. It’s a huge business.

Brahler: The lateral market is a market that people don’t really think about, but it’s huge and it’s growing. When you consider that along with the electric, telecom and oil and gas markets also doing well, the trenchless industry is firing on all cylinders. That does create quality issues of getting qualified contractors to do the work. That’s a real challenge for our industry because poor quality can destroy a method faster than anything else.

Downey: The education and training of installers is an area that’s going to impact the growth of trenchless and the growth of our business. I think we are going to see a push for certified installers. It happens in some niches of our business, and it’s going to happen in a lot more of them. We’re beginning to see customers insisting that only qualified operators are used.

At the end of the day, whoever is paying for the work has the most interest in the job’s accomplishment. Whether it’s a government or privatize institution, they’ve actually got to be insisting that the contractor’s specifications will work properly in the training. They have to work with the educators and our organizations to set up training schemes to enable people to be trained and to be measured and be continuously monitored. When we have that – and we do see that happening in some areas —we’re going to see quality standards taken to the next level.

Brahler: That also includes the training of inspectors. Knowledgeable inspectors are needed to watch the installation procedure and recognize any improper installation practices.

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