Lynn Osborn has spent his entire professional career working in the water and wastewater industries, with more than 30 of those years in the trenchless technology industry. And he wouldn’t change a thing, he says.
He joined what is now known as Insituform Technologies in 1984 when few public works officials had ever heard of the term trenchless technology, let alone dared to try it on their aging pipes. Today, cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) is the preferred method of pipe rehabilitation across North America, as well as the world. The CIPP process, created by Insituform founder Eric Wood, has created a multi-billion dollar industry that continues to reach new heights.
But when Osborn first got into the trenchless industry, he had no idea he would still be this excited and motivated after all these years about the technology. “As an engineer, I found trenchless technology just to be a really neat application for a problem that was just going to get bigger and bigger,” Osborn says. “There were some pretty trying times in the early years [with getting people to accept the technology]. When I first left the consulting world, someone told me I’d be back in a year. That never happened. I didn’t see myself lasting 31 years with Insituform either. The longer I stayed, the more I wanted to stay to see this through … but of course you’ll never see it through with all the work that needs to be done.”
Osborn is a quiet and reserved man who has the utmost respect of his colleagues and those he works with on a daily basis. He has a wealth of knowledge of the trenchless industry, accumulated from his more than 30-plus years working at Insituform, as well as his participation in the many industry associations such as NASSCO, NASTT, CUIRE, TTC, ASCE, WEF and AWWA, to name a few — knowledge that he now shares with other trenchless professionals in his role of technical director for NASSCO.
For all of his contributions to the trenchless industry, Lynn Osborn is the 2016 Trenchless Technology Person of the Year. His selection left him dumbfounded and at a loss for words. “I am surprised, humbled and just very honored, especially considering those who received this award over the years.” Osborn says. “I remember when Bob Affholder and Mike Garver received this award. Those are industry giants. I am extremely grateful.”
Osborn has never been one to let a little hard work deter him, even at a young age. He grew up in a small town on the Kansas plains, describing his childhood as having “great parents, little money.” Going to college meant he would have to work in order to pay for it. After his junior year in high school, and the six summers that followed, Osborn went on a wheat harvest crew, starting in Oklahoma and ending in North Dakota, Montana and Canada. “This was how I could afford to go to college,” he says. “I worked seven long days a week and spent very little money during the summers.”
He graduated from Kansas Wesleyan University in 1969 with a double major in chemistry and biology. Osborn was drafted in the Army three months after graduation and served a tour in Vietnam. After his discharge, he went back to school, enrolling at the University of Kansas. He graduated in 1974 with degrees in civil engineering.
His first professional job was with Wilson & Co., Engineers and Architects, in Salina and Wichita, Kan., where he planned, designed and constructed sewers, water lines and water and wastewater treatment plants from 1975-1984. Osborn’s first look at trenchless technology occurred when the firm took on some pipe rehabilitation projects, mostly sliplining. The trenchless terminology wasn’t exactly mainstream at that point.
“I don’t think the term trenchless technology actually existed at that time,” Osborn says. “Public law 92-500 was passed in 1972, which was a federal funding mechanism for sewers and wastewater treatment plants. There was a big boom in design and construction. We did a few jobs that involved sliplining sewers with polyethylene pipe, which was my introduction to trenchless technology.”
In fall 1982, Osborn got a better look at trenchless technology when he attended a St. Louis, tradeshow that later became known as WEFTEC. There, he met trenchless industry trailblazer (and 1996 Trenchless Technology Person of the Year recipient) Bob Affholder, who built both Affholder Inc. and Insituform Mid-America into leaders in the pipeline rehabilitation and tunneling markets and is now vice chairman of SAK Construction.
A year later, Osborn observed firsthand a significant trenchless pipe relining project that Affholder’s Insituform company was working on in downtown St. Louis, involving an egg-shape sewer that was 54 in. tall and 36 in. wide. What he saw blew him away.
“That was the first time I had ever seen the cured-in-place pipe process,” Osborn says. “I was pretty amazed, as most people were in the early years. In those days, when most people saw the CIPP process, they were dumbfounded that you could do all of this without digging a big hole. I wanted to see more and I was glad I got to see more.”
A few months later, in January 1984, Osborn joined Insituform of North America (later known as Insituform Technologies) as its associate technical director, working with Tom Driver, the technical director. This association with Driver and Insituform would last for nearly 31 years, during which time Osborn got a firsthand seat at watching — and helping — the trenchless industry and the CIPP innovator grow from relative obscurity to global giants.
“When Tom [Driver] and I started out, we were the entire engineering team for the company at the time. My employee number was 25, meaning I was the 25th person hired at Insituform of North America,” Osborn says, laughing, noting how Insituform (now Aegion) went on to become a billion dollar, multi-faceted company.
While the first CIPP installation took place in 1971 in the United Kingdom, that feat wasn’t realized in North America until 1976 in Fresno, Calif. And even after that milestone, the process did not readily catch on for years afterward. As Insituform started to grow, Osborn’s responsibilities did, as well. Osborn began his career at Insituform spending much of his time working in the field, helping to train Insituform licensees on the CIPP process, as well as educating cities on its benefits, the latter being no easy task as they were hesitant to change the way they addressed their pipes.
“During my first six years, I spent a lot of time in the field teaching the licensees. At the time, Insituform had no installation arm and construction was all done through a licensee network in the United States and they had to be trained,” he says.
Osborn returned to the office in the 1990s, concentrating on engineering and R&D, but he was always grateful for the experience and knowledge he gained working in the field — something he wishes today’s young engineers had the same opportunity to do. “I was extremely fortunate to spend the time in the field. It’s not their fault, but I think that’s where a lot of today’s engineers miss out,” he says. “There’s just not the opportunity [in today’s business world] for them to spend a lot of time in the field. I always say that you really don’t understand trenchless technology until you have stood out on a jobsite for 24 hours straight (or more) in the winter and experience the stress and tiredness you get or how difficult it is with the weather. You understand a lot more when you’ve done that routinely.
“And when you’ve done it as much I have, you really understand it,” he says, laughing.
There comes a time when you know it’s time to move on, that your work is done. For Osborn that day came on Dec. 31, 2014, after working nearly 31 years for the same employer. “I wanted to retire. The time had come but I didn’t want to stop contributing,” Osborn says.
Instead of spending his retirement years traveling and doing the hobbies he loves, he decided to take on a part-time industry role as the technical director of NASSCO, an organization he had long participated in over the years. Then-technical director Gerry Muenchmeyer (2014 Trenchless Technology Person of the year) was ready to step down from his duties to concentrate on training/teaching — perfect timing for everyone.
“Gerry and I have been friends for more than 30 years. I was the guy on the NASSCO board who recommended that NASSCO hire Gerry to be its technical director in 2006,” Osborn says. “We put together a transition plan and on Jan. 1, 2015, I officially became the new technical director.”
Osborn is enjoying his role as NASSCO’s technical director. Osborn has been taken on the hefty project of updating NASSCO’s Inspector Training and Certification Program (ITCP) CIPP Manual and training aids — tasks he describes as a huge undertaking. He also reviews and sometimes writes NASSCO documents for publication, such as magazine articles, specifications and manuals. He also presents papers at conferences, as well as organizes NASSCO technical sessions and preconference workshops. He also teaches NASSCO training courses.
“NASSCO has recently developed working relationships with the Trenchless Technology Center (TTC) and the Center for Underground Infrastructure Research and Education (CUIRE) and I also represent NASSCO on the boards of those organizations,” Osborn says.
A Trenchless Life
What is it about the trenchless technology industry that has kept Osborn so energized and enthused all these years? He says it goes back to that very first CIPP project he observed in 1983. “It’s that ‘Wow’ factor. It’s cool,” he says “It’s the ability to structurally rehabilitate an aging sewer with little or no excavation.”
In Osborn’s view, the marketing and educating to consulting engineers, in addition to the municipalities, has been a catalyst to trenchless’ growth and strength over the years, as those engineers were holding tight to the open-cut methods of the past.
“When I became involved, marketing was more about getting the word out. Most people in the sewer business had not heard of trenchless rehab,” Osborn explains. “APWA took the lead in the mid to late-1980s with many one-day trenchless seminars around the country. Then there was a realization that the industry would not grow as desired without the consulting engineers becoming involved. So we began trenchless seminars targeting consulting engineers.”
Osborn further marvels at how the trenchless industry has evolved over the last 30 years to the point where it has become the preferred method of rehabilitation for our aging infrastructure all around the world. When asked about the next “big thing,” Osborn says it’s hard to pinpoint, as the industry has just grown and grown over time. He sees the pressure pipe market segment being on the verge of making a significant statement. “This really isn’t new,” Osborn says. “Pressure pipes have been rehabilitated for decades. However, the market hasn’t boomed like the gravity sewer market. That could be on its way. New pressure pipe products are emerging and I expect the ‘ramping up’ to accelerate in the pressure pipe market, principally drinking water and sewage force mains.”
No matter the different roles Osborn has served the trenchless industry over the years, for him the most meaningful and the one he says describes him best is an engineer. “I am an engineer,” he says simply. “I really enjoy planning a project, going over the details, anticipating scenarios, risk management and then dealing with events as they play out on the jobsite. But since that part of my career has passed, the next best thing is teaching others and putting my experience to good use.”
Beyond the trenchless walls, Osborn enjoys spending time with his wife of 48 years, Ivy, as well as his daughters, Julee and Valerie and being grandpa to two granddaughters and two grandsons, ranging in age from third grade to a college junior. Julee’s and Valerie’s husbands — Dennis and Ryan, respectively— are both civil engineers.
The family enjoys traveling and summer trips to the mountains. Over the years, Osborn and his wife were avid bicyclists and have ridden across the state of Missouri 13 times for fundraisers, raising money for Habitat for Humanity. Osborn has been also a lifelong runner.
“I’ve learned a lot over the years and met and worked with a lot of good people. That is the key to success,” he says.
Sharon M. Bueno is managing editor of Trenchless Technology.