Trenchless Technology Canada Roundtable: The State of Trenchless Technology in Canada


As the federal government looks to pump more money into infrastructure improvements across the country, trenchless technologies are poised to play a pivotal role. Unfortunately, some methods are more utilised and recognised than others. In an effort to gauge where the different provinces stand in the use and acceptance of trenchless methods, Trenchless Technology Canada reached out to several of its Editorial Advisory Board members for this year’s roundtable. The group was assembled in British Columbia for the 2017 Trenchless Technology Road Show.

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The idea behind this discussion — titled “The State of Trenchless Technology in Canada” — was to explore how trenchless is accepted and used across the different regions in Canada.

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RELATED: 2017 Trenchless Technology Roundtable: Navigating an Uncertain Future

Joining in the discussion are:

Dr. Mark Knight, P.Eng., Executive Director, CATT

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Kieran Field, P.Eng., Opus International/Chairman, NASTT-BC

Dr. Jason Lueke, P.Eng., National Trenchless Practice Leader, Associated Engineering

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Dr. Alireza Bayat, P.Eng., Director, CETT

Harry Dickinson, AScT, Estimator, The Tunneling Company

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How would you rate the state of the trenchless technology market in Canada right now?


Jason Lueke

Lueke: In the last few years, we as consultants, have not been busier. In the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) we currently have several number of tunnelling projects on the go, much more so than in recent past. In Calgary, we have had four significant tunnels under construction over the last two years, and three in Edmonton. From what we have seen, there is a lot more demand for tunnels and directionally drilled installation from our municipal clients. The last five years, is the busiest that we have ever seen the trenchless industry, and all indications are that this will continue into the near future.

Dickinson: I believe that both the new and rehab markets are growing and will continue to grow due to the current aging infrastructure and increasing demands. For our [The Tunneling Company] work, highways and railways are the main driving force because they do not care for any kind of open cut or disruption of service. The highway and railway corridors are continually being expanded or upgraded and existing corrugated steel pipe culverts are aging and failing. We feel that this will continue to drive growth in the trenchless market.

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Mark Knight

Knight: The GTA has exploded with respect to the adoption of trenchless. From my understanding for water main relining, the U.S market is somewhere around $35 million total and Toronto will do more than $100 million alone. Montreal is doing somewhere around $35 million, so in water main lining work, Canada is definitely at the forefront on that.

As Jason was talking about, microtunnelling and tunnelling projects, the amount of work that Toronto has going on is phenomenal and it will continue for the next 20 years. I think the GTA probably has more tunnelling work going on than anywhere else in North America. It is interesting to watch the microtunnelling contractor base grow. We went from a period of five years from no microtunnelling projects to doing some of the most complex curved microtunnelling projects in North America.

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I also know that Halifax has a huge CIPP program under way where they are doing all kind of sewer relining and rehab. There is also another contractor in New Brunswick that has recently purchased one UV-curing system and within a year-and-a-half he has become so busy that he went to buy a second UV-curing system for that market.

From the directional drilling side, the number of projects continuing to go are huge. That does not mean that there is not more room for growth because a lot of engineers and engineering designs are probably holding back the industry in some places with respect to tender specifications and designs. Contractors are bidding designs knowing they will have to change the design from the get-go. But it hasn’t stopped the industry from using HDD and growing it.

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Alireza Bayat

Bayat: From the municipal aspect it is steadily growing and oil and gas projects like Trans Mountain involve trenchless. Maybe it’s not always on our radar, but telecommunication is also growing. Bell just announced that they are spending multi-billions of dollars in the Toronto area, Tellus is doing around $7 billion in Alberta, it is huge. The first fibre to the Northwest Territories was just completed. A lot of activity is in the telecom domain that is affecting the trenchless market.

Field: I would say in British Columbia (BC) it is growing steadily. The Trenchless Technology Road Show itself is probably good evidence of how it is growing. The show here in BC in 2015 we only had two streams running, now we have three streams, the numbers are up, the presenters are up and the exhibitors are up. It is definitely growing here.

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RELATED: The 2017 Trenchless Technology Canada Roundtable

What are the main drivers for trenchless work from your perspective? Does this bode well for the future of the market?

Knight: Some of the drivers include the cost of open cut. It all comes down to cost. One of the barriers, especially in water mains, is that rehab is close to the cost of replacement and many people would rather go with replacement than what they see as rehabilitation option. What is partly driving Toronto with water main rehab projects is the number of breaks and the public perception around breaks. It is the municipalities that are driving a lot of these technologies and the use of them. If consultants do not have a lot of experience with it [a technology] they resist it and push the traditional tried and true because a lot of consultants are risk averse.

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Lueke: From what I have seen here with our clients, it is that trenchless isn’t always less expensive than open trench options, but when they consider other social factors, there is a lot of concern about reducing the environmental impact of projects and the impact on residents in terms of road closures and detours. There is a willingness to maybe pay a bit of a premium at times to avoid these social issues. That is where we see some of our clients looking to specify trenchless for their projects.

How do you view innovation within the trenchless market?


Harry Dickinson

Dickinson: New innovation is the key to expanding the trenchless market. The installation of new services/utilities/culverts while dealing with construction limitations due to existing infrastructure and geo-technical considerations will only get more difficult. “Necessity is the mother of invention” as designers continue to push the limits of existing technologies while being cost effective. Trenchless contractors are forced to be resourceful and innovative.

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Knight: Many of the municipalities are willing to try new technologies. Canada has a very good research and development credit that will match money. You will see a lot of technologies come to Canada first before it comes to the United States because we are willing to try new technologies. Innovation takes time and sometimes the problem is procurement. If there is only one contractor or one material supplier in a municipal marketplace that can be a barrier because they want multiple bidders or multiple systems. Being able to get a technology into the marketplace is not necessarily easy especially a proprietary technology.

Bayat: There is still big room for innovation. The question is who is taking that lead or who is bringing that new thing to market? For instance, directional drilling has been around with small tweaks and changes. What is that next big step? Is it from a manufacturer or contractor? What will bring the new dimension to the industry? I don’t know what it is, but it is collective and there is room for improvement. The potential is huge in a new domain. For example, a developer approached us [CETT] to see if they could use trenchless for new home development. The reason for them is to save time because they get three or four months to put utilities in the ground. The need is there, but the capacity is still small.

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How is the use of new technology viewed by contractors, engineers

and owners?


Kieran Field

Field: In terms of new technologies for contractors, engineers or owners, typically contractors are more gung ho about using a new technology. Engineers would be a bit more cautious with a desire to test out the new technology. Owners – because they are the ones that will have to deal with the outcome for the next 80 years – are the first to ask, “Are we sure about this? Is it going to be safe?”. That is where more education and procurement models need to be adopted to make sure you are getting experienced contractors as opposed to someone who just got a new piece of equipment to put in the new pipe.

Lueke: There are new contractors steadily entering the marketplace across Canada. They are bringing in new equipment with increased capabilities and experience than those contractors currently in the marketplace – be it curved tunnel sections, longer drive lengths, and larger diameters. This is good for everyone involved in trenchless, be it the owner, engineer or existing contractors. Owners experience more competitive bidding opportunities, engineers can offer creative solutions for various infrastructure needs, and contractors benefit from the increased exposure of trenchless to the municipal market. New proven and successful technologies create opportunities for everyone in the industry.

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Dickinson: Contractors almost immediately embrace new technologies, as anytime we can provide a solution to a problem, that is a good thing. Engineers’ interests are usually piqued and they are inquisitive, typically requesting detailed work procedures. Owners are the last ones to come to the table to embrace new technology because it needs to be proven, tried, tested and true.

RELATED: Trenchless Technology Canada Point of View: Pilot Projects…A Municipal Challenge

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What obstacles still exist for the market at-large? How do organizations like CATT, CETT and NASTT factor into overcoming these obstacles?

Dickinson: We feel that the market is evolving and educating designers and engineers about the pros and cons of various techniques is imperative for continued growth. When discussing future projects with engineers, I typically have to ask many questions to understand the intent of a particular design to be able to offer any kind of support or advice as to what trenchless method can or should be used.

Field: Education and research is very important. CATT is doing a great job at Waterloo, I just ran into a former student at a local tunnelling job in BC. Trenchless has to be part of the educational system. We are chatting to third level institutes in BC to try and get trenchless into a program. When I went through university there was nothing on trenchless and everything I learned was through the industry. It needs to be instilled early on so the engineers of tomorrow can bring it to the owners, engineering firms and contractors.

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Knight: What CATT and CETT do is educate the next generation of engineers, as well as conducting research. Our students will be the trenchless leaders of the future. When you look at key people in the industry today doing neat designs, working on cool projects, they have a link to these universities and research organizations. The long-term success and survival of the industry is to make sure those people continue to work through the pipeline.

Bayat: These technologies are not part of the mainstream education curriculum in the universities. Someone can graduate with a civil engineering degree and they won’t hear about this stuff. And if they don’t hear about it, they won’t use it down the road. The more they get familiar, the more they know these options exist, the more chance down the road they can use it. For education, you need resources, you need background. That is continuous. It is not like we come up with a manual that we can use for 50 years. There is a continuous need to create the resources and have that education ongoing. These trenchless organizations need to support and create those educational opportunities because universities aren’t able to do it alone. It needs industry participation to have those programs in place. If you don’t have it then students will not become familiar with it and they won’t use it.

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Lueke: If you take a look at some of the people in the industry that are involved in the more interesting and challenging projects in Canada – many have been involved, contributed, or been educated by NASTT, CATT (University of Waterloo) and CETT (University of Alberta). These organizations have been key in educating engineers and owners in the application of trenchless, and expand the marketplace for everyone. These organizations help develop good practices and standards, and vet new technologies. Without these organizations, we wouldn’t have the opportunities to try some of these new technologies and methods.

What are some of the ways that Canada is a leader in trenchless globally? What areas can be improved upon?

Field: In terms of leading trenchless globally, [in British Columbia] we just recently attempted and completed the largest pipe bursting upsizing in North America if not the world. PW Trenchless burst a 36-in. corrugated steel pipe up to a 42-in. HDPE.

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Dickinson: We tend to have to deal with some of the toughest ground conditions in North America, which gives us the necessary experience that others would not get in ideal ground. Canadians tend to be humble and let our actions speak louder than words. So, we appreciate periodicals like Trenchless Technology that help us, and the industry, promote our successes or lessons learned.

Knight: Canada is a leader globally in the water main rehab market. I’ve been involved with understanding where the Australian water market is, cured-in-place linings they are doing their first pilots in Australia. Australia has 400,000 km of cement mortar lined pipe that needs to be replaced for water mains. Canadian technology from Sanexen is there doing pilots. I just came back from No-Dig Down Under and it is interesting that you didn’t see much new technology that hasn’t already been used in Canada over the last few years.

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What I think one of the limitations of our industry is, it’s the words trenchless technologies. Trenchless technologies [as a term] is not well understood by politicians and other people. If you ask politicians about the trenchless technology, it becomes a barrier. We need to do a better job in educating politicians and people outside of our industry. I recently heard the mayor of Toronto talk about the benefits of trenchless. It was amazing to sit there and hear about how great they were doing and the benefits of their lining program and how it will stop water main breaks and improve water quality and life without digging up the streets.

Mike Kezdi is associate editor of Trenchless Technology Canada.

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