AGI Construction, Smithfield, R.I., is one of the premier underground utility contractors in the northeastern United States. For more than 25 years the construction company has provided a comprehensive range of contracting services for natural gas, telecommunications, and electric underground utility installations. With almost 200 skilled employees, the Rhode Island-based company’s service area includes all of New England.
AGI vice president of operations, Brian Minnis has more than 35 years of natural gas pipeline experience and oversees all field operations for the company. Minnis began his career in the industry as a second-generation pipeline welder and originally started as a welder for AGI. That was almost 20 years ago. Today, Minnis manages a workforce of 25 crews and 195 employees. As part of AGI’s leadership group, he has been a major contributor to the significant innovations that the company has developed, including the proprietary approach the company takes toward pipeline installation.
“The approach to project work in pipeline installation operations has improved efficiency and productivity in the field,” Minnis said. We have moved to a very specialized approach. For example, we have crews that specialize in main installation. Then we have crews that focus solely on services and crews that just do tie-ins. Basically it’s a moving assembly line. We see major efficiencies with that approach.”
With a wide range of challenging soil conditions to contend with, along with established, older neighborhoods, Minnis said his crews are utilizing trenchless piercing tools to facilitate a significant service line replacement program for a local gas utility provider.
“We’re currently replacing a large number of old cast iron mains and bare steel gas service lines. Residents are very particular on how you take care of their property,” Minnis said. “The trenchless piercing tools allow us to limit the amount of disruption for the homeowner. We use the piercing tools as much as possible. I’d say 90 percent of our service line work is done with piercing tools.”
While piercing tools range in size from 1.75 in. in diameter up to 7 in., AGI uses primarily 3- and 4-in. diameter tools. Throughout Rhode Island, crews are using Grundomat piercing tools from trenchless equipment manufacturer TT Technologies, Aurora, IL., for service line installations.
“[Minnis] has developed an impressive service line replacement program at AGI. It’s really a model of efficiency. They get a lot of productivity from their crews as well as the piercing tools,” said TT Technologies piercing tool specialist Ric Micelotta.
Committed to Being the Best
According to Minnis, AGI’s commitment to being the best includes emphasis in three main areas: safety, technology and production. “Safety in all operations is not just a corporate goal it is a requirement,” he said. “We employ a full-time safety director to oversee our industry leading safety program. We’re committed to providing all employees with a safe working environment and protecting life, health, the environment and property. Our motto is: ‘Plan your work, work your plan, everybody goes home.’”
Over the years, AGI has invested heavily in technology. As part of AGI’s “Field Technology Program,” every AGI crew is equipped with a smartphone and a tablet. The company uses a variety of specialized software applications along with these smart devices to transfer information to and from the field. This has led to administrative efficiencies and has allowed AGI to become almost entirely paperless in the office.
“We will never stop looking to improve our use of technology. We will always be open to new ideas and new approaches. Our goal is to be an industry leader. It doesn’t matter whether that is in the field or in the office,” Minnis said.
Using a staple of trenchless technology combined with the company’s production-based project approach has helped in the establishment of a successful gas service line replacement program.
Piercing Tool Production
Pneumatic piercing tools are known for versatility. According to Micelotta, several techniques can be used with piercing tools to install services. “Piercing tools offer many options for installing the actual product pipe. That’s one of the reasons they are so effective in service line installation situations,” Micelotta said. “For pulling PVC or ridged plastic pipe directly behind the Grundomat, a specially designed pipe-pulling tailpiece is available. Several other tailpieces are also available for pulling PE and steel pipe.
“In certain situations, after the bore is complete, the tool is removed from the pit. Then the pipe is attached to the air hose and pulled into place when the hose is pulled out. Because of the poor, dry soil conditions in the area they are working in now, AGI crews are attaching the new service line and a tracer wire to the front of the tool, and backing the tool out through the bore hole, pulling in the new service simultaneously. That method can be accomplished in several ways including a pulling eye adapter that slips over the tip of the tool head and is secured by roll pins.”
On the Job
In Rhode Island, AGI is getting significant productivity from its piercing tool crews, replacing approximately 3,000 gas service lines annually. Soil conditions vary from sandy in one part of the state to rocky gravel soils in the other.
The design of the piercing tool has a lot to do with its accuracy and overcoming difficult soil conditions. “The chisel-head assembly is the key to accuracy,” Micelotta said. “The assembly is spring-loaded and pushes forward from the main casing creating a pilot bore for the tool to follow. The reciprocating action and stepped-cone design of the tool head allows it to overcome difficult soils and obstructions without being pushed off course.”
Minnis has 12 four-person crews working on service line replacement throughout the state, dividing tasks between pit preparations, installing the service and tie in. “Most of the installations we’re doing are for replacement as opposed to new service,” he said. “We’re installing ½-in., 1-in. and 2-in. High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) gas service lines, depending on service requirements. Our crews are typically able to replace three services per day. And homeowners are only taken off for a short time, usually put back in service within two or three hours.”
Often, the service line replacements are taking place in well-established neighborhoods, in tight working conditions, with landscaping, driveways and sidewalks to avoid. The setting is well suited for trenchless horizontal boring with piercing tools. Launch and exit pits average in size 5 ft long by 4 ft wide and 4 ft deep. Crews launch the piercing tools by hand with a smart level.
Near side service installations range between 30 and 45 ft in length while long side installations are typically around 70 ft. Minnis estimates that boring rates average approximately 1 ft per minute depending on soil conditions. Once crews have completed the installation, the new service is tied into the main using mechanical or electro-fusion fittings.
“With all the people they have performing service line installations, they’re running Grundomats all day long,” Micelotta said. “Basic tool up-keep and maintenance is performed at their shop, but crews also service them when needed in the field. The tools are very easy to maintain. The program that Brian has established at AGI for gas service installations is really something. Their crews are well trained and extremely efficient. They really know what they’re doing. Definitely top quality.”