Associated Engineering Is Deeply Committed to Furthering the Trenchless Industry
With offices across Canada, Associated Engineering is one the largest Canadian-headquartered engineering firms designing trenchless projects across the country. With more than 70 years of service in Canada, the firm was incorporating trenchless into its designs long before trenchless was a term in the construction industry lexicon.
With a staff of more than 1,000 employees and 23 offices across the country, Associated Engineering prides itself on being an employee-owned consulting firm that brings a global perspective to its clients from its employees’ international experience and technical involvement. The majority of the work completed by Associated Engineering falls under the water, transportation and infrastructure banners.
Associated’s trenchless services include buried asset management, pipe bursting, pipe jacking, boring and ramming, pipe rehabilitation, horizontal directional drilling (HDD), utility tunnelling and microtunnelling. It is the new installation design projects that make up about 75 per cent of the company’s work, and of that work, about 98 per cent is for municipal clients.
Dr. Jason Lueke, P.Eng., national practice leader for trenchless technologies at Associated Engineering, helps bring together all of the trenchless professionals at the firm, and connect the trenchless experts to other projects across the infrastructure division, as well as the other Associated Engineering operations.
“Each Associated Engineering office has a strong group of infrastructure engineers. However, we only have about 15 engineers across the company that focus on trenchless design. Using our one office approach, our trenchless people work on projects local to their office, but also will work across operations to provide expertise to where it is required,” Lueke says. “Our trenchless expertise is distributed across the country. We have strong pipe rehabilitation and relining experience in Saskatoon, tunnelling expertise in Toronto and Calgary, and extensive horizontal directional drilling design experience in Edmonton.”
A History in Trenchless
Underground infrastructure has been a staple of Associated Engineering’s portfolio since 1945 when the firm formed as Davis, Ripley and Associates with offices in Edmonton and Calgary. Some of the first projects for the fledgling firm — with three engineers and three technical support staff — were water and sewer systems in Barrhead, Taber, Fairview, Canmore and Leduc, Alberta.
In 1948, the firm renamed itself to the more inclusive Associated Engineering Services Ltd. A company history makes light of the fact that, “As an added benefit, the word ‘Associated’ would get priority listing in the phone book.”
One of the early trenchless experts at Associated Engineering is Herb Kuehne, retired senior vice president of infrastructure, who, although semi-retired, still makes his way to the Edmonton office to work on projects. Lueke chalks this up to the culture at Associated Engineering that is welcoming, engaging and values the expertise of its senior engineers and their role as mentors to the younger engineers.
“Associated Engineering always did ‘trenchless,’ long before trenchless was a thing, hand mining or using an auger bore or push bore or relining,” says Kuehne who joined the firm in 1977. “On some of those projects, we completed some of the longest bores in Canada at that time. We did a lot of that work.”
Because Kuehne and his associates were on the forefront of designing projects that took advantage of these minimally invasive technologies, Associated Engineering can rightfully be credited with helping introduce these innovative new methodologies to Western Canada.
“On a number of our early projects, we actually implemented some of the newest trenchless technologies that existed,” Kuehne says. “We did early pipe bursting — possibly the first in Edmonton. We also did some relining projects that were firsts in the Edmonton area. We experimented with this to look at new technologies and how we could use them here in the Edmonton region.”
The focus on designing projects that used new technologies wasn’t part of a company mandate, rather it was part of the engineers’ desire to provide their clients with better service and value that would ultimately lead to the achieving the client’s desired objectives and minimizing impact on the public.
Associated Engineering’s successes in the trenchless realm could not be achieved without a proper partner. In this case it was the City of Edmonton – long heralded as a trenchless leader in its own right – that stepped up to the plate and worked with the firm on these early projects.
“Associated Engineering is an innovative company, but credit also has to be given to our clients,” Kuehne says. “If the client is willing and we complete the research and find the technology that effectively solves a problem, we would move forward.”
As the company tackled those early projects, it was still small, with about 250 employees, so if there was a project that could benefit from trenchless, the engineers knew who to turn to. It wasn’t until the early part of this decade that growth dictated additional trenchless expertise and the formation of a trenchless practice group. It was at this time in 2012 that Lueke rejoined Associated Engineering to take the lead.
A Consistent Approach
“Some of my time is spent managing and doing project work and then the rest is spent in coordinating our trenchless efforts across the company,” Lueke says. “My role is to travel and work with staff in our offices across Canada. Thus, as the opportunities arise, not only can I suggest the people with appropriate expertise to go after the work, but also get the right people on the job when we get the work to deliver a successful project.”
Coordinating this expertise across a 23-office company is paramount to the firm’s success — not only to bring the right expertise and experience to projects, but also to share the knowledge. Thus, clients can be assured that their project delivery team includes a specialist who knows the technology, and has in-depth knowledge of the technical aspects of a project.
Lueke works to make sure all of the trenchless projects that Associated Engineering designs have a consistent approach. The projects all follow similar specifications and consistent design procedures so that a contractor bidding on, for example, an Alberta project would have familiarity with the approach to the job if they worked on an Associated Engineering-designed job in another province.
“Associated Engineering is consistent with our trenchless design approach across the company, regardless of our geographical location,” says Cian McDermott, P.Eng, in Ontario. “What changes is the geotechnical, hydrogeological and topographical conditions that will form the fundamental basis of our designs. Each project requires unique designs tailored specifically for the subsurface conditions identified through extensive investigations and mitigating impacts on the public as much as possible.”
Employees at the local offices know the owners, the contractors and the construction methodologies they have at their disposal, so when a project does come up the local employees translate that information to Lueke and the trenchless practice team. By relaying the local conditions and knowledge as to what is used, what is acceptable and what the client is accepting, Associated Engineering’s trenchless team can develop the most appropriate design that will generate the client’s desired outcome.
In addition to their day-to-day work, Associated Engineering also leverages in-person capacity building sessions, which are best described as an internal technical conference to provide knowledge transfer and convey lessons learned to the trenchless team. “It is critical for all of the engineers in our group to interact. It is through these learning opportunities that we gain knowledge,” says Duane Strayer, P. Eng., infrastructure division manager in Calgary. “Associated Engineering will invest in face-to-face time among its employees. It is part of our culture.”
This unity across the offices, is one of the reasons that Associated Engineering, as a company, and Lueke as the practice leader, encourages its employees to get involved in industry-related associations.
“Overall, as an industry, it is important to share our knowledge and the project experiences that we have all gone through, for example we attended the 2018 UESI Pipelines Conference where we presented six papers and attended many other lessons learned type presentations from other consulting engineers and owners. We also attended and presented at the 2018 NASTT No-Dig Show. Lessons learned were presented by trenchless contractors and the exhibition hall had specialized manufacturers discussing their latest machines and products,” McDermott says. “We attend these events, mingle with other trenchless colleagues and share our experiences among the trenchless industry; this ensures that we stay current with best practices.”
Locally — through Chris Skowronski, P.Eng., senior vice president of infrastructure, and Strayer — Associated Engineering has been instrumental in the creation and longevity of the North American Society for Trenchless Technology Northwest Chapter (NASTT-NW). In fact, it is Strayer who helped increase the chapter’s presence in Calgary after he joined Associated Engineering in 1998. Currently on the NASTT-NW board of directors is Keith Kingsbury from the firm’s Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, office.
The firm is also heavily vested in the ASCE Utility Engineering & Surveying Institute (UESI) Pipelines Division with Lueke recently nominated to the UESI Pipelines Executive Committee for a five-year term and serving as technical co-chair for the 2018 UESI Pipelines Conference.
Several employees are also heavily involved with committees in both of these associations at the local and national level that help shape, not only the programming, but also trenchless industry best practices.
“We want to be a strong contributor to the trenchless industry, this is part of giving back to the industry. and contributing to the body of knowledge to advance the industry,” Strayer says.
This also helps address one of the biggest needs in the construction industry as a whole, and trenchless as a focused subset, and that is employment. Strayer relayed an instance where an engineer came on board after seeing Associated Engineering’s industry involvement through its work on a Northwest Chapter conference planning committee. The engineer was working for another firm and saw how committed Associated Engineering was to trenchless and left that firm to work on Associated Engineering’s trenchless projects.
“At heart we are a bunch of kids who like to play in dirt, that’s what civil engineers are. Tunnelling is a pretty cool way to play in the dirt,” Strayer says. “We work on a lot of pretty cool projects. Working 15 m below the Bow River in Downtown Calgary inside a 2.4 m tunnel is cool. Not many civil engineers get to walk through a tunnel they designed beneath a major river.”
The “bunch of kids” from Associated Engineering are recognized as industry leaders, having twice received Canada’s highest award for consulting engineering excellence, the Schreyer Award, including a Schreyer for a tunnelling project: The West Edmonton Sanitary Sewer Stage W12 Syphon — a 1,200 m long 2,500 mm diameter tunnel beneath the North Saskatchewan River.
The firm has also received numerous regional awards for trenchless projects in Edmonton, Fort McMurray and Toronto. In 2008 the firm received the Alberta Trenchless Project of the Year Award for the E.L. Smith Water Treatment Plant Transmission Main — a 3.2 m diameter tunnelled river crossing in Edmonton. It received the 2012 Consulting Engineers of Ontario Award of Excellence for Avenue Road watermain — involving the design of a 3.5 km of 900 mm diameter and 2.1 km of 750 mm diameter watermain installed by microtunnelling and traditional methods. And in 2018, it received the Consulting Engineers of Alberta Award of Excellence for the Southwest Water Supply project for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo for the design of a 1,400 m long, 750-mm diameter, steel pipe HDD crossing of the Athabasca River.
Lueke sees a trend toward larger sized trenchless projects. He says, “In the last five years, we have seen a steady decrease in the number of HDD projects, and a significant uptick in the number of microtunnel and utility tunnelling work we are doing at Associated Engineering. This trend is in response to the confidence in owners and consultants in tunnelling technology, and the growing microtunnelling and tunnelling expertise in the industry. The benefits to utility owners are reduced risks, lower construction costs, and less disruption to congested urban areas.”
“If we look at the future of trenchless work in Canada, we see more tunnelling. We see significant work and potential in the Greater Toronto Area, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary. From a municipal perspective, we see a greater number of tunnelling projects than directional drilling projects occurring over the near future,” says Lueke.
Calgary, for example, is heavily involved in light rail transit and Associated Engineering is working on light rail projects in Edmonton, and both are part of Canada’s push for sustainable transportation alternatives. Part and parcel with these projects are the associated utility work and when that comes into play, there is definitely room for trenchless to shine.
Reflecting on the shift towards more tunnelling projects at Associated Engineering, McDermott says that since he joined the company 10 years ago, he has watched microtunnelling boom in Eastern Canada.
“Because the Greater Toronto Area is so built up, we are forced to do more trenchless construction to mitigate impacts on the public,” he says. “In the last 10 years the industry has evolved from hand mining small diameter tunnels to microtunnelling, and in the last four to five years microtunnelling technology has really become standard practice for complex tunnel drives in adverse ground conditions.”
He adds that he doesn’t see any of this development slowing as more and more projects take place in the Greater Toronto Area. “The industry here is extremely busy and there is more need for trenchless components on every project we design these days based on the ever-expanding growth of the GTA.”