Eisener Contracting Ltd.’s Owner Has an Eye for Innovation
January 31, 2017
A Variety of Trenchless Methods Make Up Eisener Contracting Ltd.’s Tool Crib
Since his first summer-time job with a contractor in grade 10, Jack Eisener has exhibited a love of the construction industry, so much so that he has never left the field since the 1970s. Since 1988, he has owned and operated Eisener Contracting Ltd. in Nova Scotia.
“I was hooked and when I graduated from high school, I decided to take engineering and went to St. F.X. (Saint Francis Xavier) University from which I received my diploma. I then received my degree in civil engineering from the Technical University of Nova Scotia (TUNS),” Eisener says. “I worked with a heavy construction contractor each summer and then for three years after graduation from Tech. I then decided to move to a company that offered 50 percent ownership and I learned a lot about heavy construction and the possibilities of a future with better methods in this field.”
The ownership did not pan out and in 1988 Eisener embarked on his own venture, focusing on the open-cut side of the construction industry doing road work and site prep throughout the Atlantic provinces.
Eisener Contracting Ltd. started small with a hand-dug home foundation, then a $150,000 design-build building foundation, and then a $750,000 water and sewer project. The company evolved from that point. Up to this point in his career, everything Eisener did was open-cut and those methods still comprise the bulk of his company’s projects. However, that did not mean he did not see that there was a better way to complete some of the work.
Seeing a Better Way
“During this time, I saw a lot of asphalt being torn up, and when you look at the cost of installing pipeline and reinstating the surfaces, there were a lot of jobs where the reinstatement of surfaces was worth more than the pipe actually being put in the ground,” Eisener says. By not being in the asphalt business, the reinstatement portion of a project was money taken out of his pocket and within two years of opening his own shop, Eisener invested in the trenchless industry.
“I thought there has to be a better way and I began to look at the construction industry to find another method to minimize the impact,” he says. The resulting research led Eisener to the Prairie Dog Drill, a horizontal earth boring machine with a hand crank and a 12-hp direct drive motor that he used to install water lines across roadways on Prince Edward Island. To accompany the Prairie Dog, Eisener purchased a 24-in. auger boring machine from McLaughlin.
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“We used the Prairie Dog to do a 2-in. pilot hole across the road and if the hole was on grade, we would send the auger boring machine with a special head on the front of the auger to follow the pre-drilled hole,” Eisener recalls. “Today, it would be said it was a pilot bore done the old fashion way.”
Because the industry was still in the development stage and many of the technologies available in places like Ontario or the United States had not made their way to Nova Scotia, many of the projects Eisener took were open-cut that he would convert to trenchless on his own. As projects got larger, he looked to other trenchless methods and soon added pipe ramming to his trenchless toolbox — using a Gigant from TT Technologies.
“I found that when I was working in certain types of soils, a pipe ramming machine was much more efficient and a lot less labor-intensive especially in clay-type soils,” Eisener says. “You could blow the material out versus having guys in there handling the augers.”
One project, a water line installation on Lake Major Road, Eisener was faced with installing 20 service connections across the road in rock, which was paved the year before. The project would be an ideal candidate for horizontal directional drilling (HDD), but at that point, HDD had not made its way to Nova Scotia. Using his engineering background Eisener took a Gardener Denver Air-track vertical drill rig, removed the tracks, cut the rail system and built a horizontal drill that held 5 ft drill rods and he was then able to install the service connections under the roadway.
Eisener admits that it was a crude drill rig but with the modified drill in his fleet, no one in the Atlantic Provinces could compete with his company’s capabilities. He built a few more rigs to perform these small pot shots and in the early 1990s, he picked up a Vermeer pit launch drill.
HDD in Nova Scotia
It wasn’t until 1994 that Eisener brought the first HDD rig to Nova Scotia — an Underground Technologies Inc. (UTI) machine purchased at an auction in Atlanta, Georgia.
Eisener completed the first HDD shot in Nova Scotia in 1995 for the Nova Scotia Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. The project involved the installation of underground electrical lines at a recently completed intersection in the Village of Greenwood. The paved, curbed and guttered intersection was a welcome addition to the village, but there were no traffic lights. Faced with the political nightmare of open-cut at this location, the department contacted Eisener because they knew he had the UTI drill.
“I always look at how I can improvise and challenge myself and look at alternate methods to open-cut that save money,” Eisener says. “I built my business from my ability to perform both open-cut and trenchless work.”
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Initially, Eisener would beat down doors to show owners and their consultants and engineers that trenchless is a viable construction option for projects. Whether it was lack of experience on their part or an unwillingness to try a new technology, this trenchless evangelization proved fruitless.
“The biggest problem we encountered since entering the trenchless world is education. The local design engineers in the Atlantic Region were not aware of the technology or where to use it,” Eisener says. “They were under the impression that directional drilling was the solution to all trenchless installations. For example, we bid on a job that a consultant wanted a gravity sewer placed under a river that was less than 3 ft below the middle of the wetland with clay on both sides and swamp in the middle. There was no geotechnical information provided and he wanted it at 1 per cent grade on the sewer pipe.”
Spreading the Word
Instead of banging his head against the wall and closing up the trenchless end of the business, Eisener opted to leverage his open-cut construction experience by bidding on projects using traditional methods. If his company won the project, he would look at the designs and determine if the project, or a portion of the project, was better suited for trenchless.
“The best thing we could do at that point was to not promote it and let the job be put out to tender with conventional construction,” he says. “If we were low on the project we would look at it and redesign it to see if the ground conditions warranted trenchless.”
Being able to offer HDD, pipe ramming, auger boring or a combination of the three on a project meant the awareness of trenchless technologies grew as Eisener and his company won more projects. According to Eisener, consultants realized that there are many others tools to be used in the trenchless industry besides directional drilling.
“From that point onward they started looking at trenchless as an option but it has been a long struggle for projects to be trenchless anywhere in the Atlantic Provinces,” Eisener says. “In the last five years we have seen a drastic difference in the engineering firms and I give credit to the Centre for Advancement of Trenchless Technologies (CATT) in providing the necessary training for individuals, encouraging them to look at the options out there.”
Eisener also lauds the Center for Underground Infrastructure Research and Education (CUIRE) for the work it does to promote trenchless.
It is this education that Eisener says is key to the continued growth of trenchless in the Atlantic Provinces and it is one of the reasons he attends the biennial Trenchless Technology Road Show in Niagara Falls, as well as, other North American underground construction shows, and he encourages other to attend as well. “I want them to have the knowledge base to learn what is out there in the trenchless industry,” he says.
Entering the Relining Realm
Agencies were specifying traditional construction methods. One project cost approximately $4 million to replace an 18-in. main and the project took 2.5 years to complete. In looking at the project, Eisener knew the job could have been completed quickly using relining and at roughly the same time, he was contacted by Primus Line to see if he would be interested in becoming an installer.
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“It’s a liner that can be folded and slipped through the host pipe and go through 45 degree bends and can be designed to handle low, medium and high pressure applications. This liner can be designed for potable water and sewer force mains. Primus Line is certified CSA and holds a NSF Standard 61 certificate. Another field of use with a different inner layer of TPU is fuel lines and natural gas mains,” Eisener says. “As long as the existing host pipe can hold the earth pressures and there are no protrusions inside the pipe, we just need to clean the pipe, do the TV inspection and then we can install Primus Line in very long lengths of up to 2,500 m at a time.” The standalone pipe in pipe is a unique system.
Eisener used his newest tool in late 2015 to install a 330-m liner with four bends that also travelled under a river and supplied water to the Town of Lockeport, Nova Scotia, and its fish processing plants. The installation took four days. “I continually build up my tool crib and Primus Line is the most recent addition to the trenchless marketplace in Eastern Canada,” Eisener says.
His tool crib has come a long way since he built his own rig out of a vertical drill. Today, Eisener Contracting Ltd.’s trenchless division includes the largest resident fleet of HDD rigs in Atlantic Canada with two Vermeer D7x11 S2s, one Vermeer D16x20 S2, one Vermeer D24x40 S3 and one Vermeer D80x100 S2 (the largest rig in the provinces). Other tools include MI Swaco Meercat mud recycling units and the Gigant and Goliath Grundoram pneumatic pipe ramming units and bursting tools from TT Technologies.
“In Nova Scotia I have three competitors and in New Brunswick there are two competitors and that is fine by me,” Eisener says. “I don’t mind because the more competition there is, the more people realize you can do this and the more opportunity there will be for us out there.”
The trenchless division accounts for approximately 25 percent of the work and that is a number Eisener hopes will continue to grow.
“I look forward to the future and the continual promotion, education and new technologies in this trenchless industry,” he adds.
Mike Kezdi is associate editor of Trenchless Technology Canada.