Picking the Brain of: Derek Potvin
February 13, 2015
President, Robinson Consultants Inc. and Outgoing NASTT Chairman
Please give our readers a little bit of your background.
I graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering and a minor in Business Administration from the University of Ottawa. I started working with Robinson Consultants more than 25 years ago as a student and am now the company president. In 1995, I attended my first No-Dig Show in Toronto. It was at this No-Dig that I was made aware of the benefits of trenchless technologies. My father is a surgeon, my mother is a nurse, and one of my brothers is a doctor. I presume that it was this medical heritage that led me to believe that fixing pipes without disrupting the surface was the right approach, much like laparoscopic surgery on humans!
What areas of trenchless technology do you and Robinson Consultants do the majority of your work?
Robinson Consultants provides services in trenchless technologies, water resources, transportation design and planning, municipal linear infrastructure and asset management. Our trenchless services cover both pipeline rehabilitation and new installation techniques. Our trenchless rehabilitation services fit well with our asset management and municipal linear infrastructure work by providing our clients with services ranging from condition assessment, rehabilitation program development, trenchless options analysis, design and construction services. Some key areas of expertise include the condition assessment and rehabilitation of small diameter watermains and large diameter transmission mains. We have been fortunate enough to win awards for our large diameter transmission main trenchless work. We also provide similar services for wastewater and storm water sewers using CIPP, as well as many other trenchless technologies. Our trenchless services also include the installation of new pipelines using trenchless techniques such as horizontal directional drilling, pipe ramming, jack and bore, pipe bursting and tunneling.
You just completed your second term as NASTT chairman. What were some key accomplishments of NASTT during that time?
One of the key accomplishments of the Board during my term as Chair was the development of a Strategic Plan to chart the future of NASTT. This three-year plan was developed to help NASTT continue to grow and better serve its members. The plan was formed with significant input from the industry. Key stakeholders and industry representatives were interviewed and a membership survey was completed gathering feedback on how NASTT was serving the industry and where NASTT should be headed in the future. Based on this information, the Strategic Planning Committee developed key strategies and initiatives that NASTT will implement in the coming years. NASTT has made huge strides in recent years formalizing its accounting process. During my term, NASTT also added the development of a multi-year budget forecast to better plan and manage major expenses. NASTT started holding an Annual General Meeting as a means of keeping our membership informed and to answer membership questions. NASTT staff and the By-Law Committee updated the by-laws to bring them to current standards and to add clarity for the benefit of future Boards.
During your chairman’s term, where did you see the most growth in the trenchless industry?
It is difficult to be specific about industry-wide changes over such a short period of time, but from my personal experience I have seen some significant growth in a few key areas. Condition assessment tools are advancing at a rapid rate due to innovation and improvement in robotics. Products with greater accuracy, a broader range of materials that can be analyzed, and inspection technologies that suit a broader range of pipe conditions are being made available to the utility owners and municipalities. Rehabilitation in the watermain industry is not as widely used as in the sewer industry; however, watermain rehabilitation is gaining ground due to quality products and industry need. Existing trenchless products and tools are also being used in situations that would not have been considered a few years ago. This is in large part due to a better understanding of the product properties and increased operator expertise. The HDD market continues to surprise me. Although there was a slowdown in the market for several years following 2008, the industry has rebounded. This may be in part due to the oil and gas industry but I believe that it still has plenty of growth potential in the water and wastewater market. Despite the long presence of HDD in North America, we still see clients who are just now accepting it as a mainstream method for pipe installation. Confidence in HDD is further buoyed by the partnership of various trenchless equipment providers to ensure greater success of HDD jobs. An example would be the use of pipe ramming tools to assist HDD in difficult conditions.
How would you describe the state of the underground infrastructure in Canada?
Canada saw a decline in infrastructure spending in the 1990s and 2000s. However, that changed with the 2008 financial crisis. In response to this crisis, governments pooled financial resources and created an economic stimulus program focused on infrastructure spending. This spending was a first step toward improving the state of Canada’s infrastructure and it increased the awareness of the benefits of infrastructure investment. The 2012 Canadian Infrastructure Report Card confirmed the need for more investment in Canada’s infrastructure. Although the condition of water and wastewater infrastructure received an overall rating of “Good: Adequate For Now,” we all know the devil is in the details. Thirty percent of Canada’s wastewater pipes and more than 15 percent of Canada’s water pipes received a rating of ‘Fair” to “Very Poor.” Considering the potential impact that both of these key pieces of infrastructure can have on human health, much more investment is needed.
How would you describe the state of the trenchless market in Canada?
The trenchless market is healthy and has huge potential for growth. The continued work of NASTT to spread the word about the benefits of trenchless technologies will benefit the trenchless industry in Canada. NASTT’s membership is approximately one-third Canadian and growing. Recent fiscal constraints have raised the profile of trenchless technologies as municipalities look for more cost-effective methods of maintaining their infrastructure.
What has been the impact of trenchless shows to the growth of the trenchless industry globally?
NASTT’s No-Dig show is the largest trenchless show in the world and its success is based on the incredible technical program. The peer-reviewed papers are the ‘go to’ resource for trenchless practitioners. Every year thousands of trenchless practitioners take part in NASTT’s educational programs, including those offered at the No Dig show. The number of first-time attendees we have at each year at the No-Dig show is a good indicator of how important it is to the growth of the industry. Each year, NASTT educates first-time attendees, consisting of people who have been in the industry and want to advance their knowledge of trenchless technologies and those who are new to the industry and want to get a head start with their trenchless careers. As the International Representative for NASTT, I have been fortunate enough to attend the International Society for Trenchless Technology (ISTT) shows at various locations throughout the world. In the developed countries, the ISTT shows are also an opportunity for trenchless practitioners to educate themselves, much like we do at the North American No-Dig shows. In developing countries, the international No-Dig shows also provide an opportunity to increase awareness of trenchless technologies at the local and federal government level. This is key to the growth of the industry in some of ISTT’s societies.
What is it about trenchless technology excites you?
The social and environmental benefits of trenchless technologies are aspects of which we can be proud. It is very satisfying to complete a trenchless project. The passionate people in the industry and their creativity are what excite me the most about the industry. If you have the opportunity to get immersed in the trenchless industry, you will be equally buoyed as me by the enthusiasm and wisdom of its people.
Sharon M. Bueno is managing editor of Trenchless Technology.