Laser-guided Boring Technology Used on Canadian Gravity Flow Sewer

The City of Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, was in a dilemma. After repeated breakdowns and a series of attempts to repair an aging sanitary pump station, City operations officials finally concluded the station had reached the end of its service life. Maintenance costs were draining the city’s budget and something needed to be done.

MTE Consultants Inc., a civil, environmental and structural engineering consulting firm based in Kitchener, was hired to help develop a solution. In a collaborative effort, MTE’s design team, including Caroline Amyot, designer and contract administrator, and Kevin Mick, design and approval engineer, along with Bryan Bishop, construction project manager for the City of Kitchener, developed a plan for upgrading or replacing the failing pump station. After collecting and analyzing extensive amounts of data and preparing several alternative potential solutions, Amyot and Mick concluded that eliminating the pump station and replacing it with a gravity flow sewer was the preferred solution.

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Going Gravity

The final recommendation was to decommission and remove the pump station and install a gravity flow sanitary sewer line through a forested area to divert the sewage that was passing through the pump station and connect it to an existing sanitary sewer at the other end. The plan design proposed the new sewer be installed in two sections.

The first section, approximately 755 ft, involved a residential subdivision with an environmentally sensitive area that included a creek crossing and was to be installed using horizontal directional drilling (HDD). The second 105-ft section included a slight deflection from a proposed manhole at the downstream end to tie in to the existing sanitary sewer in a neighboring residential subdivision. This section was to be installed using open-cut methods. According to Bishop, the proposed route would not have been possible had it not been for trenchless technology.

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“The trenchless technology available today didn’t exist back in the days when the pump station was built,” Bishop explained, “so that wasn’t an option at that time. Fortunately, we were able to chart a course for an underground gravity flow sewer to retire the pump station that will ultimately save the city a lot of money, not to mention frustration. It wouldn’t have been possible without HDD.”

Jason Kottelenberg, contract manager with AVERTEX Utility Solutions Inc., based in Orangeville, Ontario, Canada, was among the many contractors who reviewed the tender. After analyzing the soil conditions they would face in the second section, he knew there would be challenges with excavating.

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“The soil profile consisted of loose fill, sand and peat soils on top of hard clay till,” Kottelenberg explained, “and the water table was perched well above the proposed sewer line and would have been difficult using open-cut. That’s not to say that it couldn’t have been done, but we viewed this as an opportunity to give our new AXIS boring system a try.”

The AXIS guided boring system, developed by Vermeer, is a pit-launched trenchless installation method designed to achieve pinpoint, on-grade accuracy while eliminating some of the difficult steps associated with other installation techniques. The system has the capability to install a wide range of product at any grade with a range of materials and diameters. Last fall, AVERTEX became the first contractor in North America to add the AXIS system to its fleet of equipment.

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Kottelenberg presented his idea to Jack Kottelenberg, AVERTEX president and CEO, and Andy Blokker, vice president and COO, for input. After receiving an enthusiastic thumbs-up from Kottelenberg and Blokker, Kottelenberg initiated bore plan designs incorporating use of the AXIS system. When the plans were completed, Kottelenberg felt certain the AXIS system would work and the AVERTEX team got busy preparing their bid.

Changing Things Up

After AVERTEX was awarded the project, it presented proposed changes to the design at the initial pre-construction meeting, which included completing the second section using the AXIS guided boring system — an approach that would avoid open-cut excavation through the less-than-desirable soil conditions. Although not familiar with the AXIS technology, Bishop and Amyot were receptive.

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“AVERTEX proposed using the AXIS system for a section we’d specified as open-cut and actually streamlined the installation by eliminating some excavation that ultimately saved us money,” Bishop says. “Even though we weren’t familiar with the technology we didn’t have an objection because it was well-designed, and frankly, the city really didn’t have anything to risk. It ended up working out very well.”

The original design specified that the first section connect through two manholes. Installation of a drop structure was required at the second manhole. The first manhole was to be installed at the final connection point to the existing sanitary sewer. The second manhole, located approximately 62 ft downstream from the first, was proposed to accommodate a grade and alignment change so the new line would tie into the existing sewer at a right angle. The AVERTEX plan called for a more direct route.
With only a slight deviation in the angle proposed to complete the first section, the AVERTEX approach called for bypassing the second manhole and aligning the shot directly to the first, in essence eliminating a connection point — and a lot of additional excavation and work. This plan required maintaining a 1 percent grade for the first 656 ft of the bore and transitioning to 6 percent over the final 100 ft to obtain the required grade at tie-in point of the existing sewer.

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AVERTEX used a Vermeer D100x120 Series II Navigator for the first section through the environmentally sensitive area and beneath the creek. “We knew things might get a bit dicey at the creek bed,” Kottelenberg said. “We only had about 5 ft of cover to work with under the creek, which is obviously a concern when directional drilling. And the soils in the area were not favorable. But we got it to work and it allowed for a shallower depth on the end connection that eliminated a lot of excavation.”

Once underneath the creek the pitch was increased and the bore continued on to the existing sanitary sewer. Bypassing the second manhole allowed for a more shallow connecting point and eliminated some excavation near the creek. Once the initial bore was complete, the 10-in. HDPE DR II sanitary sewer was pulled back through and connected.

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A 7-in. bit was used to complete the initial bore followed by a 12-in. pre-ream. With the bore complete, the 10-in. sewer line was pulled back through using a 16-in. reamer and connected to the manhole.

AXIS Takes It Home

With the first and longest section now completed, the AVERTEX team prepared to tackle the final phase. The course included a slight deviation necessary to effectively target the end connection. A 10- by 15-ft launch pit had been excavated to position the components of the AXIS system for the home stretch.

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With all the components securely in place, the laser was positioned at the 1 percent grade required to meet the final connection and the camera positioned to align with the target guide. Here’s how the system works:

  • At the front of the drill head, only the cutter bit and center drive shaft rotate as the drill head and accompanying casing advance through the bore — the outer section remains stationary.
  • If the laser dot is centered within the cross hairs of the target, the drill head is on course. Any necessary adjustments are made by the operator who monitors the images sent from the camera to the operator console.
  • Spoil is extracted simultaneously with the assistance of a high-power vacuum and diverted to a vacuum tank — eliminating the need for hauling spoil away from the jobsite.

Upon completing the 105-ft bore, the AXIS system components were removed from the pit and the sewer line pushed back through by hand and connected. No additional external excavation was necessary at the existing manhole.

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“Outside of encountering a pesky rock positioned dead center in the drill path, we completed the AXIS bore without a hitch,” Kottelenberg says. “Fortunately the rock was located toward the end of the bore and eventually came out ahead of the drill in the manhole. It took some constant repositioning to keep the shot on-line and on-grade, but outside of getting the better of the drill bit, we hit our target dead center, made the connection and finished the job.”

To learn more about AVERTEX and the AXIS system, visit

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Randy Happel is a technical writer with Two Rivers Marketing, based in Des Moines, Iowa.

Marathon Man

AXIS Project Manager Sets Ambitious Goal

By Sharon M. Bueno

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John Milligan is a goal-oriented kind of guy, in business and at play. The team leader for Vermeer’s AXIS program and running enthusiast has set an intriguing and ambitious goal for himself outside the office: to run a marathon in every state by his 50th birthday.

He drew up this plan soon after completing his previous one in 2008, which was completing the Boston Marathon. And he’s off to a running start (note lame pun!) as he’s already crossed 11 states off his marathon list.

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“I participated in one of the most amazing experiences of my life when I completed the Boston Marathon in April 2008. When I completed Boston, I thought, ‘Well, now what?’ There’s not a bigger race than Boston from a marathon standpoint,” John explains. “After reaching that goal, there was an anticlimactic feeling that stuck with me, so I decided to up the ante and I now have a goal to run a marathon in every state.”

Between September 2009 and February 2010, John completed marathons in Nebraska, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Indiana, Georgia and Arizona. Those races doubled his total states, which also include Texas, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and Massachusetts.

To reach his 50th state by the time he turns 50, John, now 40, needs to average three to four marathons a year.

Today, John is a full-blown running enthusiast but that wasn’t always the case. Growing up in Brazil, John played soccer and continued that in college, which included a demanding training regimen of mandatory running. “Running was a means to an end and was something I had to do,” he says.

But then John suffered an in-match serious neck injury during his senior year, diagnosed with torn neck muscles and an acute concussion. He has lived with intolerable neck and back pain ever since that day in 1991 and had tried everything for alleviation including pain meds and even contemplating drastic surgery to realign several of his cervical vertebrae.

By 2001, John was traveling extensively on overseas business and it was taking its toll on his body — a combination of not eating properly and lack of exercise left him out of shape, feeling sluggish and still dealing with his physical pain. Marathons were still not in his line of vision.

“So I started to run consistently. It began with 20- to 40-minute runs and I slowly increased the time. Then I started paying more attention to the distance instead,” John says. “I pretty much would just lace up and go run. Every week I would add a mile to my longest run.”

John had never gone more than six miles in a run but that changed in 2001 when a colleague asked if he would run with him as he trained for a 20-km race that June. “I asked how far he was he going [in his training run] and he said, ‘Eight.’ I couldn’t imagine anyone having any reason to go that far, so I thought he meant only eight minutes,” he remembers. “When I realized he meant eight miles, I talked him down to 6.5. It was one of the single-most miserable runs of my life. Lucky for him he was faster than me or I probably would have pushed him in a ditch.”

As they ran, talk gravitated toward running a marathon that fall — a goal was set. It was also during this time that the physical pain he endured from his injury was now manageable. “There’s nothing more motivating than having a race on the schedule,” he said. “Except in my case, the motivation was that the pain truly was becoming more manageable. Endorphins became my best friend.”

John ran in the San Antonio marathon in November 2001and his victory was finishing the race. “I didn’t set any land-speed records, as my goal was simply to finish. But by then I was hooked,” he said.

John said he was hooked on everything about marathons: “The feeling of completing a goal — running a marathon to me is a pretty big goal — the exhilaration of completing a marathon and the interaction you have with the other runners and the support you get from the crowd,” John explains. “And just the feeling of crossing that finish line after having been out there for three to three and half hours…there’s something very addicting about that.”

The Boston Marathon was a goal of John’s that he met sooner than he expected. To qualify for the Boston race, he needed to run a marathon in 3:15:59 (for his age group). He ran three marathons in 2007, qualifying for the Boston Marathon in Illinois with a time of 3:10:08. “To a lot of people, the ultimate goal in running marathons is to get to Boston,” John said. “I thought it would take me five or six years and I got in the first year I tried.”

And thus far, his Boston experience remains his favorite — from the race to the people to the journey to get there. He has qualified for the 2011 Boston race. “The Boston Marathon is just fantastic,” John said. “The amount of support you get from all of the communities…spectators average about 20,000 per mile. I wrote my name on my arm and people who I didn’t know were shouting my name, offering encouragement.”

John says he loves what running offers you — physically and emotionally. And he encourages his AXIS team members to get off that couch and join him in the challenge. “No one will take me up on that,” John says, laughing. “I think they look at me and think, ‘You’re absolutely nuts!’ But in all seriousness, I’m just on a runner’s high and just feel so good and want them to feel the same. You don’t have to go out and run long distance, you can walk a few miles…just exercise.”

Sharon M. Bueno is managing editor of Trenchless Technology.

Best time:  3:10:08
Best finish:  29th overall, Quad Cities Marathon, Illinois (644 entries)
Pre-race snack:  two bagels, two bananas, Gatorade and coffee
Running shoes:  Buys them every 10 to 12 weeks
Best Place to run:  Boston
Favorite runner’s movie:  Prefontaine (1997)

The AXIS Advantage

As more cities and municipalities commit increased resources to repair and upgrade outdated and crumbling infrastructures, the number of water and sewer projects is expected to increase substantially. Many of the projects will be required to be placed precisely on-grade. While some of the current trenchless methods have the ability to achieve the accuracy these projects mandate, they lack the productivity needed to compete with open-cut methods.

AVERTEX Utility Solutions Inc., based in Orangeville, Ontario, Canada, was the first contractor in North America to purchase the AXIS guided boring system developed by Vermeer. The company specializes in trenchless utility construction and network installation services across a wide range of markets and a recognized leader in the adoption of trenchless technologies. Co-founder, president and CEO Jack Kottelenberg, explains the rationale behind the purchase.

“The accuracy,” Kottelenberg says. “Accuracy is No. 1. We know trenchless pretty well and we also know open-cut fairly well — and each has its own place and application. But before the AXIS system was developed there wasn’t a trenchless method with the capability to accomplish the pinpoint accuracy required for jobs that were specified at 1 percent grade or less. Open-cut was the only option. We walked away from a lot of jobs that required 0.5 percent pitch or less because we didn’t want to assume the risk. Not anymore.”

The AXIS guided boring system is designed to install 10- to 14-inch (25.4 to 35.6 cm) pipe at lengths up to 350 ft (106.7 m), and can maintain grades of less than 0.5 percent. Basic components of the system include power pack, rack, vacuum pump and storage tank. Not only is the system capable of maintaining a strict tolerance of accuracy, it’s also flexible.

Because of the flexibility of the four major AXIS system components, various set-up configurations can be used to adjust the machine’s footprint based on jobsite and transport logistics, and it can install clay, steel, HDPE and PVC pipe. Large-scale projects are also possible for contractors operating the AXIS system with the ability to install pipe up to 350 ft (106.7 m) in length. In varying soil conditions, operators can also change cutter bits mid-installation.

“AXIS should not be viewed as a competitor to HDD, but rather a complement to enhancing trenchless technology and capabilities,” Kottelenberg says. “It doesn’t have a fit for every trenchless job, but certainly fulfills a niche that will allow us to pursue jobs that we would likely have not considered in the past. We believe this system will allow us to be very competitive with open-cut installation, especially at greater depth or where there is hard-surface and imported backfill requirements.”  

“We view the addition of the AXIS system to our equipment fleet as an investment in helping grow our business. It’s another tool in the cabinet that gives us a competitive edge by allowing us to compete for more jobs.”

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