The lateral rehab market is no longer a small, niche segment of the trenchless industry — it’s become way bigger than that. Cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) lateral solutions are a key cog in the trenchless arsenal for plumbers and contractors as today’s cities and private property owners are addressing deteriorated building drain and vent piping as well as the aging laterals that connect homes to mainline sewer systems.
MaxLiner USA — opening its doors in 1999 under the W.E. Rawson Ltd. family of companies — was part of this movement from the beginning, recognizing the vast potential of this unheralded and untapped trenchless segment.
Headquartered in Martinsville, Virginia, along with sister company Applied Felts, MaxLiner has grown into a leader in lateral rehabilitation, restoring these pipes using high-quality, affordable and portable systems, liners and CalTubes (manufactured by Applied Felts). These solutions restore sewer laterals, storm drains and vertical pipes while drastically minimizing service disruptions and costs.
Initially sharing space with Applied Felts in a 100,000-sq-ft facility, the lateral rehab company relocated in 2020, along with newly acquired Ferratex Solutions, into its own 85,000-sq-ft home to support its expanding needs. There’s more to MaxLiner’s lineup than the Max LinerGun and epoxy-based resin systems, diversifying and expanding over time to meet its customers’ needs in North America and beyond. Its product offerings have continually evolved and led the market in providing the equipment, materials, accessories and hands-on training its customers need to succeed in the CIPP lateral and in building pipe market.
Gil Carroll, director of business development at MaxLiner, has been in the trenchless rehab market since 1990 as both a contractor and manufacturer. He’s had a front row seat to its steady and sometimes explosive growth over that time. The Applied Felts’ team, including Carroll, were responsible for creating the MaxLiner brand and bringing the innovative LinerGun technology to North America from Europe.
“I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly of emerging trenchless technologies in that time,” he says. “It’s pretty amazing to have been able to watch the lateral rehab market become what we all dreamed and hoped it could become and more. This market is a heck of a lot further along and more mainstream than I ever imagined it would be at this point. This is not a cottage industry anymore. [Lateral rehab] is an established industry.”
What makes MaxLiner a leader in this burgeoning trenchless market? One word, says Carroll: Quality. “Commitment to quality and commitment to delivering that quality to the marketplace. We accept nothing less,” he says.
You can’t talk about MaxLiner USA without talking about Applied Felts. Both companies are owned by W.E. Rawson Ltd. — a 156-year-old, U.K.-based and family-owned textiles company led by chairman Hector Rawson and managing director Alex Johnson. Since the 1970s, Applied Felts has been a global leader in the manufacture of high-quality felt and fiberglass-reinforced CIPP liners used for gravity sewer, pressure pipe and potable water systems. As the CIPP market was beginning to take off during the late 1990s, Applied Felts recognized the growing need for versatile, compact and affordable systems to address the demand for small diameter pipe and lateral lining solutions in North America.
Applied Felts’s biggest European customer, Swiss-based RS Technik, was enjoying great early success in lateral and vertical drain rehabilitation using the innovative lining technology, including the Max LinerGun. Seeing the results and the potential for success in North America, MaxLiner USA was born out of this partnership.
“At that time, Europe was far head of the United States as far as lateral [rehab] was concerned,” says Carroll. “We brought the technology over here and partnered with RS Technik, which provided the training needed to get MaxLiner USA off the ground and working toward filling the void in the market here. Back in 1995, municipalities were just starting to think about addressing the rehabilitation of sewer laterals and they weren’t integrated into the plumbing market like they are today.”
What is the Max LinerGun? Simply put the LinerGun was invented as an alternative to heavy and sometimes cumbersome inversion drums. This equipment was a step forward in the world of lateral rehabilitation offering a versatile option of installing CIPP in difficult-to-access small diameter pipes and drains from roof tops, basements, or other areas requiring portable equipment to achieve otherwise prohibitive installations.
Carroll describes the LinerGun as an essential component of the MaxLiner system. “If you’re going into buildings, onto rooftops or into basements, the portability of the Max LinerGun can be a more efficient way to approach the job,” he says. “We always felt that the affordability and mobility of the MaxLiner system was based around the LinerGun, which you can break down and carry wherever it needs to go.”
In the beginning, MaxLiner was all about the LinerGun but, over time, smart diversification and expansion of its product lineup to include inversion drums, as well as a full line of thermosetting resins, and the latest in cure technology has positioned it for continued future growth. Most recently, MaxLiner added ultraviolet (UV) light cure to its product line.
“What’s great is that we’ve become nimble enough to adjust to the market through innovation while adding efficient and effective technology and quality products as [lateral rehabilitation] has become more mainstream today, with tremendous potential for tomorrow,” Carroll says.
Carroll says MaxLiner draws on its years of providing quality products and service to its customers as its strength in leading the lateral market, but he is also quick to heap much-deserved praise to its employees, product representatives and distributors. The key, he says, is everyone buying into not just the company’s commitment to quality but into the “why” of what they are teaching customers.
“What we have found over the years is that the real value of being a system provider is explaining the ‘why’ to our installers. Through trial and error, and even social media, most installers can figure out how to put CIPP into a pipe,” Carroll explains. “However, there are many steps involved in the process and if you can get installers to understand ‘why’ those steps are necessary, you can then get them to buy-in to what it takes to achieve consistent quality installations time after time. Quality through and through is what MaxLiner was about in the beginning, is about now and will always be about.”
Chad Miller, MaxLiner technical services manager since 2015, shares Carroll’s philosophy and enthusiasm for the lateral market’s continued upward trajectory — and MaxLiner’s commitment to excellence. “There are no shortcuts,” Miller states.
Miller’s job places him in the field face-to-face with customers, getting a clear view of what is happening on jobsites all over the country. “This market is still hugely underrated, especially when you look at all the attention municipalities continue to pay to the mainlines and manholes,” he says.
In the 1990s, MaxLiner and a few competing companies recognized the potential of this work. But there was a problem. The contractors who specialized in mainline CIPP became disenchanted with lateral installations as the decade progressed.
“To them, [lateral work] was like driving a car instead of flying a plane,” Carroll notes. “They were putting in larger volumes of mainline CIPP and earning larger revenues. They didn’t want to go back and do [what would be considered] ‘tinker work’ with the laterals. Trying to get the same installers to do mainlines and laterals was never going to be a successful proposition due to the differences in revenue scale and profitability.”
Enter the plumbing community, already experienced in addressing smaller waste and drain issues, to fill this gap.
“The plumbing market filled that gap of the small- to medium-size CIPP contractor and installer,” Carroll says. “It really took off from there and over the next 20 years accelerated to become the very relevant and robust market it is today. That really started a cottage industry. From that point, the traditional plumbing market started to open an eye to CIPP as something they should be offering. Later, the [WWETT Show] started becoming more of a lateral show, really pushing the plumbing market [to attend the show], to look at CIPP and laterals in North America.”
Miller concurs with the assessment, adding that, initially, the plumbing contractors didn’t see this as a long-term or permanent facet of their services. That’s not the case anymore. “Plumbing contractors and sewer and drain contractors who thought it was a fad in the very beginning are really starting to see that there are companies experiencing a tremendous amount of growth in this business,” Miller says, adding that though these ranks have grown, there are still a good portion of this community that still doesn’t know anything about it.
With the lateral rehab market taking off, products and technology catering to this market rose, creating a competitive core of companies trying to reach those smaller, local contractors and plumbers. MaxLiner welcomed the competition, believing it breeds innovation and betters the market. Plus, competition, Carroll says, is what this country is all about.
“It’s what we as Americans do. We compete,” he says simply. “And that’s okay as it helps to weed out the good vs. the bad ones doing business. If you aren’t committed to quality and aren’t doing it the right way, you just won’t be around very long. And that plays to our strengths. That’s what we are built on.”
MaxLiner’s Keys to Success
Critical to its long-term success in attracting and keeping customers is the team MaxLiner has in place. Carroll points to the longevity and experience of its team members, specifically noting Miller, inside sales and customer service specialist Beth Hunt, office manager Barbara Hodges, as well as new additions James Kicklighter and Jennifer Joiner.
“I give them all the credit in the world. They are our front line, the people our customers touch every day,” Carroll says. “They take care of our customers like their own family. They are amazing and we have so much respect and gratitude for them.”
Beyond the rich experience of the primary team, Carroll is quick to note the incredible support MaxLiner draws from Applied Felts. Everyone works together to make and supply the best CIPP liners and CalTube the market has to offer.
“We’re still relatively small, but we have a big supporting cast behind us here in the U.S. and in England,” Carroll says. “Our reps and distributors who also carry our MaxLiner flag and brand deliver it to the marketplace and share in our mission and vision.”
Having facilities in the United States and England has proven invaluable over the last few years as the world has battled the pandemic. The MaxLiner, Applied Felts and Ferratex companies took this opportunity during lockdown to re-focus on research and development and worked to improve and evolve.
“As we’re coming out of [the pandemic], we’re more prepared than ever to be that worldwide leader in CIPP that we believe we are with such new products as our WovoLiner 2.0, EnviroCure, EnviroCure UV, and many others,” Carroll says.
Carroll knows you can’t 100 percent predict the future, but you can develop a well thought out vision of it and plan. He believes the lateral rehab market will continue to expand and prosper, with MaxLiner leading the way.
“We are getting so much talent in our space that we can’t go anywhere but up,” he says. “In the beginning, we were happy to sell four or five new MaxLiner systems in a year. Today, it is not so much the systems you sell, rather it is the customers you attain and retain by consistently delivering quality products and outstanding customer service.”
When sharing thoughts about MaxLiner’s future, both Miller’s and Carroll’s enthusiasm and optimism are, in turn, reflected in the team’s successes.
“We are more excited now about what we’re doing and where we are going than ever before,” Miller says. “We have a lot of innovative products coming down the pike that will continue to elevate quality and fulfill the market’s demand for less-invasive, effective solutions for lateral, drain and other in-building pipe rehabilitation.”