As the United States approaches the two-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain shortages, inflation and a shrinking workforce have all emerged as associated challenges in addition to public health. The construction industry has of course also been impacted. But some good news came last month as President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that, among other provisions, will significantly increase federal money for water and sewer projects. It is anticipated that the new investments will spur much needed projects including for the trenchless industry.
Each year, Trenchless Technology’s December issue looks at engineering in the trenchless market. While engineering is just one aspect of a project, it always plays a role in mitigating risk and addressing new challenges that arise. Engineers can tailor a project – whether new installation or rehabilitation – to address specific challenges, jobsite conditions and ensure projects are delivered on time and budget. Examining some of the work done by top trenchless engineers can also reveal some insights about the health of the market.
In this issue, we present the 26th annual ranking of our Top 50 Trenchless Engineering Firms in North America. The Top 50 ranking is compiled from data submitted by engineering companies via a survey. The task of compiling the revenue figures and data is not easy, and Trenchless Technology would like to thank all firms that participated in this year’s survey.
Only revenue figures submitted to Trenchless Technology were used to compile this ranking.
The goal of the Top 50 is to give readers a snapshot of the scope of work completed by top trenchless engineers, offering an impression of annual market performance. The data collected examines firms’ trenchless revenue in North America relative to total company revenue, the number of employees specializing in trenchless design and the number and type of projects completed in the past year.
The Top 50 are ranked by North American trenchless revenue in 2020 or the company’s last fiscal year. On the survey, “trenchless revenue” is defined as the total revenue generated by a firm from trenchless professional services including design, construction oversight and inspection using the new installation or rehabilitation methods shown in Figure 1.
The top 5 remain unchanged from last year. Dallas, Texas-based Jacobs ($201.5 million in trenchless revenue) takes the top spot in 2021 for the fourth consecutive year. Edmonton, Ontario-based Stantec stays in the No. 2 spot, reporting more than $171 million in trenchless revenue and the highest-ranked Canada-headquartered firm.
AECOM, consistently the largest firm in terms of total company revenue, comes in third with about $124 million in trenchless work. At No. 4. is CDM Smith, $103 million, and Hatch at No. 5 with $85 million in trenchless revenue.
Black & Veatch comes in at No. 6 with $64.3 million in trenchless revenue. T2 Utility Engineers ($52.4 million) ranks No. 7 – the highest-ranked 100 percent trenchless firm and one of only two 100 percent trenchless companies to make the Top 50 (the other being CNA Consulting Engineers at No. 50).
Rounding out the top 10 are McMillen Jacobs Associates at No. 8 ($41.8 million), CCI at No. 9 with $41.4 million and Hazen and Sawyer – which makes the top 10 for the first time – at No. 10 with $32.9 million in reported trenchless revenue.
Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam enjoys the biggest increase over last year, reporting $12.7 million more in trenchless revenue (moving up from 26th to 15th this year).
This year, Trenchless Technology asked engineering firms to break out their North American trenchless revenue by country. Figures that were submitted for United States and Canada are shown in the first two columns of this year’s ranking, although firms are not ranked by these figures. The firm reporting the most revenue for trenchless work in the United States is Stantec, while Hatch reports the most revenue for trenchless engineering work in Canada.
“The Canadian market is one we closely monitor, and it remains the backbone of our trenchless and tunnels business,” says Marc Gelinas, P.Eng., P.E., PMP, principal engineer for infrastructure with Hatch. “The trenchless and tunnel market in Canada remains strong, and in the past year we have not observed any decline in the market. Growth remains strong as cities expand and existing infrastructure ages. The need for innovative and sustainable approaches to infrastructure construction that reduce public and environmental impacts has never been greater.”
What Do the Results Reveal?
Looking specifically at trenchless revenue in North America, this year’s Top 50 trenchless firms did more than $1.436 billion in trenchless work, slightly down from more than $1.446 billion last year. Of the Top 50 firms’ collective revenue of roughly $41.5 billion, 3.5 percent was in trenchless engineering. On the workforce front, this year’s survey revealed more than 4,800 professionals specializing in trenchless design among the Top 50.
Overall, the 2021 revenue figures continue to show stability in the trenchless market. In the past two years, total trenchless revenue from the Top 50 has decreased by 7.5 percent. But it was only in 2018 that total trenchless revenue for the Top 50 first eclipsed $1.4 billion. Additionally, this year Trenchless Technology asked firms to submit net revenue figures, which had not been previously specified. It may be a factor for the slight decrease in 2021 revenue vs. 2020. With variables such as this, it may be premature to say the trenchless market has experienced any kind of significant dip, especially with optimism among the engineers.
“The business of infrastructure repair and replacement is still as strong as ever, and our collective support for our clients has adapted to respond to the challenges posed by the pandemic,” says Andrew Finney, P.E., GE, P.Eng., global technology lead for trenchless design for Jacobs, which ranked No. 1 on the Top 50 for the fourth consecutive year.
“New challenges related to climate, such as wildfires in the west and hurricanes in the east, are driving an ever more urgent need to harden our infrastructure through undergrounding, and new opportunities related to energy have us drilling deeper and longer than in the past. I believe the slow and steady growth in trenchless revenue reported in the annual Top 50 survey will begin a more rapid climb in the next few years as we respond to these new challenges.”
In total, the Top 50 generally report completing close to 20,000 projects a year. This year, Trenchless Technology decided to focus less on a cumulative total and more on providing accurate project totals by trenchless method. The project breakdown by method is shown in Figure 1. Firms were asked to provide project totals for each discipline, counting new installation projects with multiple bores, drives or crossings as one project. Companies were also asked to provide total linear feet for both the Pipeline Rehabilitation and Pipeline Evaluation Studies categories. Most firms were able to complete this with some interesting first-time results.
Project totals should still be viewed as rough estimates. Some firms disclose to Trenchless Technology that while they track which projects are trenchless, they do not track by specific discipline or method.
Of the reported projects this year, more than 4,700 subsurface utility engineering projects were completed among the Top 50. Horizontal directional drilling (HDD) also remains a top market discipline with more than 6,000 completed projects reported. Next is Auger Boring (627+), Microtunneling (606), Utility Tunneling (403), Pipe Ramming (393), Pipe Bursting/Slitting (229), Guided Boring/Pilot Tube (228) Non-Jack Methods (152) and Direct Pipe (76). For Pipeline Rehabilitation, which includes water, storm, sewer, oil and gas, etc., the Top 50 reported a total of 9,868,579 lf. For Pipeline Evaluation Studies – also including water, storm, sewer, oil and gas, etc. – the Top 50 reported more than 56,834,088 lf completed.
On the project front, Robert Ramsey, P.E., vice president, western region U.S. for T2 Utility Engineers, says technology is starting to play a larger role in executing trenchless design projects and improving overall efficiency.
“Responsiveness and accuracy have always been important, but in this environment, being able to improve efficiency and cut risk is a big advantage for a project,” he says. “From a technology standpoint, we’re seeing a move to 3D design, and we’re providing 3D SUE modeling and utility conflict analysis. The immediate integration of utility data into design/planning documents is becoming more widespread, especially on mega-projects.”
Participating in the Top 50 Survey
Submittals from engineering companies are imperative to making Trenchless Technology’s Top 50 ranking as comprehensive as possible. If you are a trenchless engineering company and would like to learn more about how to participate, please contact Andrew Farr at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrew Farr is managing editor of Water Finance & Management and a contributing editor to Trenchless Technology.