I am often asked how old the trenchless technology industry is and when we can date the beginning of this “New Era” for the construction industry. However, even after nearly 20 years in the industry, I am not able to give a precise answer.
Trenchless technologies have actually been around for centuries. About 25 centuries ago, the Eupalinian aqueduct was constructed on the island of Samos. The tunnel was built with modern techniques, with two teams starting on the opposite side of the tunnel, advancing simultaneously and meeting in the middle. The tunnel was 1,030 m long (3,380 ft). The Greeks and the Romans, mastered the same construction techniques that were then used for centuries, until the 1800s when the mining industry led the way on the development of new technologies. The gap from the “mining” world and the “civil” world (gap that in many ways still exists even in today) was then reduced. Around 1820, a tunnel under the Thames River, in London, was built with the first “shield” technique (ref. Wikipedia: In 1818 the French engineer Sir Marc Isambard Brunel had patented the first tunneling shield).
Closer to our times, we may consider the beginning of this “New Era” when trenchless technology finally became more available in the market and started to challenge the status quo of the traditional construction industry. The time period we are now talking about is the 1970s, and from then on, we witnessed an exponential development of this amazing technology — first in the United States and Europe, and then over the last 25 years, generally around the globe.
Another question I am often asked relates to the state of the trenchless technology market: What is the pulse of trenchless technology worldwide?
As Chairman of the International Society for Trenchless Technology (ISTT), I have the opportunity to witness the evolution of this industry worldwide, both by attending conferences and shows, and through our 28 Affiliated Societies in representation of more than 30 countries.
Region by Region
The trenchless technology industry is in continuous expansion and, slowly but surely, it is growing worldwide. Different regions of the world have different growth rates and market maturity, but the growth rates are most definitely positive.
Looking deeper and in more detail into the different regions, we find a very mature market in the North America, where trenchless technology evolved into a commodity, with an extremely strong trenchless manufacturing industry and a strong and steady market. South and Central America are growing markets. These regions have been exposed to trenchless technology for the last 30 years, but mainly because of economic instability, the industry never developed into a mature market; however, these areas are now, and probably will be in the future, the growing markets for trenchless. Moving east to the old continent, we find Europe where, after the market crisis of 2008 and a momentary setback of a few years, as the whole construction industry, the trenchless industry fought back and stabilized into a maturing market. Europe, as in North America, has a strong manufacturing trenchless industry, which helps to share the technology in the continent. Within Europe, it is important to note that the “old” Europe represents a more mature market, while East Europe is to be considered as more of an emerging market.
The large Asian region witnessed different rates of development in this last few decades. Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan were the first to develop and employ trenchless technology, with Japan taking the lead in its use, as well as the internal trenchless manufacturing industry. China opened its borders to this new approach to construction about 15 years ago, when the country started to build out its infrastructure, with the will to close the gap with the “Western” world. The fast growth of this last decade has slowed a little, but the market is still growing and it has evolved quite a bit, both in manufacturing capabilities and the application of trenchless technology in the construction industry. The other Asian countries are also growing, with trenchless technology slowly spreading in the area.
Australia and New Zealand should also be thought of as mature trenchless countries, like North American and Europe, with a growing market, as well as a growing trenchless culture. The Middle East, along with the Persian Gulf countries, is also to be considered as a growing area for our industry, with increasing requests of training and equipment. Last, but not least, Africa, where the emergence of this technology is primarily found in South Africa.
The Future of Trenchless Technology
Focusing on the future of trenchless technology, it is important to note a new and exciting international initiative for 2017: “Trenchless in the Americas.” During 2016, ISTT, in cooperation with the Colombian Institute for Subterranean Infrastructure Technologies and Techniques (CISTT) and the North America Society for Trenchless Technology (NASTT), launched this tremendous international initiative as part of ISTT’s 2017 International No-Dig Show.
This initiative will span the relatively mature trenchless markets in North America and continue on to the growth markets of Central and South Americas. The initiative begins with the NASTT No-Dig Show April 9-13, in Washington, D.C., at which NASTT will co-host with ISTT the 2017 International No-Dig Show, and it concludes in September 2017 in Medellin, Colombia, with CISTT hosting the International Trenchless World Congress. I invite you to attend these great events to explore new technologies and new markets.