Trenchless Pioneers is a special monthly series sharing with readers the trailblazers who grew and expanded the trenchless industry.
Murphy Pipelines president Andy Mayer and pipe bursting have been intertwined since Mayer was a teenager, living in the United Kingdom. Today, he is widely-respected and credited for bringing this trenchless rehab process to the United States more than 20 years ago, revolutionizing how the water and sewer industries address their deteriorating and aging pipes.
Pipe bursting was developed from the concepts behind pneumatic piercing tools, with British Gas and DJ Ryan completing the first-ever pipe bursting project in the United Kingdom in 1981. They applied for and were granted the patent for the pipe bursting method in the months that followed, offering a revolutionary option for Europe’s failing cast-iron pipes.
Mayer accepted an apprenticeship with British Gas when he was 16. At the time, British Gas was responsible for the development of pipe bursting, compression fit and polymers for pipe installations. Those patents lapsed in 2005, opening the door for an expansion of the technology. “From a young age, I learned many fundamentals that I brought with me to the United States,” Mayer says. “Call it luck or endeavor, but I landed in the great country of America and found out [the country was] 40 years behind the U.K. The decision to move here was not difficult. From the first day here, I was looking at the United States as the global giant that it was, and still is, and thinking how can the country that put a man on the moon be so far behind with new pipeline installation.”
He was surprised to find out that pipe bursting water mains using the pre-chlorination method was not a commonly-used process in the United States as it was at the time in the United Kingdom. He immediately went to work to change that way of thinking.
Mayer introduced pre-chlorinated pipe bursting to the U.S. water market in 2000 and is now a stated technology in the AWWA manual. He is also responsible for the resurrection of compression fit — also called Swagelining — in the United States. “We developed the large diameter compression fit here in the U.S. and, like pipe bursting, it is now recognized as the premier lining technology for water and sewer force mains and the only class V and class VI liner on the market, which allows the host pipe to derogate over time and still be operational,” Mayer says.
Over the last 20-plus years, the technology and knowledge about pipe bursting has exponentially grown and Mayer marvels at how far the process and use have come during this period. “Most people looked at me as if I had two heads and thought I was [crazy,]” he says, reflecting on when he first introduced pipe bursting to the United States. “Until they saw what was achievable in the fraction of the time. Then they took notice.
“Today, while the technology is still expanding in many areas, there are also numerous states where pipe bursting is the preferred technology to replace water mains, with open-cut only used when needed,” he adds.
Mayer is proud of pipe bursting’s growth and footprint in the trenchless rehab market — and says that growth and acceptance will continue. He also notes the impact of PE pipe in its growth. “In the 23 years I have been here, [pipe bursting] has grown tremendously, and the growth will continue, as the awareness and education of the PE pipe continues to expand. With the benefits [that this pipe] provides, it can only grow, as no other pipe material offers so many market firsts as PE,” he says.
He is proud of his legacy in the trenchless industry and how he introduced the pipe bursting process and technology to a skeptical audience, who soon came around to its benefits. He’s also proud of his contributions to compression fit and large diameter fusing.
Even though Mayer is a pioneer in the field of pipe bursting in the United States, he is far from taking a step back from the industry he loves and champions. “I am still promoting the trenchless industry, still working, and enjoying every day,” he says. “The space needs education and people like myself need to spread the knowledge that we have — This will grow the market. I will never retire, as it’s not in my blood and my journey is not complete.”