Trenchless Technology’s Evolution

Since its first issue in July/August 1992, Trenchless Technology has brought readers the unique perspectives, observations and knowledge from the trenchless industry’s leading experts through case studies, topical issues and opinion pieces. Many in this group can be considered “pioneers” in their field. Their experience and wealth of knowledge has been invaluable to the industry they serve and grow.

As we mark Trenchless Technology magazine’s 20th anniversary, we asked some of the industry’s manufacturing, technical and engineering leaders to share their thoughts on the growth of the trenchless industry and where it is heading. Each contributor takes a look at their niche in the market from cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) to microtunneling to grouting and how it has grown and matured over the last 20 years. We also asked a few industry leaders to look into their crystal balls and give their thoughts on the future of the industry. Their words provide insightful points of view of the trenchless industry as they describe the path trenchless technology has taken to its standing today and where it will be in the future.

Sharon M. Bueno is managing editor of Trenchless Technology.

Maynard Akkerman

President and CEO of Akkerman Inc.

One of the trends I’ve seen in the past 20 years is innovation in the auger boring rig industry. The technology has been around since the 1940s and until recently, the best means of monitoring line and grade was with a water level, radio beacon or manual checking. In 2002, Akkerman foresaw a prospective market for its GBM as a tool to provide guidance for auger boring rigs, in addition to its stand-alone functionality. The benefits to the contractor are numerous when installing accurate pipe and include maximized drive lengths and expedited pipe installations. Since carrier pipe can be positioned accurately, less costly smaller diameter casings can be used. Additionally, allowing the pilot tubes to do exploratory work means less time investment and decreased risk in the event of buried obstacles or utilities. With accuracy on their side, it’s not uncommon to see contractors achieve a 600-ft drive in the right ground conditions. In the last decade, I’ve noticed that most of the auger bore rig manufacturers have adapted their equipment to include some sort of steering and detection capabilities and many project specifications require their use.

Years of customer feedback led us to the decision to introduce our microtunneling equipment in 1995, and we remain the only North American manufacturer today. At the time, we had been in the pipe jacking industry for more than 25 years, so expanding our product line in this direction was a natural progression for our business. When subsurface geology prevents personnel entry in a TBM, microtunneling is the only option for pipe jacking in these instances, especially for larger diameters. There are a handful of contractors whose primary service is microtunneling installations. We’ve also made it feasible for traditional pipe jacking contractors to bid on microtunneling projects by offering our inventory for lease. Today, microtunneling is still a niche but more widely understood and accepted by municipalities and engineers.

When Akkerman was established nearly 40 years ago, we offered a basic open-face TBM. From there, we developed complete all-in-one pipe jacking systems, with a larger range of diameter offerings. Today, we manufacture four varied and complex equipment systems that include all needed components to start jacking pipe. Demonstrative of the industry, three of those system packages were developed in the last 17 years. Our excavator shield, TBM, microtunneling, guided boring machine and earth pressure balance lines of equipment continually evolve as demand and complexity in the domestic and international market necessitate. Our systems install pipe from 4 in. to 14 ft OD in a wide range of geology, with customization options to meet specific requirements and accessory units and increase kits so contractors can offer a range of installations with their equipment investment. Our customers want versatility and our goal is to offer it to them.

There is still work to be done, but in the last 20 years, NASTT has done an excellent job at educating and furthering the understanding of microtunneling and other trenchless methods and their benefits over open-cut pipe installations. Akkerman is pleased to be a contributor to the industry and enjoys being a part of the evolution of equipment capabilities for our changing environments.

James Pfeiffer

President of American Augers

There have been so many incredible developments over the past 20 years in the horizontal directional drilling industry, I find it difficult to list. To even have a discussion about these advancements, you need to break them into five primary categories: Rigs, Electronics, Mud Systems, Operators and ultimately, the end user or customer.

As far as rigs are concerned, 20 years ago, horizontal directional drills were in their infancy. Chain drives were used to move the carriage. Push/pull and rotary torque, by today’s standards, was very limited. Today, nearly all drilling machines use rack-and-pinion instead of chain thus improving reliability, durability and the overall performance. The development of rack-and-pinion drive was a major part of the substantial improvements in both push/pull and rotary torque.

Considerable enhancement has been made in the area of electronics. This includes both walkover and wireline. In the beginning of horizontal directional drill development, the principal information available was for depth and heat. Modern-day sondes/beacon systems are easier to track and provide considerably more data. The innovations in wire line systems and the operator’s steering abilities has improved to an amazing level. Obstacles and targets over a mile away are no match for today’s drillers and equipment.

The foremost innovation in horizontal directional drilling just may be in the operator’s understanding of the significance proper mud can provide. The successful completion of a bore has become to rely on the function of drilling fluid at a jobsite. Most drillers now know that reliable mud methods play a major role in meeting a deadline or not.

Operators have continued to learn and develop. Twenty years ago, the number of experienced drillers was few and far between. Most of them came from the oil and gas industry. A good driller and crew are still the most vital part of any jobsite. Even though the number of high-quality drillers has increased significantly, there will continue to be a shortage as we move into the next 20 years. In the past, most rigs required the operator to stand alongside the drill to run it. Today, most operators have an enclosed work station and, in many cases, an office-like, environmentally controlled cabin.

Twenty years ago, most end users were utility companies and their engineers. They were not familiar with horizontal directional drilling and its capabilities. Open-cut was still how most jobs were designed and completed. At present, all the advancements in the horizontal directional drilling business, as well as new and safer operating practices, have made horizontal directional drilling a major component of the underground utility industry.

Over the past 20 years the underground industry has more than quadrupled in size, not just in the overall market, but also the size of the machines. I continue to be proud to be part of this innovative and much-needed element of infrastructure installation and improvement.

William Shook


Reflecting back over the past 20 years in the trenchless industry, even the casual observer would recognize that it has been a time of rapid response to solving problems in our aging infrastructure. There are four primary areas that have impacted our industry’s development and each area had leaders who blazed the trail. The four areas are:  technology, engineering, academia and information dissemination.

Technological advances have seen the introduction and subsequent perfection of methods, materials and equipment to reinforce, protect and seal seriously deteriorated pipe, manholes and laterals. While sliplining, boring and tunneling have been around for some time, the advent of the Insituform process invented by Eric Wood deserves special recognition. Thanks to the trail blazed by these pioneers in pipe lining, other solutions, like our own Permacast system, were able to likewise flourish. In 1990, I had dinner with Eric and used this wonderful opportunity to ask him, “How long did it take you to invent Insituform?” He replied, “I did it on a napkin over lunch one day following a discussion with an engineer from London, but it took me two more years to make it work.” Similarly, Larry Kiest Jr. of LMK has led the innovative surge in lateral lining with almost 100 patents.

The other side of technology development is commercialization. No matter how good the technology, the industry must have educators who repeatedly tell the story and convince owners and their engineers of its benefits. Among the most notable leaders at “getting the story told” in my experience were Dec Downey, Jim Scott and Seth Hinckley. If our industry is considered a “forest fire” then these guys were the matches!

Engineering, of course, is a critical foundation to good technology. New technologies required a new engineering perspective. At the beginning, there were only a few engineers who became “trenchless experts” but those who studied and applied what they learned grew with the industry and made trenchless engineering a driving force for advancing our industry. Mark Wade, Moosa Damerchie, Rick Nelson, Jey Jayapalan, Jay Schrock and Ray Hutchison are among this special class of engineers.

Support from academics grew from a vision of a young professor from Purdue University named Dr. Tom Iseley. At the APWA Conference in Chicago in 1987, Tom was networking with various technology providers who were exhibiting. At that time, it did not take all day to visit with every trenchless exhibitor at the show. At our little booth, we were showing off our manhole rehab systems and we caught Tom’s attention. That’s when he began explaining how trenchless technology providers like ourselves would benefit from the research and technical support that academia was uniquely suited to provide. I was not the only one he convinced because soon after that Tom started the Trenchless Technology Center at Louisiana Tech with able support from Dr. Mo Najafi. Even today, you can find Tom pushing the envelope for new learning opportunities from Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis and Dr. Mo at the University of Texas at Arlington.

There was another young fellow racing around the exhibition floor that same day hawking advertising opportunities for a brand new publication that would soon be in print. Bernie Krzys was carrying a mockup of his magazine, a camera and a briefcase full of imagination. “Just imagine your ad, Bill, emblazoned on the pages of my new magazine tailored for trenchless technologies just like yours!”  I wasn’t the only one convinced that Bernie had a great idea. His magazine became a success disseminating information throughout the industry as a vitally important service helping utilities discover fresh solutions. Then, with the help of Allen Thomas, trenchless seminars were started for the purpose of educating contractors and engineers in the basics of trenchless technologies through presentations and demonstrations by the technology providers themselves

Every one of us who in a small way advanced trenchless technology over the past 20 years will happily tell you that as good as it’s been, the next 20 years is overflowing with even greater opportunities!   

David Magill

Founder of Avanti International

These are my thoughts on the trenchless industry from a chemical grout supplier’s perspective. Twenty years ago there were fewer companies associated with trenchless technologies (fewer still 30 years ago); but with the addition of some of the new, larger players, the industry has grown significantly. Our products fill a specific niche which makes up a small part of trenchless construction and rehabilitation — but controlling groundwater before, during and after construction is imperative to achieving any kind of trenchless success.

Avanti was established in 1978 and was the first U.S. company to focus on supplying chemical grouts specifically to the municipal industry to seal mainline sewers, lateral connections and manholes. We started with only one product, acrylamide chemical grout, which is still our best-seller. As the industry has grown, the need for new innovative products has also grown. Today, we are the only chemical grout supplier to offer a complete line of injection grouts including acrylamide, acrylic and acrylate gels, hydrophilic and hydrophobic urethanes, ultrafine and microfine cements. The municipal market remains a large user of chemical grouts to stop infiltration in buried infrastructure, but as the industry grows we continue to create and supply water-control grouts for a broader and more varied range of trenchless uses including mines, tunnels, tunnel boring machines, tailings dams, concrete dams, hazardous waste encapsulation, slab lifting, and soil stabilization

It has been very exciting to experience the growth of the trenchless industry over the last several decades. As new technologies emerge, chemical grouts play a key part in helping those technologies achieve success. From sealing annular space between host pipes and structural liners to stabilizing surrounding soil for successful tunnel boring projects, we are fortunate to have products available which work in conjunction with these technologies.

With 34 years in the trenchless industry, I have come to know a lot of good people — people who care about the industry and bettering our nation’s buried assets. My only concern at this point — other than whether or not our government will step up to the plate and allocate the money necessary to maintain and improve our infrastructure — is that many of the veteran pioneers of the industry are retiring, taking their wealth of knowledge with them. I personally know grouting contractors who are retiring and have dedicated 40 years of service to this industry. If there are no plans in place to mentor the next generation of trenchless professionals (engineers, contractors, consultants, suppliers, technical service experts), then there will be fewer experts and promoters of trenchless products, technologies and solutions.  Caring for the long-term health of the industry means investing in sustainable products, smaller construction footprints and people who understand how to combine the tried and true trenchless methods with new technologies. My son, Daniel Magill, now leads the company as its president and is tasked with the challenge of continuing to grow in an ever-changing market. He started working at Avanti in 1992 and is very knowledgeable about chemical grouts, how they are used, and how they may be used in new markets. My hope is that other companies and individuals in the trenchless sector are also grooming the next generation to insure not only success for their respective companies but also for the continued success of the industry I appreciate the combined effort of all those who invest in and promote the trenchless industry. Congratulations to Bernie and everyone at Trenchless Technology magazine for your 20 years of service and your continued effort to inspire and educate the next generation of “trenchless” contractors and engineers.

Frank Canon

Baroid Industrial Drilling Products

Congratulations to Trenchless Technology magazine on its 20th birthday. The magazine has been instrumental in delivering information and training to the industry since its inception. Through training seminars, drilling rodeos, sponsorships and industry involvement, it has shown a willingness to support and promote trenchless technology at every possible opportunity.

During one of the early training seminars in Pleasanton, Calif., in the early 1990s, I remember sitting around a breakfast table discussing (fantasizing) about what we would have to work with in horizontal directional drilling (HDD) in the future. It seems that the future not only has arrived but has exceeded expectations.

One of the major changes that occurred in the last 20 years has been in the acceptance and use of drilling fluids. In the early 1990s, the idea was that the only thing needed was a tank full of water. The industry quickly learned that water by itself was cheap but was not getting the job done. This is about the time that the drilling fluids people were contacted. At that time, there weren’t many people involved in what is now known as industrial drilling.

Those of us that were came from a vertical drilling background. Therefore, we initially tried to approach HDD with products and designed for the vertical applications. That worked to a point but, in hindsight, the bar was set pretty low. We then recognized the fact that we didn’t have the products that we needed. The idea in the beginning was that we went through a couple of decades of invention that has led to products specifically designed for use in the HDD industry.

The idea with many drillers in the early 1990s was that thicker was better. We have learned that this idea in not true but can also be dangerous because of increased downhole pressures created by trying to move high viscosity slurries. We now have additive that can give us the desirable fluid properties, help us maintain returns (maintain flow)  at much lower viscosity and, therefore, decrease downhole pressures and reduce the possibility of inadvertent returns.

The belief in maintaining returns of the slurry has made a 180-degree turn. Twenty years ago, utility contractors didn’t think that they wanted returns because it made a mess and the contractors had no means of dealing with the spent slurry. You could suggest that the contractor get a vacuum unit but the resistance to this was the cost. Now, the same contractor does everything possible to maintain returns and may have several vacuum units depending on how many rigs he has.

Another dramatic change we have seen in the last 20 years has been the average size of drilling rigs. There was a panel discussion at one of the tradeshows in the early 1990s. It was stated that the average size rig in the field was 14,000 lbs. Now, the average rig size is in the 28,000- to 30,000-lb range. It was also stated in the panel discussion that there were fewer than 80 rigs in existence larger than 100,000 lbs. There are many more than that now above 500,000 lbs.

Another major change is in the degree of sophistication and finesse that is seen with operators and rig personnel today. Because of this, longer and longer bores are being done with rigs that would have been considered to be too small 20 years ago.

At another tradeshow in the early 1990s, there was another panel discussion titled “Is a 10,000-Foot bore feasible?” Now it has been done, thanks to intersect technology. The question now is what will we see in the next 20 years? What we have now would have been considered science fiction 20 years ago. What’s next?

Richard Levings

Senior Product Manager at Ditch Witch

Over the last two decades, trenchless technologies have significantly changed the ways the world’s utility infrastructure is constructed. Pipe bursting and horizontal directional drilling provide efficient methods for installing underground pipe, duct, and conduit and trenchless rehabilitation methods give new life to old, failing pipelines.

My career has been devoted to the horizontal directional drilling (HDD) segment, and my perspective and focus is on that innovative trenchless technique.
Ditch Witch introduced its first HDD model in the late 1980s, a time when there was no commercially available directional drilling equipment for utility construction. That skid-mounted machine was quickly replaced by a model on wheels. The power source for those early models was separate from the drill unit, connected by a tether cable.

A key to the value of HDD is the second “D” in the acronym — “directional.” Being able to control the path of the pilot bore sets directional drills apart from other underground utility construction equipment. Steering is accomplished by changing the position of the drill head, but when the first models appeared, there was no tracking equipment for the new technology. Electronic locators were used to monitor the position of the drill head, and I remember stories told by early crewmembers of marking the drill head’s 12 o’clock position on each piece of drill pipe as a bore progressed to use as a reference for changing the direction of the bore.

Development of reliable tracking equipment paved the way for HDD growth, and other product improvements came in rapid succession during the first half of the 1990s. Drill rigs became self-contained and self-propelled; drill pipe and downhole tools were developed specifically for directional drilling and for varied soil conditions; anchoring systems improved; and drill pipe make-up and breakout became automated. The selection of drilling equipment grew with bigger, more powerful models for longer installations of larger-diameter products. Controls became easier to understand and use.

As knowledge of and interest in HDD technology grew, more utility providers and contractors were willing to use directional drilling, but there remained many who did not yet understand its benefits and were reluctant to try it. Manufacturers and dealers continued to educate potential buyers, and I believe those efforts and jobsite support provided to crews as they learned to operate their equipment played an important part in the ultimate acceptance and success of HDD technology.

In my opinion, what secured directional drilling’s acceptance was the construction boom of the late 1990s to bury long-haul fiber-optic cable that composed what was first called the “information highway” and then the information “superhighway.”

HDD proved its worth installing cable beneath highways and taking cable under bridge abutments and under rivers, streams, and lakes; busy rail lines; environmentally-sensitive areas, and anywhere else excavation or plowing were impractical or impossible. The ability of HDD to extend lines under such obstacles often shaved hundreds of miles off fiber routes.

Largely because of the telecom boom, HDD sales peaked in 2000, and HDD’s performance on cable routes got the attention of operators of other utilities and the contractors who served them. Then the bottom fell out.
With the telecom bust and recession that followed, fiber work suddenly stopped and the impact was felt nationwide. Contractors who specialized in telecom construction suddenly had nothing to do. A major market for rig manufacturers stopped buying equipment.

It was a painful period for all concerned, but with a few years perspective, I believe the circumstances ultimately contributed to the expansion of directional drilling into other markets. With a large supply of good, late-model drill units available at unbelievably low prices, contractors serving other markets were able to enter the business and use of directional increased for other applications.

One of the most significant HDD advances is development of technology that permits mid-size HDD models to effectively drill through many types of rock. While large drill units routinely drill in rock using mud motors, rock formations greatly limited smaller machines in many situations. Rock-drilling systems that do not require the large volumes of drilling fluid needed by mud motors enable machines in the 30,000- to 100,000-lb pullback range to economically and effectively drill through rock using a the All-Terrain two-pipe drilling method.

Today we find directional drilling widely used to install natural gas and water pipe, and conduit for power cable. Advances in tracking equipment have opened the market for installing on-grade sewer lines. And the telecom market is back with deployment of fiber to homes and commercial and institutional facilities.

Today in many situations, horizontal drilling is the preferred method for installing underground pipe and cable. With a host of models, directional drilling can put in 80-ft long service lines, installations thousands of feet long, and everything in between. For underground utility construction, horizontal directional drilling today is standard procedure for the world’s utility providers.

Lynn Osborn

Senior Applications Manager, Insituform

Twenty-eight years in the trenchless industry has provided me with lifelong memories, friendships and experiences. I’ve traveled the world, had a crew escape from a black bear in a 42-in. pipe in Alaska, took a hydraulic oil bath and seen cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) evolve by leaps and bounds.

In addition to CIPP, Insituform itself, a company I’ve been with virtually my entire career, has undergone many changes.

Financially, we’ve grown from a company doing $5 million worth of business a year, to now being part of corporation with close to $1 billion in revenue. To put our growth into perspective, my original employee number at Insituform of North America (INA) was 25; we now have thousands of employees all over the world.

Back then, our engineering and R&D consisted of two engineers and two technicians. Eric Wood, the inventor of CIPP, was very involved by sharing new ideas and providing hands-on support, while R&D activities and engineering were handled exclusively by Tom Driver and me with the help of the two technicians. In 1985, we hired engineer Rick Baxter, a name anyone in the business would recognize as an expert in the field. After building the first Insituform R&D building in Memphis, Tenn., that same year, we began hiring more people to help with R&D activities and have since watched the product continue to develop.

Since the mid-1980s, the general awareness and acceptance of trenchless technology is the most significant change in the industry. At that time, most engineers, wastewater collection system managers, educators and regulators had no knowledge of trenchless technology, whether for new construction or rehabilitation.

When CIPP was introduced in North America in 1976, there were a few consulting engineers involved with pipeline rehabilitation, and, in particular, CIPP. Although INA was experiencing rapid growth throughout the 1980s, we knew this could not continue with the consulting engineers on the sidelines. Many large potential customers told us that they would not use CIPP without a recommendation by their consultant.

Because of this, the INA marketing department developed the consulting engineers program, targeted at educating consultants on the benefits — both technologically and fiscally —of pipeline rehabilitation. We organized many seminars across the United States, well before the era of digital webcasts, traveling to give presentations and answer questions. We also got the customers involved, because if the customer wanted to use CIPP, then the consultant would become engaged

We weren’t the only ones to help trenchless become part of the consulting engineer’s toolbox. The education process came from many different efforts. Trade organizations like APWA held educational seminars all over the United States. Contractors and suppliers in the business at that time gave presentations and demonstrations. There was a real camaraderie that developed in the industry. Dave Magill from Avanti and I did so many of these seminars that we once joked that we could give each other’s presentations.
I guess the proof is in the pudding, because consultant involvement is at a high level today.

From 1976 until about 1989, Insituform was the only CIPP game in town. That was good news in that we were able to negotiate many contracts, but bad news because many potential customers would not consider CIPP outside of the competitive bid process. With the addition of competitors to the mix, customers’ reluctance gradually decreased and they accepted the use of a plastic product for sewers.

Another big change has been technological advancement. For CIPP, one of the most striking is the improvements in production rates through improved procedures, equipment, training, logistics and materials. At one time, a small diameter CIPP crew was doing well if they installed four shots per week, totaling maybe 1,200 to 1,400 ft at most. Today, many crews have joined the “mile” club by installing over one mile of CIPP in one week. Also, the critical path in installing small diameter CIPP is often reopening the house service laterals. With the robots available today, we are able to meet these higher production rates and continuously provide more value and faster solutions for the customer.

In the future, I see gravity sewers continuing as a competitive market with many companies in the CIPP installation business. There will be more developments in equipment, materials such as reinforcing fibers, robotics, processes and logistics that will allow for contractors to become even more efficient.

New inventions and developments will also lead to new products for the pressure market, which could grow the trenchless share of that huge market. With these developments, we’re likely to see a similar education process as we saw with the gravity products, helping to gain market acceptance. It’s likely that for the pressure market, the next several years could present challenges similar to what we faced over 25 years ago when the trenchless industry was just beginning.


Vice President of Michels Pipe Services, a division of Michels Corp.

In the past 20 years, I have witnessed great strides in the equipment and materials being used in the trenchless industry.

A relatively simple tool — cameras — is an example of how quickly and dramatically equipment has changed. Starting with black-and-white, forward-view only cameras, we have progressed to color pan-and-tilt ones that record onto DVDs instead of reels or Betamax tapes.

Materials have also morphed. We have advanced from chemical grouting to slip-lining HDPE, CIPP and HDD.

When I first began my journey in the trenchless industry, CIPP was a new form of sanitary and storm sewer pipeline rehabilitation. It replaced chemical grouting with a structural product. Prior to this innovation, when a pipeline needed a structural repair, it was either just dug up or chemical grouting was used in the pipe joints. Those methods were OK when lines ran down a street or through fields. But when the pipes were under buildings, inside dams or in areas that were nearly impossible to excavate, it presented much more of a problem.

CIPP was — and still is — a lifesaver for our clients. With the current technology, CIPP is the preferred method of structural repair, even if the line is running down a boulevard. Not only does it circumvent the need for excavation and street repairs, it eliminates detours that can route traffic away from local businesses. In short, it avoids many of the hassles despised by municipalities and their clients.

Just a decade ago, our personnel — many of who are still with us today — invented the equipment we used to complete trenchless jobs. Ideas were thought up, fabricated, tested, used, changed and reused until the process worked as smoothly as possible.

Today, every company that completes a trenchless project is taking advantage of the achievements we made a relatively short time ago. It is now possible for a company with sufficient capital resources to buy off-the-shelf equipment today and begin working in the trenchless industry tomorrow.

Standardization in the industry has helped provide a better, more level playing field for trenchless contractors. Industry guidelines, like the ASTM standards, have protected clients by ensuring they receive a quality product.

Engineering advancements have also been vast in the past two decades. CIPP liners consist of two main items: a felt tube and resin. The process of building the felt tubes has advanced, but product is essentially the same. The resin, however, has been reformulated many times. The result is a stronger liner that has more predictable, stable reactions and is both more environmentally friendly and more corrosive resistant.
One of the major changes to the “tube” is the use of fiberglass, as well as felt. The result is a much stronger matrix. By combining a stronger tube with an epoxy-based resin, we are able to install a CIPP liner in pressure pipelines.

For much of the past 20 years, I had heard that CIPP will be used as a cost-effective way to rehabilitate water lines. The recent surge in the acceptability and usage of an NSF 61-approved CIPP is a welcome and money-saving way to address the sorry state of our water infrastructure.

Timothy Coss

President of Microtunneling Inc.

Remember when the first commercially available fax machine became available?  How about the first practical cell phone that was all the rage? Yep, it was the Motorola flip phone, heavy and only a dollar a minute for out of area code calls. Internet dial up at 26.6 Kb/sec was the norm and everyone had an AOL or Compuserve account. Bill Gates was not really on anyone’s radar let alone the term “trenchless technology.”

In 1986, working with e e Cruz & Co. before an engineer or owner gave a fleeting thought for pre-qualifications or spending 12 to 18 months in design, we performed 8,500 ft of microtunneling in Tenafly, N.J. The wet and saturated soils in one to two blow count material to 30 ft deep went quite well. Well, for the most part, that is. The 36-in. RCP pipe made by Vianini is still a leader in the United States for great jacking pipe.

Ever go to a John Wayne movie or see a “rock‘em sock’em” action adventure movie? The feeling is quite empowering. Thoughts of grabbing the flag and charging over the hill come to mind. These were the feelings we felt in 1988 and into 1990 on the Hylan Boulevard project for the New York DEP in Staten Island, N.Y., with 100-ft deep shafts and a crowd-pleasing single drive of 1,625 ft and  looking forward to a project of 7,500 ft. We bid it, won it and did it. It was really remarkable even by today’s score cards. Then, not to be left out of the mix, Cruz Construction did a project on the Island while the folks at Michels and Westcon came to see what we were doing. The National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA) at its yearly conferences was spreading the word. Iseki, first in the United States followed closely by Herrenknecht. Over the years, Soltau, Akkerman, Rasa and MTS are systems offered.

I mention the beginnings of my industry in the United States because I am pleased I was there at the beginning. Actually, I was second; Steve Luis with SEC at the time did it first in Atlanta. In our world, we knew it to be called microtunneling and since the information age had not reached us yet, it did make a lot of sense hearing we were part of the trenchless technology world. Bernie Krzys, who just after publishing the first issue of his magazine, wound up at a dinner table with me in Boston in November of 1992 at a NAT conference. His vision then before becoming world famous, is the same as it is today — promoting the technology we enjoy today. I’m sure we all appreciate his efforts

Information was not as available as it is today by just going to Google. There had to be a way of promoting what I did and the industry I worked in. People needed to see this clever way of installing pipe in horrible ground conditions. In 1994, Dr. Levent Ozdemir of the Colorado School of Mines and I held our first Microtunneling Short Course. Seventeen courses at CSM and two in Hawaii will make it the 20 short courses this coming February 2013. It would seem it’s become a mainstay within the industry with more than 2,000 graduates.

The microtunneling industry has come a long way in the past 25 years. The ability of contractors today has exceeded what one couldn’t have imagined some years ago. Education and information is readily available. The newly incorporated North American Microtunneling Association (NAMA) is working to provide realistic dialogue between contractors and engineers.

There have been numerous achievements within the industry. It has taken 20 years to begin the adaption of curved drives, and seemingly it’s here to stay. Drive lengths of over 3,000 ft have been achieved in the United States. Longer and deeper ocean outfalls are possible. Rock microtunneling uses much improved disc cutters and tooling for mixed ground and solid face rock. Shaft construction has seen huge advances and most notably the Herrenknecht Vertical Shaft Sinking Machine, VSM. Chemical additives for lubrication and for improved slurry control are providing greatly reduced jacking loads and better face control.

Chris Brahler

President and CEO of TT Technologies

Collins Orton

Regional Manager of TT Technologies

Trenchless technology, in many ways, was a challenge to the status quo in the construction industry. It was a new way of thinking and a new approach to projects.  As president and CEO of TT Technologies, I have been involved in trenchless technology since its beginnings in the United States and North America. Underground piercing tools were some of the first pieces of trenchless equipment in the North American market.

Underground piercing tools have been around since the 1920s and 1930s in Russia, Poland and Germany. By the 1970s, some of those tools began to work their way into North America and by the end of 1970s we got connected with that piercing tool technology. It was very much a new technology for this market. But, at that time, as a manufacturer of vibratory cable plows, we needed a tool that could help us get under roads without tearing them up.

We searched the world for a product and found the Russian, German and Polish piercing tools. We determined the German product was the best and created an alliance with the makers of that product in the early days. And really from that we began to learn about pipe ramming, pipe bursting and other techniques. But all these things came together around that time, the late 1970s, early 1980s. And it was a number of great manufacturers and contractors that got the ball rolling. A lot of different techniques were coming out, CIPP, pipe bursting, directional drilling from Cherrington, etc. Some of these companies survived, some did not. But now, 30 years later in some cases, the market has matured and gone mainstream and there is a lot of solid competition, which is good for the end user, because they have a wide range of good products to choose from.

Trenchless technology really started to take hold when the American entrepreneurial spirit took over. “The contractors really took a broad percentage of the risk in the early days. We looked for those contractors with that entrepreneurial outlook, willing to try new things. Those contractors really got things moving in the trenchless industry and we wouldn’t be here today without them. 

Education has also been cornerstone of the trenchless industry. The investment over the last 30 years in education has been substantial and the industry has benefited from it greatly. In the beginning, and still today, we spent a lot of time meeting with engineers and public works officials, having ‘brown bag’ lunch meetings, discussing the capabilities of trenchless techniques and methods for specific projects. And now, in many parts of the United States, that commitment to education has paid off and trenchless is a standard construction practice.

NASTT began back then too, 1990. That was a whole focal point where equipment manufacturers blended with engineers.  And as some of the larger national engineering firms started to join NASTT, it really allowed for a better transfer of information at that venue [the No-Dig Show]. The educational sessions that were being presented started to draw in people from all over North America, wanting to listen to information about the latest trenchless techniques.  And now, NASTT has its largest membership ever and it’s coming off several incredibly well-attended shows over the last few years, with some of the best educational sessions they’ve ever had. The demand for more information about trenchless technology and the awareness of trenchless is so high today. 

As TT Technologies’ regional sales manager, Collins Orton has been involved with the construction industry and trenchless technology for over 30 years. His field experience is vast and he provides valuable insight into how the technology and the approach to trenchless applications have grown over the last few decades.

“While many forms of trenchless technology have evolved and improved over the last two decades, some equipment remains relatively unchanged, but it’s the overall project knowledge that has made them more effective and efficient. From a product-engineering standpoint for example, the pneumatic pipe bursting tools we started with were designed and built to extremely high quality standards,” Orton said. “But what we were missing in the North American market was knowledge about how these tools and processes would work in the field conditions North America. The effects of different soil conditions, pipe drag, pipe diameters, bentonite usage, product pipe material, host pipe materials. These were the unknowns in the beginning, in North America.

“This was very true for pneumatic pipe bursting. That process came over from Europe where it was used for small diameter gas work and came to the United States where it first took hold for large diameter sanitary sewer work. That’s a completely different ballgame, with a completely different set of challenges and variables. But now we know. Our collective knowledge base on how these methods work under certain conditions, in certain areas is immense. Applying trenchless technologies to the vast and infinite North American infrastructure has really been a remarkable achievement in the construction industry over the last 20 years and it’s laid the foundation for the technology to continue to grow for the next 20 years and beyond.”

Doug Hundt

Group Vice President of Industrial, Vermeer

The 1970s — and well before the advent of trenchless — Gary Vermeer had a vision that if Vermeer could develop a machine that could dig similar to a mole and tunnel underneath without opening up a trench, it would be a very good market for the company. I must say the man was ahead of his time. It wasn’t until the 1980s when we began to expand into the trenchless market, but by then we saw the potential impact it would have in underground construction.

Vermeer has a culture of looking into the future. There were definitely signs that the industry was ready for alternatives to open-cut back in the 1970s. In 1979, Vermeer introduced a simple rotary attachment that was used on small- to medium-size trenchers and vibratory plows for tunneling underneath various right-of-ways and other obstacles. It was very rudimentary, but it was popular. It saved time and money from having to cut open sidewalks and driveways. In the 1980s, the company officially entered the trenchless market by distributing the line of HammerHead pneumatic piercing tools. We definitely enjoyed success with that line, but again looking into the future we saw the trenchless industry begin to take shape as a dominant force in underground infrastructure.

Trenchless products started to filter into the market and we saw the demand rise. We knew it was time for Vermeer to begin designing our own line of trenchless drills. This was very early on and the industry was still in its infancy; however, we firmly believed if the technology worked, it would revolutionize how underground construction was done.

The first horizontal directional drilling (HDD) machine Vermeer introduced was the Navigator HDD (which later became model D7) in 1991. This was a very basic machine and required a significant amount of labor to set up and drill. Everything on these machines was a manual process. The success of this drill was limited, but this was new for us and we were learning. Vermeer spent a lot of time in the field, staging demonstrations for dealers and customers. Our product specialists and engineering team learned quickly the shortcomings of the drills. It was from these field experiences that in 1995 the second generation of self-contained HDD drills was born. That was the defining moment for Vermeer.

From 1993 to 2000, Vermeer grew tremendously which was due in large part to the advancements in our drilling line. Product reliability became a big focus and still is. Improvements in the machine hydraulics and introduction of a forged rod enhanced the drill’s performance and reliability, and helped build confidence in the technology. I don’t believe we’ve yet peaked. There are advancements on the horizon with user interface, location technology and drilling fluid composition and maintenance.

I have to say that the success in trenchless technology isn’t owned by the equipment manufacturers. Credit is due to the sophistication of the customer base. Trenchless contractors have developed deep knowledge of the technology and how to apply it. Dealers have invested to support these contractors with parts and service, and both dealers and contractors have invested in operator training. That is the big reason trenchless technology has been successful.

It has been a great ride these past 20 years and there is no indication that the ride is slowing down. We experienced successes, some failures and exponential growth. There is plenty of credit to go around for the success of the trenchless industry. The continued investments by the manufacturers, dealers and contractors will advance HDD further as an efficient and effective technology, which will drive growth. When you put that all together, I think it really bodes well for the future of the industry.

Future look

John Jurgens

Senior Civil Engineer, City of Seattle

The trenchless world has been around for centuries. The art of mining gave leeway to forward-thinking folks back in the early 1820’s of building a tunnel under the Thames River (Note from WIKIPEDIA, indicates the first successful tunneling shield was developed by Sir Marc Isambard Brunel, and patented by him and Lord Cochrane in January 1818). 

There is documentation indicating grouting was recognized by early Romans as a construction too. Later grouting was enhanced by a French engineer, Charles Berigny, who designed a cement pumping process. Berigny’s pumping advancements later were used in the successful Thames River Tunnel.

In North America, the federal government has been a major motivator in the growth of the trenchless industry. The United States already had the 1948 Water Pollution Control Act in place. The 1972 Clean Water Act (CWA) gave steroids to an industry, which was coasting along. Controlling extraneous flows became a critical part of conformance with the new law and there were funds set aside to help agencies. CWA gave way to a new language with buzz word definitions like I/I (inflow and infiltration) CSO, (combined sewer overflow) SSO (sanitary sewer overflow) and the dreaded DWSO (dry weather overflow).

Owners of piping systems have embraced the concept of trenchless rehabilitation of underground pipes and manholes require repairs or improvements, primarily due to the collateral costs. Design engineers stated some trenchless technologies would last 100 years plus, when installed properly.

Advancements of the trenchless industry enhanced due to the forward-thinking of folks, seeing something, and then having the courage to adapt the concept to another industry. Who are these forward thinking folks? Some are known like Eric Wood or Larry Kiest, inventors and patent holders of technology that has added to  industry growth.

There are many others, whose foresight and knowledge are unsung: Richard Beck, Kim Line, Steve Leffler Jim Monahan and Steve Waring,  innovators who created the first fold-and-form systems, modified and assisted Wood in his early efforts of creating machinery for placement of CIPP and modifiers of chemical grouting delivery systems.

As agencies expand, annexing areas, they end up accepting aging infrastructures that require attention. As
these expansions take place, inheritance of system that evolve are not properly designed.

Predominantly, the growth has been on the gravity side of piping systems, storm and sewer pipes. The two large frontiers are yet to blossom.

First, the water systems. Work in this arena is growing but still is on an uphill climb.  As technology has grown, the pressure side of the industry has watched. Many agencies have water systems that need attention. From pipe bursting, pilot tube and directional drilling system needs, internal process will also evolve. Internal spaying systems, as well as CIPP will grow for potable water needs.

Perhaps a larger push will come from lending institutions as side sewers begin to be part of a home
inspection process. Side sewers lateral inspections will grow to be a large factor as both the cost for these repairs are recognized and as agencies continue I/I efforts.

Truly there are many tools in the trenchless world: tunneling, horizontal directional drilling (HDD), pipe bursting, pilot tube, CIPP, chemical grouting, fold-and-form pipe and spray coatings. One of the largest dangers for the trenchless industry is a specifier becoming enamored with a technology. When this happens, it should lead us to the quote of Abraham Maslow (1908-1970), who said, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”

Today, universities have curriculums with the trenchless industry as a focus. The big problem about technology misuses can be summarized with the phrase: commonsense knowledge.

Dan Liotti

President of Midwest Mole

Reflecting back over the last 20 years in our industry, I have seen many changes. There have been many advances in the technologies that are used in our industry, as well as a tremendous improvement through education and training in the understanding of trenchless technology

With the advancement and improvement in equipment and technology, we are able to complete trenchless installations that were previously impossible or not cost-effective. As our company has been involved with every type of new installation method that exists, we have seen the benefit of new equipment and technologies. Below is a list of the technologies we have used and what advancements I have seen over the past 20 years:

Auger Boring: The boring machine itself has increased horsepower and some models have the ability to “walk” up and down the track quickly without using the thrust cylinders which saves tremendous time removing the augers and installing the carrier pipe. Two advances that have revolutionized auger boring are the use of rock disc cutter technology to cut hard rock and mixed face and the adaptation of the guided boring technology to guide auger bores, which allows for longer installations on precise line and grade.
Microtunneling: Two of the most notable improvements with microtunneling are the increased horsepower and the advancements with mixed ground cutting heads, which has allowed for installations through challenging ground conditions containing boulders. While these improvements by no means have made all crossings possible, some crossings can be completed that would not have been possible in years past.

Guided Boring: While guided boring or pilot tube microtunneling has been around for many years, there have been some very recent advances in this technology and equipment. Along with utilizing this technology to guide auger bores, we can now install larger pipes at further distances utilizing powered cutting heads and powered reaming heads. Manufacturers have developed new technologies to install tubes in hard ground and rock, as well as using vacuum technology to remove the spoils.

Small Diameter Tunneling: In small diameter tunneling, there is a limited area inside the tunnel machine to house the various components of the machine. In recent years through the use of more efficient hydraulic motors as well as utilizing variable frequency electric drives (VFED) and improvement in cutter head designs, we can install small diameter tunnels at distances of 2,000 ft in hard rock.

Along with these advancements in technology and equipment, through associations such as NASTT, there has been a tremendous improvement in the understanding of our industry. Engineers and owners are much more knowledgeable and better understand the various methods of installations along with the importance of having good geotechnical information. We also now have college students graduating from college that have been exposed to our industry through the various student chapters of the NASTT.

As we move forward into the future, I see continued improvement in the design of equipment and its ability to handle even more challenging ground conditions. Education and training will continue and the young people entering our industry will be more trained than in years past to understand and utilize the benefits of trenchless technology.

Kim Staheli

President of Staheli Trenchless

Looking at the future of trenchless technology, I am extremely optimistic. Over the last 20 years I have heard myself say multiple times that trenchless technology is moving forward at a remarkable pace; however, it has never been truer than at the present time. Engineers and scientists continue to make tremendous strides in understanding the mechanisms behind the way trenchless technologies work. At the same time, innovative contractors continue to push the limits of trenchless technologies beyond where engineers and scientists believed they could go. The fascinating thing about this industry is that these cycles of innovation are occurring quickly — sometimes yearly. This is having a profound effect on “typical” large-scale engineering projects with three- to five-year design lives. With such rapid advances in trenchless technology, methods that were previously “ruled out” in the feasibility or pre-design phase due to limitations in diameter or length may now be capable of meeting the project requirements by the time the project is ready to bid. As a society we are used to this speed of advancement in the computer industry, but certainly not in construction!

As I look into the crystal ball and attempt to predict the future, I believe that the trend toward rapid innovation that has developed over the last 20 years will continue. It seems likely that we will see owners such as cities and municipalities develop their own in-house trenchless crews for installing and rehabilitating pipelines with a variety of trenchless techniques. Today, one of the major concerns facing an owner when considering trenchless for the new installation of pipelines is contracting risk — specifically, the risk of a differing site conditions claim on the project. To eliminate these risks, we may see owners performing their own trenchless installations, purchasing the necessary equipment and making the investment to train their own crews in “mainstream” technologies such as pipe ramming and pipe bursting. We have already seen some cities in Canada such as the City of Edmonton, Alberta develop in-house expertise and perform their own tunnel installations very successfully. Could this trend continue into the United States?

I believe that the economic climate will have a profound impact on the direction of the trenchless industry. In the past few years we have watched the economy force innovation in the direction of creating ways to install trenchless pipelines at lower prices. For example, we are seeing combinations of technologies, such as using a pilot tube with an HDD rig or with an auger boring machine to install pipelines at precise line and grade previously achievable by only the most expensive installation techniques. We have also seen owners look to rehabilitate pipelines and choose structural liners over the installation of new pipelines — choosing technologies that allow them to address pipeline issues at the lowest cost. The economic climate will undoubtedly continue to create pressure that will impact the direction of trenchless innovation into the future.

I am not one who has ever attempted to fortune tell. Yet, I have always felt that the trenchless industry had a bright future, even during the most difficult economic times. I do know that the future of trenchless promises to be exciting. This industry is filled with extremely talented, hard-working individuals whom I feel honored to work with as we move forward together. As we continue to grow, we are sure to attract highly talented individuals that will keep the ball rolling. I am sure that the next 20 years will prove to be even better than the first.
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