Here we are: Happy 2024! As the trenchless industry starts a brand, new year, the landscape for the trenchless rehab sector has never looked stronger, with long-term forecasts echoing that description.
Rehab work continues to grow, as more and more cities turn to their attention and dollars to upgrading and maintaining their underground infrastructure — and trenchless technologies and processes. There are so many tentacles to this trenchless sector: pipe relining, sliplining, pipe bursting, grouting, laterals, condition assessment and more.
As we embark on another year of trenchless, we asked a few of the industry’s experts and advocates to take a peek into their crystal ball and share with you their insight into today’s trenchless rehab market. Great perspective on the rehab market as we go forward.
Taking part in this special Q&A are:
- Jim Kraschinsky, vice president of sales and Derrick Smith, Northeastern regional sales manager at Aries
- Robert Moorhead, chief commercial officer at Aegion Corp.
- Sheila Joy, executive director at NASSCO
- Jeremy Alexander, president at Sprayroq
- Katya Lindy-Wilkinson, president at Picote Solutions
How would you describe the state of today’s trenchless rehab market? What are you hearing from the industry about the future of this market?
Robert Moorhead: We are seeing greater support and focus from owners regarding a holistic approach to rehabilitation – looking at larger-scale systemic needs instead of focusing on a singular, emergent problem. Aging infrastructure remains an ongoing challenge for municipalities that are charged with balancing many wants, needs and resources. Technology remains at the forefront of meeting today’s industry challenges for our customers, which is why Aegion is investing in solutions that can more accurately assess and rehabilitate pipelines quickly and effectively. More specifically, we are seeing infiltration control of laterals and mainline joints using chemical grout gaining traction again. Owners are also looking at manhole rehabilitation as a critical part of the holistic rehabilitation of their systems.
Jeremy Alexander: Considering the challenging and interesting economic times we find ourselves in currently, we are seeing resiliency within the trenchless rehabilitation industry across the country and are anticipating a strong year next year across trenchless rehab. One primary driver of this is the continuation of many municipalities investing in the repair of key assets through IIJA and other funding methods. We are finding that many asset managers require solutions that save time and reduce capital outlay but provide long lasting benefits. These requirements elevate the need for proven trenchless technologies offered by companies like Sprayro Inc.
Katja Lindy-Wilkinson: There is much emphasis on laterals and small diameter trenchless rehab options currently in the market. Technology and products used on jobsites are developing and more options are coming to the market. This includes developments in rehab methods, including CIPP, Brush Coating and UV technology. These methods are now also available for the small pipe sizes including 1 ¼- and 2-in. pipes. It is still an exciting time for the trenchless industry as a whole because infrastructure is getting older and urgently requiring rehabilitation. In short, the industry is still in its infancy and offers room for growth in all aspects, especially the smaller diameter piping inside homes. We are seeing a growing movement from doing only patching or short /restricted areas to more complete rehabilitation of systems in wider perspective. The understanding of infrastructures aging process is growing, and with it the rehabilitation of not just the main pipes/damaged sections, but also the connecting laterals, even if they are in smaller diameters. This protects against infiltration and exfiltration, saving time and expense further down the line.
Sheila Joy: This is a very simple answer to your question, but the best gauge that the market is growing is that NASSCO members (who are actively engaged in trenchless technologies), all report being exceptionally busy, and they have been consistently busy for at least the past year. Our entire membership base, which includes contractors who do the work, public agencies who own the systems, consulting engineers who recommend the best solutions, and the suppliers of manufactured goods and services, report a huge demand for trenchless solutions.
Jim Kraschinsky and Derrick Smith: One of the major demand drivers for trenchless pipe rehabilitation is the growing requirement for sustainable infrastructure solutions, as utilities, governments, and property owners seek to diminish their carbon emissions and reduce their activities impact on the environment. Trenchless pipe rehabilitation is a “sustainable solution” that reduces waste, reduces disruptions to nearby areas, reduces excavation areas, and decreases carbon emissions, materials required and energy needed for equipment and transportation materials. (It was also deemed an “essential service” during the COVID-19 global pandemic due to its critical importance). This market is propelled by rising requirements to rehabilitate ageing infrastructure. Conventional replacement and repair methods, such as replacing and digging-up entire pipe sections is time-consuming, disruptive and costly in comparison. In water and sewer lines, the market is segmented three ways: pipe diameters up to 18 in., 18– to 36-in., and 36-in. and larger. By far, the most common is 18-in. and smaller in the United States and Canada. The water rehabilitation market is slightly larger than the sewer market. North America has some of the oldest water and sewer infrastructures plus the strictest rules regarding worker safety and environmental protections. Aries makes mainline and lateral inspection systems, grouting trucks and robotic reinstatement cutters – all necessary and vital to any successful trenchless rehabilitation project.
What areas of the rehab market are you seeing and/or forecasting to have a big 2024 and beyond?
Moorhead: The potable water rehab market continues to grow as do the breadth and depth of our customers’ pipeline challenges. Specialized and ancillary services like HDD, clean and TV, and pipe bursting go hand-in-hand with traditional trenchless rehab methods, making vertical integration of services more valuable than ever to customers. In addition to the 10 company acquisitions Aegion has completed since 2022, we are excited about a cutting-edge technology to effectively address asbestos pipe removal – a sorely needed trenchless solution in the rehab market – and will be sharing more about this and other new offerings yet this year.
Alexander: Sprayroq is seeing expansion beyond our core business, specifically within transportation and the energy segments. While these are far different than much of our typical focus, we find these industries have similar issues with aging infrastructure requiring needed solutions.
Lindy-Wilkinson: The entire trenchless market continues to grow, but some of the areas that we see as leading opportunities in 2024 and beyond include the use of trenchless technologies inside buildings and when rehabilitating laterals. Picote, as a trenchless contractor specializing in rehabilitating all drains and sewers from 2 to 9 in. for various types of buildings including residential, business and industrial, is one of the frontrunners in using trenchless technologies inside buildings. The contractors entering the trenchless inside buildings market now can find thousands of references for these projects. Methods and products have been perfected for this use over the years. There are many certified methods in use. Additional training, onsite support and consulting is also available when needed. UV CIPP, CIPP and Epoxy Brush Coating all have a potentially huge growth opportunity in 2024.
Kraschinsky and Smith: All areas of the rehabilitation market (CIPP, laterals, manhole) are experiencing significant growth but one of the largest areas involves cross-bore issues in laterals. A cross bore is an underground utility line that was inadvertently bored through a sewer, septic line or other underground utility. If a sewer backup develops in your home or business, it is common practice for homeowners and plumbers to use mechanical rotary devices to clear blocked sewer or septic lines. This can be dangerous because the process will almost always damage the utility line that was bored through the sewer line. If an electric line is cut, there is risk of electrocution. If a gas line is damaged, gas can migrate through the sewer line and into homes and buildings. This could result in a major accident involving injuries, deaths and significant property damage. More and more municipalities are mandating video pipe inspections of sewer lines both before AND after any project to install fiber-optic cables, telecom cables and gas lines to inspect for potential cross-bore situations. These video inspections help ensure public safety, minimize service interruptions, and avoid harm to reputations of contractors. Aries LETS 6.0 system is a perfect system for inspecting mainlines and lateral lines pre and post project. Additionally, the crawler has a locatable “sonde” transmitter, which allows precise mapping of the sewer utility at the same time as the video inspections.
What are some legislative issues NASSCO is keeping an eye on that would benefit and/or otherwise impact your membership?
Joy: Regulations for The Build America Buy America (BABA) mandate is an issue that our member companies express a need to better understand. With BABA, nearly every piece of construction material, manufactured product, pipe, fitting, and many other products must be either made in America or receive a waiver if a water infrastructure project is receiving federal funding or financing. NASSCO hosted an industrywide webinar last December with presenters from the EPA to help our industry understand the new rules and requirements. The webinar was recorded and can be viewed at NASSCO.org/Webinars. Aside from BABA, on a more global level, NASSCO continues to communicate with Washington D.C. on the need to fund aging underground infrastructure. Before funding can be addressed, however, it is critical to ensure that assets are managed properly. Without an understanding of underground conditions, system owners cannot appropriate funds in the most beneficial ways for their communities. Helping elected officials understand the need to encourage system owners to implement asset management plans is the best way to ensure limited funds are spent in the most appropriate manner. NASSCO members and staff will be traveling to D.C. on March 12 for NASSCO’s annual Washington D.C. fly-in to meet with elected officials on these important topics.
What challenges do you see or are concerned about having an impact on the trenchless rehab market?
Moorhead: Municipal funding of projects continues to be a long-term concern and a hurdle for many of our customers. Despite those concerns and the current levels of federal, state, and municipal funding available, the volume of sewer and water infrastructure rehab work to be completed in the U.S. will likely continue for decades. As trenchless rehabilitation leaders, our role is to be a solutions-focused partner with municipalities to help secure funding and defend pipeline rehab projects that provide critical resources to communities.
Alexander: The most difficult challenge to many within the Sprayroq network is hiring and retaining qualified team members willing and able to complete the work. This has and continues to be a challenge that we, and our network of applicators, continue to evaluate and discuss.
Lindy-Wilkinson: While the trenchless rehabilitation market is poised for continued growth, it does face several challenges that could impact it in the near future, including workforce training and skill shortages. Effective trenchless rehabilitation requires workers with specialized skills and knowledge. While there is a growing need for trained professionals in this field, younger generations are not looking at the trades as a highly sought after career field. Addressing the challenges in the trenchless rehabilitation market requires a skilled and knowledgeable workforce. Investing in training and skill development programs is crucial to equip professionals with the necessary expertise to tackle emerging challenges. These programs should focus on a wide range of skills, including technical knowledge of trenchless methods, project management, environmental compliance, and health and safety practices. By nurturing a skilled workforce, the industry can overcome challenges, improve project outcomes, and foster innovation. It only takes a few minutes watching the news, or thinking back to the last few years that we have all lived through to realize that it is all too apparent that global economic and political factors including inflation, political changes, supply chain issues, and global events like pandemics can impact funding availability, project prioritization, and overall market stability. And as always, there is the issue of funding. The future will require a significant investment for repair and system upgrades. While we have seen more government allocation of funds toward infrastructure rehabilitation, most of the time the importance is not visible to the general public until it causes a catastrophic event. Therefore; it doesn’t get the attention if often deserves including during the struggle over for limited funding dollars in utility and governmental budget allocations. The trenchless rehabilitation market presents significant opportunities for efficient and sustainable infrastructure repair and rehabilitation. However, addressing potential impacts and obstacles is crucial for the industry’s continued growth. By understanding common challenges, embracing technological advancements, complying with environmental regulations, and investing in training and skill development, stakeholders can overcome obstacles and deliver successful trenchless rehabilitation projects. By staying proactive and embracing change and innovation, the trenchless rehabilitation market can pave the way for a more resilient and sustainable underground and in-house infrastructure.
Seems to be a strong emphasis in recent years on condition assessment. How important/critical has this become to the trenchless market?
Moorhead: The advancement of condition assessment has allowed owners to be more selective with the segments of their systems needing attention. In the past, owners would take a “blanket” approach to rehabilitation of their sanitary lines. With the advanced technologies available today, owners can prioritize the most critical areas of their systems and make repairs accordingly, which is helpful when funding is limited. Aegion continues to work with owners to assess the most critical concerns in their systems and implement the right rehabilitation technologies to solve their issues.
Alexander: Condition assessment is a critical piece for evaluation and determination of needed corrections within below grade utilities. Sprayroq has been heavily involved with NASSCO and other associations to continue to improve the standardization and classification of assessments for infrastructure. The primary purpose for engagement is less about business objectives and more about ensuring accuracy and transparency across the industry when evaluating and making recommendations about needed improvements and/or repairs.
Lindy-Wilkinson: Condition assessment has become increasingly critical to the trenchless market and has driven new assessment equipment and technologies which provide faster, more accurate and comprehensive data. Its importance in planning, executing, and evaluating trenchless rehabilitation projects cannot be overstated. It is truly the only way to be able to make informed decisions regarding rehabilitation needs including locating problems, choosing appropriate repair methods, and allowing utility owners to prioritize repairs/replacements vs. funding and time constraints. This proactive approach can save significant costs and reduce the risks associated with infrastructure failures as well as help extend the lifespan of existing infrastructure by identifying potential problems before they have led to devastating failures. Having regular and thorough condition assessment information allows for more targeted repairs versus broad, more costly, and potentially unnecessary rehabilitations. Different states of disrepair can be evaluated so that the most effective and economical rehab solution can be chosen to match the particular need.
Kraschinsky and Smith: It is critical to address pipe defects before issues arise to understand exactly what is going on inside pipes to assess repair and potential rehabilitation needs. Water utilities, municipalities (or a contractor hired by either one of them) will assess and inspect your pipes and sewers to determine the best rehabilitation solution. It is critical to understand exactly what is going on inside your infrastructure. In addition to standard cleaning and CCTV inspection services, some companies use multiple sensor Pipeline Condition Assessment Platform (Lidar, CCTV, Sonar) for pipes 36 in. in diameter or greater that are damaged or require more in-depth data than a basic inspection can provide. Multi-sensor inspection (MSI) is a combination of technologies used to deliver a comprehensive condition and hydraulic assessment of large diameter pipelines. Tractor, skid, or float systems are used based on pipe flow conditions: CCTV – to see and document defects; Lidar – to measure profile and actual pipe conditions above the flow level; and sonar – to measure and quantify debris levels below the flow level, in live flow condition. Sanitary/waste water and storm water pipes (aka gravity pipes) most often use sophisticated and robust CCTV inspection equipment with hi-def digital capabilities. With larger storm water lines, simple observations and debris from pipe cleaning operations are all that is used. Unfortunately, storm water lines are the one most taken for granted. They are more likely to collect unwanted surface debris which can cause clogs, backups and failures. These failures cause significant property damage, public health and safety concerns. Since storm lines are similar to sanitary sewer construction and materials methods, their condition assessment methods are also similar. Here are the significant Condition Assessment Technologies for gravity pipes: Flow Monitoring, Smoke Testing, Dyed Water Testing, Flow Isolation, CCTV Inspection, Laser Profiling, Sonar Profiling, Multi-Sensor Date Collection, Pipe-Penetrating Radar, Manhole Inspection, Lateral Inspection, Joint Pressure Testing, Focused Electrode Leak Locating (FELL), Manhole Vacuum Testing and Manhole Holiday (Spark) Testing. Current rehabilitation technologies consist primarily of: Open Cut/Remove & Replace, Cured-in-Place (CIPP), Sliplining, Pipe Bursting/Pipe Reaming, Close-Fit Lining/Die-Draw Lining/Roll-Down Lining/Fold & Form Lining. Generally speaking, CCTV inspections can provide the quickest/easiest basis for determining what future tests should be performed, as well as which rehabilitation method is most appropriate.
Seems to be a great deal of mergers/acquisition (M&A) movement over the last few years. What does this say about today’s trenchless rehab market?
Moorhead: The demand for trenchless rehab solutions will continue to grow. Not only are the fundamentals of trenchless technologies well established but the industry continues to innovate in terms of its products and methods to fuel new and more economically viable alternatives to dig-and-replace. Aegion’s strategy is to be the acquirer-of-choice, bringing on great local operators that help expand our service offerings to make it easy for customers to partner with us and to scale their best practices across the country. This is especially the case in potable water applications where it’s crucial to have a suite of product/service options.
Small diameter trenchless has become a surging component to the trenchless rehab sector. How would you describe the market segment’s impact going forward?
Alexander: This segment is important to many of our customers; however, it is not a core focus for the business in 2024. Although, with the evolution of automation and robotics, Sprayroq is exploring the possibilities of small diameter applications using these technologies at some point in the future.
Lindy-Wilkinson: The small diameter trenchless rehab market is experiencing a surge and is poised to have a significant impact on the overall trenchless rehab sector going forward. We at Picote are, of course, highly focused on this market segment as both a manufacturer and worldwide distributor of small diameter trenchless rehabilitation equipment, as well as being a trenchless rehabilitation company in Finland. Beyond the increased public awareness of the availability of small diameter trenchless solutions, the ever-advancing technology has made small diameter trenchless methods more cost-effective, especially for smaller-scale projects which has made it even more accessible to a wider range of customers, including smaller municipalities and private entities who might have previously considered trenchless rehab too expensive. The continuing growing interest will spur further innovation and lead to new more advanced, efficient, and environmentally friendly techniques and equipment for various applications, including water, sewer, gas, and telecommunications; as well as new job opportunities in the industry for skilled professionals trained in small diameter trenchless methods.
Joy: NASSCO members in the contractor sector have historically been the larger contractors assessing, maintaining, and rehabilitating large diameter pipe, but we have seen a recent surge of membership amongst smaller contractors and plumbers. We find this very encouraging, especially given the holistic nature of smaller diameter pipe and its impact on the entire system, especially as it pertains to controlling I/I. One of the ways NASSCO has evolved to support the plumbers who have joined NASSCO is through its Lateral and Building Pipe Committee. We are in the midst of launching a Building Sewer and Drain Inspection Certification Program that will assist plumbers, sewer and drain contractors and inspectors in the proper inspection and assessment of private property lateral and building pipe for the benefit of real estate transactions and general best practices. Not to be confused with NASSCO’s Lateral Assessment Certification Program (LACP), the program will: provide consistent documentation of findings and encourage accountability by those performing the inspections for accurate assessment of building sewer and drain conditions; build awareness of the need to properly inspect building pipes and drains as you would any other structural component of a private property (electrical, plumbing, building and/or other systems) prior to any real estate transaction; assist those performing the inspection (i.e. plumbers, drain cleaners, contractors) with verification on Google and other search engines; and support system owners with demand for the proper inspection of laterals and building pipes which are important contributors to health of overall sewer system, regardless of lateral ownership.
What effect has the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) had on the trenchless rehab market and will have going forward?
Moorhead: The IIJA appropriated an unprecedented level of funding — $55 billion through 2026 — for state and local governments to address underground water and wastewater infrastructure. Most of those funds are allocated to the EPA’s DWSRF and CWSRF programs that municipalities can tap to increase reserves for multi-year Capital Improvement Programs. And since the IIJA dollars follow the traditional SRF application-to-funding process, we are in the early days of IIJA’s funds being deployed. This is a historic opportunity for state and local governments to accelerate their progress towards restoring the integrity of their underground infrastructure.
Alexander: The IIJA has had a direct impact on the market; however, we would suggest that it has been more of a trickle-down effect as opposed to a consistent flow. As with most funding, large municipalities have received most of the funding to this point. Provided the funding continues through 2026 as expected, we would anticipate continued approval of key infrastructure projects within the USDA, EPA, Public Works, and other government entities across the country that would otherwise not have occurred without IIJA approvals.
Lindy-Wilkinson: The IIJA has had a significant impact on various sectors of the infrastructure industry, including the trenchless rehabilitation market. Since the Act’s funding is not just for new construction but also for the maintenance of existing infrastructure it has helped fuel an increased demand for trenchless rehabilitation, as aging pipelines and sewer systems require ongoing care. Also, since the IIJA emphasizes sustainability and environmentally friendly practices, trenchless rehabilitation has benefitted as it is generally considered more sustainable than traditional trenching methods, as it causes less surface disruption, reduces carbon emissions, and conserves resources. This alignment with the Act’s goals could lead to a preference for trenchless methods in infrastructure projects. Beyond the immediate project opportunities, the IIJA should boost long-term industry growth and innovation. With more projects and funding, there’s an opportunity for technological advancements in the trenchless sector as well as increased public awareness about the benefits of trenchless rehabilitation, leading to more community support for such projects.
What is NASSCO looking at in particular in 2024?
Joy: NASSCO will be expanding its online learning opportunities beyond its well-established Pipeline Assessment Certification Program (PACP) and Inspector Training Certification Program (ITCP). Thanks to our dynamic committees, 2024 will see the launch of two new courses on PACP for asset management, one on evaluating condition grades and the second on assessing risk. Additional courses in development include building sewer and drain inspection, drain cleaning, bypass pumping and a new ITCP program focusing on grouting. We are also evolving our online learning tools to make the self-paced learning experience more interactive and engaging.