No Dig Madrid

For the past two days I have been at No Dig Madrid tapping in to the rich seam of ingenuity and practicality that characterises the trenchless industry. I have so many ideas for articles in Underground Utilities magazine that I am not quite sure where to start, from developments in sensors and locators; repair robots and pipe liners; pipe materials and filter systems to faster HDD rigs and clever innovations that combine tunnelling with trenching.

There are also the business stories too. The Iberian Society for Trenchless Technology explained that the Spanish downturn had seen some local firms turn to Latin American markets where they were making successful progress. I interviewed Spain’s leading HDD contractor Catalanade Perforacions who explained that consolidation in the local market had been a feature of the recession, and this had strengthened their position as market leader. However another feature of the economic crisis has been increased competition from leading contractors from Italy, France and Germany.  They also talked me though their clever Neodren filtration pipes, which are designed to act as intake pipes for desalination facilities (a feature will be in Underground Utilities next month).

The gathering was also the annual conference of the International Society for Trenchless Technology (ISTT) and exhibitors told me that they were pleasantly surprised by the diverse mix of visitors that they were meeting with. “We have had guests from Brazil, Bulgaria, Israel and Portugal,” said Digital Control’s European Manager Roger Dietz. Other’s too echoed this. “I have a client from Spain that I am meeting here about work in Chile,” said another.

I also met with Michael Brugh and Ed Heston from The Toro Company, based in Minnesota, US, which is celebrating its centenary this year. They talked to me about their plans for growth in the HDD market following their 2012 acquisition of Astec Underground’s HDD rigs. “This is a worldwide play for us. We think the long term math of the business is really solid and we predict some good high single digit growth within that,” said Brugh.

For more on all of these companies and issues see the Nov/Dec issue of Underground Utilities. A link will be posted here.

Ed Heston and Mike Brugh with the DD 4045, a mid size 40,000lb HDD rig
Ed Heston and Mike Brugh with the DD 4045, a mid size 40,000lb HDD rig



Seeking site stories……

The 450t Prime Drilling rig

For the most recent issue of Underground Utilities I was struggling to find a strong cover story. We knew that we would be looking at Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD) but the theory piece and market overview that I had written was not going to make an exciting cover. Luckily VolkerWessels UK came to my rescue with the suggestion that I hotfooted it over to the Netherlands to see their sister company Visser &Smit Hanab deliver a new gas main for local energy firm Gasunie. Not only were they undertaking HDD they were undertaking it in several locations giving me a wealth of case studies to choose from. Most exciting had to be the banana bore which the team explained required a steep angle of inclination to get the 48inch steel pipe under canal sheet piles. Read more here: Autumn UU

As always I am very grateful to Tim, Jurre, Jeff, Joey, William and everyone else onsite that helped in the research.

I am now on the lookout for auger boring, rock drilling and vacuum excavation case studies for the next issue so get in touch if you have exciting projects to talk about.

Underground construction is big in Texas

Locals like to say that everything is bigger in Texas and this is certainly true of the world’s largest pneumatic pipe ramming hammer. Unveiled by manufacturer HammerHead Trenchless Equipment at the Underground Construction Technologies expo in Houston, the 34 inch (860mm) device can install pipe casing up to 180 inches (4500mm). This is hot news for Underground Utilities magazine which sent me to visit the exhibition and find out what is new in the world of underground construction.

For those of you (like me) who are not expert in pneumatic hammers the technology is mainly used to ram steel casing through ground in locations where opening up a trench is not an option such as a road, a railway or a river. The significance of the new piece of equipment is that it can be used to install a much larger diameter pipe casing underground than HammerHead’s earlier 24inch (61mm) hammer. It can also push the casing over longer distances through the ground and enable quicker installation than smaller heads.

HammerHead CEO Brian Metcalf tells me that the hammer was created in response to clients that had requested the company provide larger solutions. After a recent field test in Ontario where it successfully placed a 185ft (62m) of 72inch (183mm) steel casing the product has now been released for production.

Beyond pipe ramming the event has also highlighted some other important issues in the underground construction sector,. Contractors working in the field of Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD) revealed that clients are increasingly asking for real time monitoring of the HDD drill head as it bores its underground trajectory. They also highlighted the challenges of undertaking a bore without ground investigation, which is more common than I had realized. Coming from an engineering background I expected that any significant HDD bore would be carried out in ground that had been investigated to properly engineer the drive. However a lot of projects do not undertake this step and do not take core samples, instead they rely on the considerable expertise of the contractors who in many, many cases successfully deliver a new pipeline thanks to their experience with local conditions. Unfortunately there are also many projects where the ground turns out to be different to what was expected or contain obstructions that were not expected and contractors fail to place the new pipeline as planned. “One or two $5000 bore holes could save the client $200,000 in construction cost,” said one participant.

One of the biggest challenges of this event has been working out what to attend. There were 11 educational sessions running simultaneously on subjects from cured in place pipe to HDD, pipe bursting and regulatory updates. Day 2 is no different and I will be finding out more about microtunnelling, manhole repair, drilling in hard rock and keyhole technologies.