PW Trenchless Ltd.
David O’Sullivan founded PW Trenchless Ltd. (PWT) in 2000 as a specialty service construction firm in Surrey, British Columbia. “I studied engineering in Ireland in the 70s,” he recounts. “I worked in consulting for about six years, managed a construction company from 1986 to 2000, when I started this company. The other business folded in 2005. That business focused on general utilities, but I felt the need to take the business more into trenchless technology.”
Trenchless construction methods have been around since the 1930s and maybe earlier, but are only recently gaining momentum as methodology for the utilities market. As financial and environmental concerns come more to the forefront in recent years, trenchless construction offers a less invasive and less expensive alternative to traditional utilities work.
“In metro Vancouver, for example, there is about $50 billion worth of piping infrastructure,” O’Sullivan elaborates. “If you were to replace all of that in a 100-year cycle, that would be $.5 billion per year to replace everything. Most cities don’t do a quarter of that which makes a deficit in infrastructure rehabilitation. When a bridge collapses, it is more in your face, but you have water main breaks and sewer collapses daily throughout North America. That is reactive maintenance, as opposed to proactive maintenance. If you go in to get your car serviced every 20,000 kilometers, you pay $100 each time. If you don’t do it, the transmission blows you spend $3,000. It is the same with infrastructure.”
A Better Way
Infrastructure management has a growing presence in governments worldwide. While the practice sounds daunting and expensive, O’Sullivan and his team are promoting a better way to replace failing pipes that is less time consuming, better for the environment and less expensive, qualities that appeal to the budgetary restrictions of local agencies.
“Using trenchless methods, crews are not digging as much as with traditional infrastructure construction,” O’Sullivan explains. “A pipe is maybe the diameter of cup, and maybe eight or 10 feet in the ground. To get down, crews will dig a hole that is eight or 10 feet deep by four feet wide, all to put a little, six-inch pipe in the ground. With that practice, you remove 100 times more dirt that you need to. Trenchless allows you to do more; it gets rid of asphalt work, traffic interruptions, requires less fuel usage, and releases lower carbon emissions. Each city in British Columbia has to meet carbon neutral goals. Construction falls outside of that mandate now, but if the city can lower construction’s footprint, then that could translate that into carbon credits against day to day operations. That entitles the city to certain grants from the province.”
Putting it into Practice
PWT utilizes a number of methods in practicing trenchless construction. Recent projects include the rehabilitation of several culverts under highways throughout the region. “The benefit of these culverts when they were installed was flexibility,”
O’Sullivan elaborates. “When you build a highway, you expect settlement over the years and you don’t want the pipes falling apart. However, the steel will eventually corrode, not completely but in parts depending on ground conditions. The highway department comes to us and says they have a problem with the culverts and they want to know what we can do to rehab or fix it. We use some fairly innovative solutions. In this case, we performed slip-lining, which means we literally slipped lining into the existing pipe. That will renew the culvert for another 50 to 70 years without having to dig up the road.”
Other replacement projects include regional water mains, sewers, and other infrastructure. The company offers varied services within a focused scope, consisting of pipe bursting, slipping and directional drilling. “We don’t do much as far as new construction,” O’Sullivan notes. “We are a specialty company. We concentrate on innovative solutions for these specific problems. Cities come to us, say, ‘We’ve got this problem; what can we do to solve it?’ We offer something similar to a design build, but not quite.”
With aging cities and a renewed focus on efficiency, trenchless solutions may present the best option for the future of infrastructure repair. PWT has become a pioneer in the trenchless construction market and O’Sullivan seeks to promote these methods on a broad scale. City governments have a growing awareness of infrastructure deficit, which offers more opportunities to present trenchless as a positive alternative. “This has boosted our growth,” O’Sullivan explains. “We have additional revenue because cities are paying closer attention to their pipes.” This more sustainable alternative for infrastructure rehabilitation continues to catch on as PW Trenchless Ltd. pushes for innovation throughout the industry.