With an increasing level of competition existing within the utilities sector, contractors are engaging with technology to ensure installation works are delivered effectively and efficiently.
Among the biggest developments in recent years has been the emergence of trenchless systems that have proved their worth in being both time and cost saving.
As highways authorities increasingly look to utilities companies and contractors to demonstrate greater co-ordination with installation and maintenance projects to minimise disruption to businesses and commuters, the industry has responded with a range of solutions.
One such company is UK-based TT, which has released its latest pipe reducing system. Designed to be undertaken without the need for traditional trench work, it aims to repair gas, water and sewage pipes that have reduced flow thanks to wear and tear.
Using the Grundoburst rig system, it works through guiding high-density polythene (HDPE) pipe string which is connected to quicklock rods. During the pulling in process, the outside diameter of the pipe is reduced by between around 5 and 12% of its original size, said the company.
Tension is then relieved and the new pipe adapts close-fit to the old pipe’s inner wall, according to its developers, who believe the system has wide application for a number of utilities installation scenarios, and has potential to reduce site costs significantly.
This year has also seen Herrenknecht gain acclaim for its latest semi-trenchless method of installing pipelines. Its Pipe Express system claims to reduce traditional earthwork volumes by 70%. It consists of an underground drill and a trenching unit with a buggy and a surface-based operating vehicle.
The system works by its drill loosening the soil, which is then transported above ground using a milling unit and stored along the route.
At the same time, pipelines are installed underground, with the trenching unit serving as a vertical connection between the boring machine and the site surface. It is operated via remote control from the operating vehicle – which does not require conventional trenches to be dug and can be used in pipelines of up to 1km long and with diameters of 800mm to 1.5m.
Another notable utilities development has been delivered by Vermeer, which has introduced a range of pneumatic piercing tools. Its machines bore horizontally through soil to install pipes without the necessity for trench-building.
Its Hole Hammer piercing tool comes in three sizes and features a moving head design that the company said provided full striking force of the piston to the head of the tool, pulverising stones in the surrounding soil.
The residual energy of this action is used to help the tool body travel through the compacted bore path.
Such advanced methods are beginning to see a greater use, as well as enhanced application of digital methods of monitoring of projects via smart apps and tablet-based equipment.
One firm that has been proactive in responding to the challenge of developing contractor-friendly computer applications is McElroy – which has released its new DataLogger 5.
According to the company, its latest device offers site operators working on pipe-fusing jobs the ability to upload data from a job to a free online space, where it can be fully reviewed and analysed in real-time.
The data recorded can be accessed through wi-fi, potentially providing large time saving on project analysis.
Other capabilities of the logger include GPS stamping, barcode scanning and a 5MP camera.
Its online system, known as The Vault, can be accessed by anyone who rents, owns or uses a DataLogger. It allows users to view and analyse joint data from almost any device and is sorted by jobsite, device serial number, operator ID, machine ID or machine model.
McElroy CEO Chip McElroy said, “Data logging is being required on more and more jobsites to verify pipeline integrity. We are happy to offer tools that allow fusion operators to do this as easily and efficiently as possible.”
In addition to computer software, there have also been advancements within the excavator field including the use of custom-made cameras and attachments used on excavators to improve operational efficiency and accuracy.
Joep van den Maagdenberg, product specialist at Hitachi Construction Machinery Europe, explained the company had worked hard with customers to develop equipment which was both fuel-efficient and improving its environmental emission performance.
“What we have seen over the past year or two has been a general increase in rental equipment rather than end user sales,” said van den Maagdenberg.
“Companies are making investment in machines that are used for utility work on job sites, including mini-excavators and small excavators up to six-tonnes in size. These are being used with several buckets and are now available in a number of equipment options and attachments.
“Since the Lehman brothers crash in 2008, many companies have been cautious, which has led to companies researching more about the equipment and calculating what their best solutions are.
“This has seen contractors choosing rental – for the UK around 90% of the market is for rental equipment, with many plant hire companies available within mainland Europe covering local level, and at regional and pan-regional level.”
He said that while rental of equipment had become particularly popular as a result of market conditions, he said there were a number of countries such as Norway, where logistics issues meant that direct sales were still the prevailing norm within the industry.
He added that there had been considerable research and development into the entire range of Hitachi excavators, with the advanced technology featuring in some of its larger range between 17 and 40 tonnes filtering through into the development of its smaller models.
“Contractors are choosing machines that allow them to switch between attachments easily, and we are seeing features such as grapples and hydraulic hammers being used for utility work,” said van den Maagdenberg. “They are looking for versatility with their machines – for example companies that once worked largely within landscaping are now taking on a wider range of jobs including demolition.”
The company has reported that its medium-sized excavator, the ZX210LC-5 medium excavator has successfully completed an earthmoving and drainage pipe-laying project in Copenhagen. Following major flooding in the city two years ago, one of its major roads in Østerbro lay under up to 1m of water, and sewers overflowed following heavy rain.
Contractor Græsted Entreprenør Service used the Hitachi machine to lay two new pipes (a total of 330m) – one for rainwater and another for sewer water – then fill in the new trenches.
It was believed to be the first machine of its type to have been used in the region and is fitted with a tilt rotator. Its operator, Kurt Nielsen, has more than 20 years’ experience and rated the Zaxis-5 highly during its use this year.
“It is an excellent working environment – it is relatively quiet and I like the comfortable seat in particular,” he said. “The monitor is useful when I am changing attachments, for adjusting the oil flow and hydraulic pressure.
“The hydraulic system means that the machine has a fast swing motion, so I have to keep alert. It’s a relatively large machine for doing so many different jobs, but despite the limited space on this site, I can manage everything with the ZX210LC-5.”
Other manufacturers including Volvo CE have introduced an expanded range of equipment to meet commercial demands within the sector.
Its D-series of compact excavators, which includes low-noise breakers, have been devised with maximum efficiency and productivity strongly in mind.
Civil engineering trenching firm AFT has released its HW60 hydraulic wheel trencher.
Based in Sudbury, Suffolk, UK, the company has manufactured machines used for a wide variety of utilities installation projects and cabling contractors.
Its latest compact trencher product is designed to be mounted onto skid steer loaders with a high flow option.
The company said the combination of heavy duty trencher and loader offered an ideal solution for fast and accurate trenching in difficult conditions where access was limited.
It is said to cut the narrowest of trenches even when trenching in concrete and compact aggregate. The advantages are reflected in increased operational productivity and reduced costs of backfill materials and labour.
AFT Trenchers recently announced a significant partnership with a major telecommunications company in India, resulting in its machines being seen across the country – working in extreme conditions of up to 45°C temperatures and heavy monsoon rainfalls.
Another of its successes has been in optimising its MH100 to be a powerful hydraulic chain trencher mounted onto the arm of an excavator using an adjustable 360° turntable.
By placing the excavator in an offset position, this highly versatile trencher can be used in canals, down embankments, in roads and road verges, and over traffic safety barriers.
Recent major contracts in newly emerging countries like Turkmenistan and Algeria have focused on the versatility of the MH100 and AFT Trenchers is proud of its success in this field of expertise.
To meet the needs of civil engineering tasks using a tractor, AFT Trenchers has designed a new reinforced chassis for the AFT100 PTO driven chain trencher. With its special heavy duty chain and bullet teeth, this rugged trencher can dig in very difficult ground conditions, such as through 200mm of concrete. This has led to several contracts in newly opened markets such as Poland and Hungary.
Employing a diverse range of equipment such as trenchers and the increasing use of trenchless technology is continuing to set the pace within the industry.
With a number of advances in technology emerging over the past year, it is clear that digital applications will play an ever-increasing role within the sector.