Going down

24 April 2008

Utilities contractors Atermon ATTEE and Promitheas Gas have used a Vermeer T558 trencher to install

Utilities contractors Atermon ATTEE and Promitheas Gas have used a Vermeer T558 trencher to install over 300 km of gas pipes in the Attica region of Greece.

The European Utilities Construction sector is in rude health, according to Rene Albert, technical and engineered solutions manager, Vermeer. Mr Albert told CE that annual sales growth over the last 10 years have never dipped below +6%, with peaks as high as +20%. “Sales in the last 12 months have been steady. However, I would say that they are on a par with the levels we saw in 2000, when Europe underwent a telecom boom.

Mr Albert told CE the gas market in particular is growing as a result of the recent high oil prices. Sewer and environmental applications - river re- routing and water pipes - are also undergoing something of a resurgence. Mr Albert points to Sweden as a particularly good market. Following severe storms recently the country's utilities companies have taken the decision to move all their networks underground.

“Obviously a project of this size is going to take years to complete so there are some fantastic opportunities for equipment manufacturers and contractors alike in the gas, electric and water supply sectors, explained Mr Albert.

Key countries in the last 12 months besides Sweden, according to Mr Albert, have been the UK, the Benelux countries - Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg - Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Northern Italy. All these markets have performed well, unlike Spain and Portugal where things have been rather slow.

“I expect to see growth continue in Germany, and this looks likely to spread into Central Europe - slowly and surely. The UK looks like remaining steady, while Eastern Europe looks like it has a lot of potential. There is plenty of money flowing into the region and this should continue for a few years yet, said Mr Albert.

Expanding Networks

Regionally Vermeer's dealers and distributors, it currently has 23 working throughout Europe, have seen Central Europe concentrate on gas and electrical installation, said Mr Albert. In Greece, for example, utilities contractors Atermon ATTEE and Promitheas Gas used a Vermeer T558 trencher to help install over 300 km of gas pipes in the Attica region.

Ground conditions vary across the region from soft soils to extremely hard rock. So the correct choice of trenching equipment was vital, said Mr Albert.

With this in mind, Promitheas chose a variety of excavators backhoe loaders, a ride-on trencher equipped with a rockwheel, and a Vermeer T558 trencher.

Previous experience of working in the region saw Promitheas and Atermon excavate several large bores prior to trenching. These were used not only to confirm ground conditions, but also to identify existing utilities along the proposed excavation routes.

Polyurethane pipes from 63 to 225 mm diameter were used. Work started in 2003 and finished just this year. However, this was not without its reason, as Mr Albert explained.

“Greece is an archaeological goldmine, or minefield, so because of the project's location, two archaeologists were on site at all times to recover archaeological findings and/or to instruct the operators. They were given the authority to continue, or halt work if archaeological investigations were deemed necessary, which they often were.

Difficult Conditions

As the project advanced, the construction crew encountered extremely hard rock conditions in several areas. It was at this stage that the Vermeer T558 trencher was brought on site. Using the T558 the work crew installed a total of 36,6 km of pipeline through limestone, shale and granite. To work through these conditions, the T558 used a 2109K chain, fitted with Kennametal C31RXHD p/n 101580-001 teeth.

Operating in eight-hour shifts, average installation rates varied with the ground conditions. In granite a minimum of 30 m per day was possible, while in soft clay up to 460 m was installed.

Like Greece, the UK has also been busy expanding its gas network. In Manchester, contractor Balfour Beatty Utilities has used a slip-fast pipe pushing system supplied by TT UK Ltd, a sales subsidiary of Germany-based Tracto-Technik. The machine is being used as part of the Greater Manchester Gas Alliance project, which will see the network expanded around the Manchester area.

Björn Freimuth, product specialist at Tracto-Technik, told CE the UK market is very strong at the moment, both for renovation and new works. “We are also seeing strong growth in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Germany at the moment, said Mr Freimuth.

“Scandinavia, particularly Norway, and Switzerland are also strong. In Norway the water supply network is undergoing massive renovation work. It's estimated to be losing 30 to 40% of its water through leaks, so it looks like being a very long-term project. Similarly Germany's sewer network is also undergoing huge investment. There are millions of kilometres of pipes that need replacing so I think we'll see strong sales and lots of activity domestically, added Mr Freimuth. ±30°, asphalt hotbox and auger.

Water Works

Mr Freimuth told CE one of Tracto-Technik's new Grundoburst 2500G has recently been at work in Germany, replacing a sewage pipe in Berlin using the swage lining process. Contractor Ludwig Pfeiffer used the rig to insert 600 m of polyethylene (PE) pipe into an old sewage pressure pipe for Berlin Waterworks during redevelopment of the Friedrichshain/Kreuzberg suburb's sewer network.

In order to keep disturbances to local business, restaurants and residents to a minimum, Berlin Waterworks asked that the works be carried out using trenchless construction techniques. Pfeiffer therefore decided to pull in the PE-liner in two sections.

Besides the 2500G, Pfeiffer used a Tracto-Technik supplied, own-brand power pack, and QuickLock bursting rods, with the work being carried out in two sections: one of 322 m and the other of 216 m.

Once a section of pipe had been removed the old pipe was subjected to a high-pressure cleaning process to remove loose particles and any solid waste build-up. A milling robot was then inserted to remove any further obstacles. Then the old pipe was calibrated to determine the inner diameter and surface structure.

PE 100 pipes, with a diameter of 1,03 m, were then inserted. The pipe is pulled during installation via a reduction tool, the swage-lining-die, whereby the diameter is reduced during insertion. Using this method Pfeiffer inserted up to 100 m of pipe per hour.

Rental Opportunities

While rental is firmly established in many other construction equipment sectors it is a fairly recent phenomena in the utilities marketplace. According to Mr Albert Vermmer's dealers are telling the company that rental is a growth area. “Why? Well customers want the flexibility of using a machine when and where they want it, however, this is mainly for smaller machines. It is harder to rent out the larger machines and the main markets at the moment are the UK, the Benelux countries, Central and Northern Europe, where small trenchers and moles are popular, for example.

Another trend, said Mr Albert, has been to address operator comfort. “One of the main concerns, if not the main, is operator comfort and there has been a move towards enclosed cabs and a higher degree of automation during the operating cycle, explained Mr Albert.

Operator comfort, automation and rental opportunities have also seen many manufacturers update the smaller pieces of kit, such as compact wheeled and backhoe loaders, site dumpers, and zero- and reduced-tailswing excavators, needed to work on Europe's often cramped and confined utilities construction sites.

According to Tiffany Kirkwood, Volvo business development manager compact excavators Europe, “Customers have been asking for short radius machines in Europe, and this has been driven by the work space available. Sites are often small, confined spaces so these machines are proving ever more popular.

New models on show at this year's Intermat Exhibition in April for example, included Neuson's 3,5 tonne zero tail-swing 38Z3 excavator and the 1,5 tonne 1403.

Caterpillar also expanded and updated its range of compact mini excavators with the introduction of the 301.6C (1,7 tonnes), 301.8C (1,8 tonnes), 302.5C (2,8 tonnes), the 303C CR - compact radius (3,3 tonnes), 304C CR (4,7 tonnes), 305C CR (5,1 tonnes) and 303.5C CR (3,7 tonnes).

Ammann-Yanmar's SV15, 1,5 tonne mini excavator is also new this year, as is its 2,6 tonne, zero tail swing ViO25, the eighth model in the ViO series. New from JCB are the 2,7 tonne 8025ZTS, the 3,2 tonne 8030ZTS and the 3,7 tonne 8035ZTS. However, the smallest machine in its range is the 800 kg 8080. JCB also launched its 4 x 4 Mini CX backhoe loader.

At the top end of the compact excavator class is Volvo's new 5,5 tonne EW55B, its first compact wheeled excavator. In the same size class as its EC55B and ECR58 (short swing radius) excavators, it is equipped with a dual-axle wheel drive chassis.

There were also plenty of new compact wheeled and backhoe loaders launched this year, including KramerAllrad's new 4,8 tonne 750T, which features a telescopic boom capable of lifting 2 tonnes, a rigid chassis and four-wheel steering.

Elsewhere New Holland's W50TC, W60TC, W70TC and W80TC tool carrier wheeled loaders replace their non-tool carrier predecessors. The new machines have a mono boom front end with the cylinders located underneath, giving the operator an excellent view of the front attachment.


According to both Tracto-Technik's Mr Freimuth and Vermeer's Mr Albert, Eastern Europe and the Baltic States look like being a hotbed of activity over the next few years.

“There's plenty of money available right now from the European Union. While for Western Europe I expect that most countries will continue to renovate and repair their networks, especially the water supply and sewerage systems, said Mr Friemuth.

There is also the possibility that the technology used in the utilities sector will find alternative markets, according to Mr Albert.

“There has also been interest from outside the utilities sector in trenchless and trenching technologies in the last few years. The mining industry has become very interested in trenching technologies over the last few years, for example, and I would say this represents a good opportunity for manufacturers and contractors in the future, said Mr Albert.

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