Associations Construction February 2019 Past Issues

Trenchless Technology A growing industry – North American Society for Trenchless Technology

Trenchless Technology

A growing industry


By Michael J. Willmets, Executive Director, North American Society for Trenchless Technology (NASTT)

Trenchless Technology and Infrastructure Management

The complex needs of North America’s underground municipal services continue to expand as critical infrastructure reaches the end of its lifecycle. This is a major challenge for today’s public works professionals and the communities they serve.

According to a recent AWWA State of the Water Industry Report, the single most important issue faced by North American municipalities is the renewal and replacement of aging water and wastewater infrastructure. The report states, “These issues continue to be important because many water and wastewater systems built and financed by previous generations are approaching or have exceeded their useful lives. Because of past budgeting approaches that may have included inadequate revenues to fully cover costs, some municipal utilities have deferred necessary maintenance and replacement. Even systems that have acted as good stewards by planning for the renewal or replacement of their assets can sometimes find it difficult to secure reasonable funding for capital projects and/or to win public support for these necessary efforts.”

The question on everyone’s mind should be: Is there a way we can rehabilitate existing systems and install new systems that is economically feasible as well as environmentally sensitive and socially responsible? The answer is clearly Yes,” and the technique that owners should consider is trenchless technology. By definition, trenchless technology is a progressive, civil engineering process for the installation, replacement, or renewal of underground utilities with no or minimal excavation and surface disruption. These innovative methods have been used successfully for all underground utilities including water mains, storm and sanitary sewers and gas mains, along with electrical and fiber optics conduits.

NASTT - North American Society for Trenchless Technology infographic for manhole rehabilitation.

The social and environmental benefits of trenchless technology are noticeable when employed in urban areas. These substantial benefits include dramatically reduced disruption to vehicle and pedestrian traffic, business activities, residential areas, and environmentally sensitive areas. Recent advancements in robotics have allowed trenchless technologies to provide pipe condition diagnostics never before available, permitting utility owners to more accurately identify infrastructure priorities. In most cases, trenchless techniques will also demonstrate significant cost saving benefits for municipalities and utilities over traditional open trench methods. These are all benefits that any public works department should be able to promote successfully within their communities.

Trenchless Innovations – Condition Assessment and Pipe Diagnostics

With our aging infrastructure at a critical level, using a non-intrusive method to identify and record the internal condition of piping is essential. This information can allow municipalities to plan for smaller construction and more environmentally-conscious footprints which help to mitigate interruption to our communities.

Today’s advancing technologies have gifted utility owners with high resolution imagery cameras, tethered and non-tethered inserted devices, ultrasonic scanners, acoustic hydrophone sensors, high frequency pipe penetrating radar, and many other new innovative tools that provide vital information such as pipe wall thickness, interior and exterior corrosion, estimated life expectancy, and risk assessment data.

Using these powerful assessment tools, municipalities and the contractors they work with can prioritize assets and develop the ideal rehabilitation option for their specific situation. In best case scenarios, these technologies allow limited infrastructure budgets to be allocated to the critical areas in the system identified as top priority. In addition, there is significantly less, to no, disruption in utility service, traffic flows, or local businesses during the assessment period.

NASTT - North American Society for Trenchless Technology inside camera view with on screen notes.

North American Society for Trenchless Technology (NASTT)

NASTT is a not-for-profit engineering society of individuals, public organizations and private companies with strong beliefs in the practical, social, and environmental benefits of trenchless technology. NASTT strives to advance trenchless technology and to promote its benefits for the public and the natural environment by increasing awareness and knowledge, and by providing technical information, research and development, and education and training.

As the world’s premier resource for knowledge and education in trenchless technology, NASTT engages instructors and panelists who are experts in their field to inform and assist public works and construction professionals. These volunteer instructors ensure that all of NASTT’s educational content is peer-reviewed and offered from a non-commercial perspective. Not only does NASTT provide valuable trenchless training, but it provides a community for trenchless professionals to network and share ideas.

NASTT has a growing library of both technical papers as well as Good Practices Guidelines. The online trenchless library houses over 2,000 technical papers on all aspects of trenchless technology and is a valuable industry resource for research, case studies, and innovations. NASTT’s Good Practices Guideline books cover the major topics of trenchless technology and can be used as stand-alone reference materials or as a companion to NASTT’s Good Practices Courses which are supported by an affiliation with Louisiana Tech University, which provides Continuing Education Unit certificates for course attendees.

Specialized Centers of Excellence for Research and Industry Growth

With all the benefits of trenchless technologies in mind, NASTT has developed trenchless method-based Centers of Excellence within the organization. The first Center of Excellence focuses on the trenchless pipe bursting method and its full breadth of capabilities for potable water, gas, electrical, and sewer applications.

Establishing a group focused on driving excellence within the discipline of pipe bursting will create energy and engagement with the trenchless industry and beyond, while continuing to fulfill NASTT’s mission to advance trenchless technology and promote its benefits. The Pipe Bursting Center of Excellence will provide leadership in education, standards, training and elevating the profile of the method throughout the construction industry. In addition, this specialty group will work on the refinement of best practices and act as a resource and forum for utilities, contractors, and manufacturers to share information and continue to move the pipe bursting method forward.

To solve North America’s increasing infrastructure needs, it is important that new technologies are continually developed and advanced to market. Through research along with hands-on utility management, these issues can be addressed in the most environmentally, economically and socially responsible ways.


WHO: North American Society for Trenchless Technology

WHAT: A non-profit organization promoting the interests of trenchless technology

WHERE: Cleveland, Ohio


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