Making the case for trenchless pipe pulling

Simon Drain, Managing Director of Kobus Services Ltd, sheds light on the extent of the pipe repair problem in the UK and some of the reasons contractors are pushing to adopt trenchless pipe drawing technology

Much of the supply infrastructure in industrial areas in the western world is very old – in many cases over 100 years – and needs to be repaired or replaced with modern pipe materials. The aging water infrastructure leads to an increase in leaks and presents water companies with the challenge of providing drinking water of the best quality.

In the UK, Ofwat urges water companies and contractors to reduce AMP7 leakage by 15 percent, reduce customer disruption, improve water quality, protect the environment and manage costs to consumers through the use of innovation.

Existing techniques for replacing old utility lines are mostly impact molecules or open pit mining, both of which have their limitations and cannot achieve the rigorous goals set on their own.

The challenge

Infrastructure renewal is an integral part of the utilities’ job, including the renewal of utility lines. However, it is estimated that there are over 340,000 km of aqueducts in the UK. Every 10 meters there is an average of one supply line that connects a house or a business line to the mains supply.
Infrastructure leaks more than 3,000 million liters of water every day, and some of the utility lines need to be replaced every year to manage supplies, reduce leaks and maintain water quality.

In addition, many UK properties built prior to the 1970s received water through lead pipes. While many of these have been replaced over the years, a significant number remain. Lead has been shown to be harmful to health, with children being particularly vulnerable.

Water companies use phosphate doses during treatment operations to coat the inside of the pipe to prevent washout. However, phosphate is a finite resource and not sustainable. Therefore, in order to protect the public and improve water quality, water companies have and are trying to replace these aging pipes.

Utility companies have to plan long into the future to continuously replace the aging infrastructure. If left unmanaged, the problems caused by aging pipes will accumulate. The need to address the resulting problems is becoming more urgent, and significantly more investment is required to address the problem on a larger scale with greater urgency. This investment is ultimately funded by higher consumer bills.

the solution of the problem

Regulators are enforcing controls and pressuring utilities to, for example, innovate to maintain and replace infrastructure faster and safer, with less disruption and without significantly increasing consumer bills. Pipe drawing technology offers utilities the innovation Ofwat demands, as well as a lower cost compared to other methods such as open pit mining.

Trenchless pipe drawing approaches are not new, but they offer several significant advantages.

Reduction of the repair time: Tube drawing technology can dramatically reduce the time it takes to install and remove the project. With no trenching required, minimal excavation is required to start or restore the site, potentially reducing on-site time by over 60 percent.

Reduced risk of supply strikes: Pipe drawing technology minimizes the risk of electric shock when an existing pipe is extracted and the new pipe is then dragged along the wellbore created by the extracted pipe. There is less risk of hitting another utility as the path is already in place from the old pipe location.

Optimized workplace: When pulling pipes, the existing path of the old pipe is used to drag the new pipe in and through. Therefore, overall soil conditions have less of an impact on pipe pulling approaches. Pipe pulling can be used on very soft ground, rocky ground and on inclines, providing an alternative when mole is less effective.

Faster reinstatement and minimal interruption: Pulling pipes minimizes the size of the excavation that is required on homeowners’ land. When pulled from an outside sidewalk or street, the excavation on the homeowner’s property can be as small as an A3 sheet of paper. As pointed out in the Zeit, this has the added benefit of lowering the cost of reinstatement and of being less disturbed and emotionally burdened for the homeowner. This also affects local residents who use adjacent public highways as they reopen much faster.

Lifelong cost advantages: Pipe pullers like the Kobus KPP300 are relatively inexpensive in terms of capital equipment, costing around £ 20,000. Tube drawing systems require new consumables each time the tube is changed, but maintenance costs are reduced to a minimum as the construction is largely maintenance-free. This means they can save around £ 1,000-1,500 per replacement compared to open methods, which means they can pay back in just six months and pay back for at least five years.

Good for the environment: Pulling pipes removes the old disused pipelines from the ground, eliminating potential environmental waste and allowing recycling and recovery of the old pipe’s value.

One thing is certain: a large number of repairs are required, and traditional methods are time-consuming, malfunctioning, and can be very expensive.

This article originally appeared in the April issue of WET News

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