Microtunnelling is still a relatively new trenchless technology that is evolving as methods and practices are improved, making it quicker and more reliable to install pipelines on time and in budget. However, in order for it to evolve, contractors and subcontractors need to be open to taking a flexible approach on projects to produce the best outcome. Here, Stuart Harrison, Managing Director at Edge Underground, discusses the continuing evolution of microtunnelling, and how taking a flexible approach to projects is important.

Developed in Japan in the 1970s, microtunnelling is still a relatively new technology that is continuing to evolve as machinery and techniques continue to be improved. This means it is new enough for engineers to be wary of it—especially if they have never used it before—but also old enough for current practices and procedures to be established.

“I see our industry as in its infancy—even though it’s been around for almost 50 years—because when it was first developed, the methodology wasn’t consistent and only got it right some of the time,” Mr Harrison said.

“But we’ve evolved a lot since then, and little by little the methodology has been improved to the capabilities of some of the best microtunnelling machines on the market today which can consistently achieve accuracies of ±10mm.

“The exciting thing is that the industry is still evolving and I think the growth over the next ten years will be huge.”

An evolving industry

Mr Harrison said the evolution of the industry in coming years will rely on a host of different factors and not just equipment improving.

“The continuing evolution of the industry is not just about the equipment, it’s not just work practices, it’s about products and design as well. It’s about pulling it all together to make a package that is truly competitive, and a true alternative to open cut.

“Before we even start a job, we’re trying to help companies eliminate risk. At the end of the day, when you get risk wrong, that’s when budgets get destroyed. So whenever you can find a situation where you can reduce risk, you get a more accurate way of knowing what the final cost will be. 

“That is a critical part of our industry moving forward; whenever we get the opportunity to create a methodology that reduces risk, we can create outcomes that everyone’s looking for.”

A part of the puzzle

However, it is not always easy to do this, as engineers and contractors can be wary of microtunnelling if they are unfamiliar with it, and finding ways to improve and reduce risk requires everyone to be open to a flexible approach to getting the job done.

“We’re a piece of a puzzle on a job site, and we offer a very specialised service to deliver a pipeline from A to B accurately in a very wide range of ground conditions. 

“As a company, Edge Underground will take on even the hardests jobs that no other microtunnelling contractor is willing to touch, and in doing this we will look for the best and most economic way of completing the project in the provided time frame and budget. Sometimes this means finding an unconventional way of doing things, especially when there are challenging conditions, but everyone needs to be open to giving it a go.”

An innovative solution for a challenging project

This flexible approach has allowed Edge Underground to complete projects in difficult conditions and time frames that other subcontractors may not want to risk.

“In one instance, we completed a 300m PVC sewer pipeline installation in Maribyrnong in Melbourne’s inner west, which had to be completed in a tight access area near existing infrastructure, but also needed to be completed in a short time frame,” Mr Harrison said.

“There was such as tight time frame to complete the project that it would’ve been difficult to put shoring into place without taking longer than specified. 

“When this happens, working with a flexible contractor that is open to new ideas is a great benefit to finding a solution to get the job done.

“We worked on this project with Eden Drainage, and working together we were able to come up with a solution; we essentially shotcreted the tight access shafts, allowing us to complete the job in the specified time.

“By coming up with a flexible and innovative approach to the job, rather than going with a preconceived idea, Eden Drainage gave us full scope to achieve a fantastic outcome.”

This partner content is brought to you by Edge Underground. For more information, visit https://www.edgeunderground.co/.

Lauren brings a fresh approach to content. While she’s previously written for publications as diverse as Australian Geographic, The Border Watch and Girlfriend, she’s found her true passion in her current role as an editor in the world of energy and infrastructure trade magazines.

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