Trenchless technology is the branch of applied engineering dealing with remote controlled construction activities of subsurface structures, most of which being executed mechanically or through smart materials, without excavating continuous trenches. Standardisation levels of operation and equipment employed in such works, however, are low due to two key factors, uncertainties in subsurface constructions, and proprietary nature of solutions. Reduced levels of standardisation, in turn, limit the ability of stakeholders in reaping the maximum benefits from all such techniques on one hand and could be the causes of project failures due to incorrect applications on other. Solution for these impediments is the standardisation of applicable specifications, structured based on sound engineering practices, that are able to address the uncertainties and overcome the proprietary issues as best as possible. For better standardisation, these specifications are to be brought out in the shape of standard codes of practice. Such codes, then, are to be revisited and revised as and when more knowledgebase is available. These actions, however, have their own mechanisms and dynamics, and require specific attention for success. The third article in Trenchless Series discusses the needs of standardisation, driving forces, IndSTT actions in this direction, and way forward to meet such requirements.
Trenchless is the branch of applied engineering comprising different construction methodologies used to create, maintain, and manage liner subsurface structures without excavating continuous trenches. Due to this, it is useful in limiting the destruction of the built environment during subsurface construction activities. In addition, for certain difficult or challenging subsurface or above-ground conditions, where conventional construction methodologies are unable to provide optimum solutions, trenchless could be the sole solution for construction. By applying this technology one can create new structures or rehabilitate or replace existing structures in underground space. New installation techniques have evolved in their present form from ancient tunnelling methodologies. Similarly, the rehabilitation and replacement techniques have grown from various structural rehabilitation methodologies, both conventional construction system as well as industrial fabrication applications. The growth of this technology, however, depends on stakeholder acceptance levels, that in turn are governed by the standardisation levels, higher the standardisation levels, less uncertainties, and therefore higher acceptance levels. As construction professionals, it is imperative that we should put in endeavours to bring standardisation as best as possible. Let us first look at the standardisation process codes of practice, the basis of standardisation.
Code of practice
A code of practice is the framework of minimum standards that provides guidance to user in executing project work. Minimalist approach helps in maximising the project coverage and therefore the focus of a code of practice. It also doubles as the Good Practice Procedures guideline. It is a set of professional rules or principles that specifies the technical requirements. With reference to trenchless technology, this also works as the evaluation system for complex/multidimensional activities that functions as the basic guidelines for all the stakeholders for Engineering Procurement Construction Commissioning and Operation (EPCCO) activities. Trenchless technology is an ever-evolving sector and with each newer development or research, new specifications are required. This document should therefore be a living document that could be revisited and revised to enhance the technical coverage to match the knowledge growth and technological developments. Codes of practice also function as change agents as they help in standardising the activities and enhance the quality of techniques and works. In trenchless technology sector, this standardisation faces two core impediments, uncertainties due to unknown subsurface strata, and proprietary nature of techniques. Efficacy of any trenchless code document shall depend on the extent of impediment alleviation. Let us discuss these impediments now.
Trenchless standardisation - The challenges within
The first impediment is the subsurface challenges that are unknown and most of the time unquantifiable. Subsurface strata are a matrix of unknown dispersion of materials, some natural and some man-made. While one is executing a subsurface construction project remotely, non-isotropic nature of the working space leads to uncertainties on account of physical characteristics and resulting behaviour of strata during project execution. Such uncertainties could play havoc in the project work, if handled improperly. Though, the techniques are devised to address some issues, the non-homogeneous nature of subsurface matrix poses more challenges and working methodologies must be altered to respond them. Trenchless Standards must address these issues.
The second impediment is the proprietary nature of techniques. Over the ages, across the world, evolution of techniques happened, mostly due to efforts of trenchless technologists, who, driven by their innovatory zeal, invested their time and monies to bring such techniques to today's levels. The only limitation in this position is the fact that critical components of such techniques are patented for providing adequate returns to inventors.
These impediments, however, are leading to restricted usage of such techniques, and generation of a smaller number of case stories, an essentiality of standardisation. This gradually is turning into a vicious circle as with limited application, lesser case stories get generated leading to adoption of higher safety factors and higher investments. Low levels of standardisation, in turn, lead to limited acceptance of technique by users. We need to break this circle by bringing a set of benchmark levels so that usage grows, and more and more case studies are available for standardising the techniques. Here the role of Indian trenchless construction industry could be of importance and a guiding force to the global trenchless industry as India has substantially large project requirements that can provide more case stories. Powered by this fact, IndSTT has published a few codes till date and those could function as foundations for future actions.
Need for growth
One of the much talked about futuristic business enterprise in subsurface construction sector is the Elon Musk promoted Boring Company. This organisation is selected by Chicago Infrastructure Trust to build the O'Hare Express service, the Chicago Express Loop connecting O'Hare Airport to downtown Chicago. The company is aiming to increase tunnelling speeds and drop costs by a factor of 10 or more so that adoption of Hyperloop becomes viable leading to rapid transit across densely populated regions in shorter durations. As per newspaper reports targets of Boring Company is to reduce tunnelling costs from $600 million to $1 billion per mile to $60 million per mile. To achieve this, the Boring Company has deployed two TBMs at its test tunnel Hawthorne, CA. This comprises a tunnel and loop lift. The tunnelling portion is expected to produce results, interesting for trenchless technology industry. If successful, the findings will impact the entire industry and thereby the standards, where such changes need to be replicated properly. In Indian markets, we are changing our approaches from conventional constructions to trenchless and therefore the advancements are more important as explained hereafter.
Need for growth - Indian
The role of standards is quite important in the context of Indian trenchless projects as majority of the techniques being applied and equipment being used is non-Indian and the stakeholders of Indian trenchless construction industry are bound by the codes and specifications being imported from foreign shores. In all such cases, it is not known if the standards being used overseas would suit Indian conditions and moreover, in case of multiplicity of standards or codes, which codes must be followed exactly. Moreover, for a trenchless project, the key is that the international standards and domestic specifications must co-exist, and a combined specification has to be in place. In IndSTT codes, we have addressed this requirement but here the question is whether these are being actually used. Or a different specification is being specified which is not meeting the overall standard requirements. In India, there is a substantial need of subsurface construction and trenchless applications are becoming essential with each new project. Standardisation, obviously, is the need of the day, and wherever standards are already developed by IndSTT, advancing the standardisation process needs to be done.
IndSTT Codes of Practice
IndSTT has been engaged in the creation of codes of practice since 2007, when it brought out the first code for horizontal directional drilling. Since then, IndSTT has released codes for four more techniques, and revised editions of all the five codes. Initially, trenchless projects were executed on pilot basis where the equipment, working and supervising professional, and other critical inputs were imported. Such pilots produced initial case stories and sensitised the Indian stakeholders. With enough inputs available in hands, IndSTT published the first set of codes. Publication of those codes was supported by technique promoters, and initial users, who evaluated and approved various code stipulations based on the knowledge acquired from the pilot as well as initial regular projects. With more projects under our belt, we could refine the specifications subsequently through subsequent revised editions. This year, next revisions of those codes and two more codes are being released during NoDig India Show (NDIS) 2018. These revisions have been possible because the users could provide inputs on the stipulations of previous editions of codes and help IndSTT to advance the standardisation process, the core theme of NDIS 2018. For appropriate promotion of trenchless industry, the advancement is one of the core activities of IndSTT, the apex body of trenchless technology supported by stakeholders. By advancing standardisation, one can achieve the growth of industry and thereby the enterprises functioning therein. Depending on the contribution of a specific industry segment, this growth could change the national or even global economy as discussed earlier. Based on the passage till now, I would like to propose a course of action as outlined in the next section.
IndSTT has been providing various hand-holding support actions for trenchless industry till date. These actions include several key actions as follows: Trenchless technology selection matrix for identifying and selecting proper trenchless technique; Publication of Codes of Practice suiting Indian conditions, and structuring of two codes being released in NDIS 2018; Development of Standard Operating Procedures for trenchless applications; Planned codes for a few more techniques; Trenchless skill level benchmarks for engineers and operators; Project techno-commercial conditions including schedule of rates; Various guidelines for project planning, execution, and completion; Registered Qualified Person system for third-party inspection; and SUE Engineer certification system for registering engineers and likewise.
In order to standardise the trenchless operations and maximise the returns, first action needed is to initiate using such stipulations in projects. The second action, that is a corollary of first, is to create working systems within the organisation where the process to adopt trenchless are in place with more clarity and objectivity that could be the Standard Operating Procedures. Third action is of creating an incubation centre where new subsurface construction and maintenance ideas are discussed, and execution process and systems are established. Operations of this centre should be guided both by in-house nominees, as well as external experts. By external what is meant here is the impartial intervention so that the host organisation can reap the maximum benefits while protecting its interests. Fourth action should be of creation of an external trenchless expert group that could support the internal incubation centre. Fifth action is to educate its working level employees about the various trenchless techniques so that they can get the projects delivered properly. Sixth action is the cultivation of executing or contracting capabilities of the organisation. This can be matured through collaborative actions done jointly with other organisations having similar aims and objectives. Seventh, and most important action is the creation of appropriate database of utility location and information on construction details like construction method employed, equipment compliment used, details of failures/accidents, installed materials, dates of project work, both initiation as well as conclusion, contact details of executing persons, from department, executing agency, project consultants and third-party inspectors.
Trenchless technology operations are global. Techniques developed in one part of the world get mobilised to parts. Professionals working in the sector perform to deliver successful projects world over. One issue that dogs professionals is the currency of the standardisation. Standards help in delivering a better project and enhance the technology acceptance. For Indian requirements, trenchless is an essential tool necessary to be cultivated. In return, as the markets are larger here than other locations, chances of technology enhancement and optimisation are higher. This is a win-win situation for all stakeholders and must be explored. IndSTT, the apex organisation representing the Indian markets, through this narrative, has proposed seven key actions and hopes that the stakeholders would work with it to mature these proposals. IndSTT is holding the NoDig India Show 2018 at Navi Mumbai on 14 and 15 December at CIDCO Exhibition Grounds and shall be discussed the above points with stakeholders. The discussions would also include trenchless experts from world over. It expects that the deliberations would show the proper way forward. In the next article of this series we shall discuss the deliberations and the way forward for Indian trenchless technology industry.
Dr Niranjan Swarup is Director General of Indian Society for Trenchless Technology.