Owing to large market size, Indian trenchless industry constituents have several new frontiers to conquer. Currently, the major demand in subsurface construction is of trenchless techniques like horizontal directional drilling, micro-tunneling and pipe jacking, apart from others. These methods, though conceived to provide adequate safety and productivity, often fail to deliver, if executed by persons with suspect knowledge base or equipment and consumables of inferior quality, or both. Some of the requirements of growth, therefore, are innovations in the working methodologies, application of advanced solutions like IoT, BIM etc to provide adequate thrust to the industry. Engines for this growth are the government policies; utility service demands; financial remunerations securing the invested money; technical innovations from engineering fraternity; and physical developments from manufacturing fraternity, apart from few others.
Indian market: size and value
Over this period, the annual trenchless business volumes in India have grown to more than Rs 300 billion (about US$ 4 billion), making Indian trenchless market as one of the major hubs of trenchless activities. Owing to the ever-growing urban service demands, this business volume is ascending fast. This growth is fuelled by various government missions and programs. Post COVID lockdown period, this growth is expected to accelerate further due to several government measures aimed at bringing the economy back on track.
In addition to new installations, maintenance of existing networks is far larger business segment waiting to be tapped as the former is a one-time opportunity, but after creation, its maintenance, rehabilitation of the distressed parts, and finally replacement of dilapidated parts demand higher intervention.
While doing research for this article, one very pertinent point about the national investments in physical infrastructure made by India, came up. It would be a matter of pride that the cumulative investments made in physical infrastructure in the last ten years, far exceeds the investments made in the previous 200 years. Out of these, cumulative value of subsurface utilities adds up to Rs 75 trillion (about US$ 10 billion) in current price level. We are highlighting the investments of AMRUT scheme in urban water and drainage sector, through Table 1.
Table 1: Investments of AMRUT scheme in urban water and drainage sector
Sewerage & Septage
Storm Water Drainage
Dadra and Nagar Haveli
Source: AMRUT, Government of
There are several more missions where substantial amounts have been invested that would require extensive servicing and rehabilitation support. Table 2 and Table 3 detail some of those. In addition to water and drainage, the other important segments requiring trenchless rehabilitation assistance is the oil and gas sector; where we have built substantial amount of assets by way of cross country pipelines, city gas transmission and distribution pipelines and assets; and telecom sector where we have several backbone networks.
Table 2: Summary of Budget Estimates-'G' - Water Supply & Sewerage (MCGM)
Name of the Department
Municipal Chief Auditor's Department
Departments related to General
Chief Accountant's Department
Mumbai Municipal Security Force
Hydraulic Engineer Department
Water Supply Project Department
Sewerage Operation Department
Sewerage Project Department
Mumbai Sewerage Disposal Project
Total: Fund Code-40
Our estimates peg cumulative costs of those rehabilitation activities to about US$ 1.5-2 billion. All the structures built from these investments need to be serviced with a majority of those through trenchless methods. Based on design life expectancy, which could range from 20 to 100 years, the annual repairs and rehabilitation needs of these assets could result in huge business, outstripping the entire construction industry annual turnover. In case assets do not receive proper attention, the situation, many a times, degenerates to pipe failures needing emergency repairs. Frequent bouts of urban flooding are one of tell a tale signs of this impending crisis. These, on one hand are creating difficulties for the residents, but on the other, also provide opportunities for growth that we are discussing today.
Table 3: Abstract of Capital Expenditure (Rs in lakhs)
Budget Estimate 2019-20
Revised Estimate 2019-20
Budget Estimate 2020-21
Expenditure for Capital Works of BWSSB
CWSS Stage IV Phase I
CWSS Stage IV Phase II
CWSS Stage V
Karnataka Municipal Reforms Project
Water Supply to 110 Villages Project
UGD Facility to 110 Villages Project
JnNURM Transition Phase Project
Providing UGD facility and treatment of Sewage at Hesaraghatta and unforeseen expenditure for Maintenance Wing and procurement of Sewer Jetting machines for each ward
Revival / Refurbishment of Hesaraghatta and T G Halli Reservoir
Rehabilitation of old Sewerage Treatment Plants
Improvement Works of the Board
Important trenchless methods
Owing to its magnitude, the Indian market acts as the driving force for the global trenchless industry. In today’s context, this impact shall be driven mostly through the techniques used in India and innovations therein. Common installation methods in use presently are horizontal directional drilling, pipe jacking, micro tunneling and pipe jacking, apart from others. For rehabilitation, those are slip lining, GRP lining, machine wound spiral lining, and cured in place pipeline, apart from others. Similarly, pipe bursting is used for replacements. A major ingredient of trenchless is the systems to see through the ground, termed as Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) and it uses several geophysical methods like Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), Seismic Refraction & Reflection, Vacuum Excavation and Pipe & Cable Location Processes, apart from others. For rehabilitation, the most important inspection method is robotic closed circuit television inspection as that provides real-time information of the pipeline internal conditions.
Many of these methods currently use imported equipment manufactured on foreign shores like Europe, China, and the USA. Owing to the current global situation and trade embargoes, complete texture of this equipment supply chain is bound to change substantially. Equipment, imported from China, might have to be serviced by the products developed indigenously. As there is a humongous amount of equipment stock under use in India, needs of spares and servicing is huge. In addition to equipment already in use, the ever-increasing market needs will be enhancing the requirements of new equipment which would have to be serviced from alternate source if the embargo stays. These could be imported, or would have to be manufactured locally. This is going to be a major opportunity for the entire global trenchless industry, in general, and India in particular.
Safety & productivity
One major factor impacting these opportunities would be the need to maintain the safety standards and enhance productivity of projects. It must be kept in mind that trenchless activities are performed remotely under the ground surface and any activity with lesser safety standards could lead to failures and impeded work pace. The opportunities, therefore, need to be matured keeping these two factors in mind. For example, the existing buried utilities pose a challenge for new installation projects. One careless act and result could be damages to the utilities and in the worst case, deaths even. Rate of production also gets severely reduced by erroneous choices or poor equipment/technique. To achieve the best outputs, the solutions need to have addressed these points. In this direction, a major IndSTT assistance available to the stakeholders is the Codes of Practice of different trenchless techniques. There are seven codes published and these provide details on various essential issues of each technique dealt in such codes.
Trenchless technology techniques are the result of innovative thinking of technologists. The current sets of equipment, both conventional as well as trenchless, need a constant consideration so that these could be evolved to provide a better output. This approach also goes for working methodology in use. Evolution of that would provide ideas for a set of equipment and consumables performing better on the fronts of quality, safety, and productivity.
Trenchless activities depend substantially on digital solutions for success. Though there are several, for the sake of brevity, we would discuss two digital solutions here. First pertains to CCTV inspection reports of buried pipelines. In proactive maintenance process of assets, these reports are analysed before prioritising the repairs. Magnitude of this data, for any specific geographical area, makes human evaluation almost impossible. Digital solutions for assessment and rehabilitation prioritisation are the only way forward. Since these solutions help in arresting the asset decay and optimising expenses, these solutions are necessary. With such vast investments in our subsurface infrastructure, this would play an important role and therefore a major opportunity. Second solution pertains to the buried utility scans obtained in SUE. The one-call systems for controlling excavations in several nations bank on these. In India, such solutions are imperative. Though these are being provided in few situations currently, a consolidated approach is essential. In present situations, these could be provided by industry stakeholders.
What will drive the growth of trenchless technology? There are several answers to this, but the first one is Indian trenchless industry. It is due to the vast infrastructure already in place supplemented by the new developments in the post COVID-19 era. Indian industry is one of the major drivers for the global trenchless industry as consumers, applicators, and solution providers. This is based on the fact that substantial requirements of almost each industry section is present in this market and the industry, backed by the government, is able to use services offered by both domestic as well as global technologists. Where does this take my reader? To harness these opportunities, he would need to cultivate adequate capabilities. IndSTT conducts several capacity building activities and the reader could get in touch to explore possibilities.
Codes of Practice and Manuals from IndSTT
Dr Niranjan Swarup is Director General of Indian Society for Trenchless Technology.