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Last edited 16 Dec 2021
Trenchless Technology can be defined as ‘the technology for placing new pipe, cable, or conduit in the ground between two defined points without continuous, open cut excavation between them, or for renovating, replacing, and rehabilitating’ (Kramer, Mcdonald et al. 1992).
Trenchless technology emerged in such countries as Japan and Australia where modern sewer networks were needed to serve increasing populations. The early trnchless technologies used in these countries were then adapted in the UK in the 1970s and early 1980s. (Evans, n.d)
Formerly, site investigations and trial pits were used to investigate ground conditions however over the years this has evolved to virtual visualisation. The use of software tools, visual prototyping and robotic devices have reduced the time taken, cost and risk endured in a project. (Beer, 2010)
The advantages of using trenchless technology as opposed to open cut excavation methods include:
- Minimising the environmental effects which open cut excavation methods cause due to disturbing the soil, organisms and water bodies.
- Encountering fewer unknowns in the ground.
- Saving time and costs related to surveying and design calculations.
- Minimising installation time in comparison to open cut excavation methods.
- Improving safety compared to steep excavations.
(ref Piehl, R. 2005)
There are various methods of trenchless technologies that may be used, and the type of method chosen is dependent upon the pipe size that needs to installed, the depth it needs to be installed at, the soil conditions of the ground and the overall cost of the method.
|Method||Type of soil||Other comments|
|Pipe Jacking||All soil types soil classes 1 to 5 according to DIN 18300||Exception of non-displaceable hard soil and rock|
|Microtunnelling||All soil types||Very fast and reliable system|
|Impact Moling||Soft clays and silts||Minimum disruption|
|Auger Boring||(soils with sufficient stand-up time)||Suitable for shallower depths|
|Thrust Boring||All soil types||No limitation.|
Pipe jacking is used to describe the technique of installing man-entry pipes by adding sections of pipe at the drive pit and jacking the line forward to form the tunnel lining behind the cutting shield.’ (Kramer et al. 1992) Pipe jacking has been adopted widely since its first recorded use in 1892 in USA by the Northern Pacific Railroad Company. It is often preferred because of its simplicity and because it avoids settlement of ground.
- The tunnelling machine has a thicker wall version with a female end fitted with a collar rimmed with a thin ring of fibre board and a male end fitted with a rubber seal. This connection forms a watertight seal between the two ends, minimising friction.
- Jacks are extended and released to push the tunnelling machine into the earth and the speed of movement is synchronised with the force of the jacks. The pipes used for jacking need to possess the correct strength otherwise there can be failures which can be difficult to rectify.
- Lubricant is required between the annulus and surrounding earth to minimise friction acting at longer distances.
- Finally, manholes are built and shafts are backfilled.
This method entails installing pipes into the ground through remotely controlled hydraulic methods without the aid of personnel (unlike tunnelling). It requires the use of microtunnelling boring machines and Kramer defines it as ‘those methods that install pipes with a diameter of less than 36 inches (900mm) to a predetermined line and level by remotely controlling the cutting head.’(Kramer et al. 1992)
- Shafts are sunk at each end of the intended drive, usually at man-hole positions, one end drive shaft and one reception shaft. The shafts must be long enough to accommodate the tunnelling equipment.
- The microtunnelling machine is then lowered on guide tracks by a crane allowing it to be thrust forward by hydraulic jacks. It is guided by a laser which projects onto the target surface.
- The excavated material is crushed by the head of the machine and any slurry is brought to the surface by slurry shafts. Any ground movements are eliminated by counterbalanced ground pressures. Progress is monitored via screens above the ground.
- After the machine has reached the second shaft, excavation is halted and the pipes are disconnected.
 Comparison between Microtunnelling and Pipe jacking
Essentially both methods use the same technique however pipe jacking allows for bigger diameters of pipes to be installed and ‘Microtunnelling has more limitations in terms of ground conditions. The smaller diameters and remote aspect of the operation make Microtunnelling more prone to problems where soil conditions change rapidly or when obstructions are encountered.’ (Kim et al. 2008)
Impact Moling is “...a technique in which a percussive mole (soil displacement hammer) is launched from an excavation to displace the soil and form a bore. The new conduit is normally drawn in behind the mole or pulled back into the bore using the hammers reverse action.” (Cambridge New Media, 2005) Thrust
Boring is “...a solution for installing new pipes in virgin ground where accuracy is critical. Working from a compact launch pit a rod is thrust into the ground which pulls through a pipe into its proposed position.” (Tomlinson Brothers (Hucknall) Ltd, 2012)
Critical risks can occur from trenchless technology such as pipes bursting underground. Other risks include settlement of the ground which is caused by the ground movement during the installation of the tunnelling machines. This can be prevented firstly by maintaining stability of the excavation face and secondly by avoiding inadvertent loss of soil in the tunnel. Microtunnelling is able to avoid this consequence as the pressure acting on the pipe is always counterbalanced with the volume of soil being moved.
Another potential problem is groundwater flowing into the shafts and tunnels formed by the machines. Adequate ground investigation and site surveys are required to fully understand the water table beneath the ground before work begins.
Obstacles such as boulders can be encountered and this can require costly excavations. Some cases of rock encounter can be so severe that the trenchless method has to be stopped and a full open cut excavation method used to carry out the required work.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Basement excavation.
- Building foundations.
- Excavating plant.
- Ground conditions.
- Grouting in civil engineering.
- Sewer construction.
- Temporary works.
- Trenchless pipe rehabilitation market.
- Trenchless pipe relining market.
 External references
- BREEN, C. and THORN, E. NZWETA - New Zealand Water and Environment Training Academy. NZWETA.
- MARC, M., Cardona. MicroTunel. microtunel.
- THOMSON, J., 1993. Pipejacking and Microtunnelling. First Edition ed. Glasgow, United Kingdom: Chapman and Hall.
- EVANS, J.V., Trenchless technology. PROCEEDINGS OF THE INSTITUTION OF CIVIL ENGINEERS-MUNICIPAL ENGINEER; Proc.Inst.Civil Eng.-Munic.Eng., 115(3), pp. 169-171.
- KIM, D.C., JANG, T.W., YUN, D.R. and KIM, H.J., 2008. Tandem Electrogas Welding of Higher-Strength Hull Structural Steel, 2008.
- KRAMER, S.R., MCDONALD, W.J. and THOMSON, J.C., 1992. An Introduction to Trenchless Technology.
- MALLEY, J., Latest updates to U.S. seismic design provisions for structural steel buildings, , 1-6 Aug 2004.
- PIEHL, R., 2005. Summary of Trenchless Technology for Use With USDA Forest Service Culverts.
- STEIN, D., MÖLLERS, K. and BIELECKI, R., 1989. Microtunnelling : installation and renewal of nonman-size supply and sewage lines by the trenchless construction method. Berlin: Berlin : Ernst & Sohn.
- JEBELLI, J., MEGUID, M.A. and SEDGHINEJAD, M.K., 2010. Excavation failure during micro-tunneling in fine sands: A case study. Tunnelling and Underground Space Technology, 25(6), pp. 811-818.
- NAJAFI, M., GUNNINK, B. and DAVIS, G., 2005. Preparation of Construction Specifications,Contract Documents, Field Testing,Educational Materials, and Course Offeringsfor Trenchless Construction.
- Cambridge New Media., 2005. United Kingdom Society for Trenchless Technology. Cambridge New Media.
- Pipe Jacking Association., 2012. Pipe Jacking - an Introduction to Pipe Jacking. pipe jacking association.
- SYMES, C., 2012. New Civil Engineer - Jetting Away, pp. 14.
- HENRY, Jean-Pierre and MERMET, Michel., 1992. No Trenches in Town. Netherlands: A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam.
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