Tracto recently spoke with a proven expert and connoisseur of the industry about the global potential for trenchless technology. Jari Kaukonen was chairman of the International Society for Trenchless Technology (ISTT) until October 2022 and is a founding member of the Finnish Society FISTT, which hosted the International No-Dig Conference and Exhibition in Helsinki, Finland last year.
Q: Mr Kaukonen, we like to say that there is no task in pipeline construction today that cannot be done without trenches. Do you agree with that? Is No-Dig technology really that advanced?
A: Yes, I totally agree. I started in the trenchless industry in 1982 and after that I have seen the development in the field. In those days the discussion was about the capacity when rehabilitating old mains. Quite soon the manufacturers introduced methods that made it possible to even enlarge the diameter of the existing pipe. Also at that time there came to the market other methods too to keep the diameter almost the same as the old one. In Finland we have a very hard rock which was a good reason to say no to No-Dig when planning a new installation. Now there is very good equipment for hard rock. The main thing for the pipe and cable owners is to hire a qualified designer to plan the execution of the work.
Q: The state-of-the-art is one thing, but the actual need is another. In which areas do you see the greatest need? Fibre optic expansion as the backbone of digitisation, for example, is obvious. Where do you see similarly great potential?
A: Yes, fibre optic expansion has been one main driver for the huge growth of HDD. Someone has said that we can use the mobile system instead of fibre optic to every house. I think it is vice versa. When we build the 5G system that needs expansion of fibre optic network and that means more HDD work for the contractors. In the future there will be more need for the good drinking water globally. We will have more areas with bad water quality. That means more and longer distribution watermains and I hope the use of trenchless is widely used when contracting the mains installations. The building of wind power is one issue where there is a need of connecting those to the network. In many cases these are far from urban areas and that is why there is a possibility to use trenchless in many cases so as not to spoil the environment where there is the need to install the cables. When reducing the use of fossil energy we need to install new gas mains as well. What will this mean when the Nordstream2 gas main is ready to use? Will that be in use or what happens because of the situation in Ukraine. Will that mean that we must ensure the energy distribution system offers more with different possibilities? That can also mean new possibilities.
Q: What about less developed regions and countries in the world? Can No-Dig even be a key to better living conditions in these areas? Just think of the water supply.
A: Absolutely, as I described above the distribution to the areas where bad water quality is the problem. But also, we have many places around the globe where there is not a sufficient sewer system. In many areas there is a sewer tank without a bottom and the well where the people take the drinking water sit beside each other. Many houses are close and without a deeper foundation. If we use trenchless methods, the owners of the houses can use the houses without any impact to the foundation and no big issues to daily life. In that way we can save many environmental aspects. There are many excellent calculations made by GSTT about the environmental costs comparing trenchless to open cut.
Q: Do you think that trenchless construction will one day be the rule and no longer the exception in pipeline construction? If so, what are the arguments in its favour?
A: Yes, that is the way we have to go. The Finnish Road administration called Väylä in Finnish has already decided to use trenchless when constructing pipes and cables under the road. I am waiting for more and more infrastructure owners to follow the Väylä lead when giving licences to build new pipes and cables to the areas that they own. Many authorities do not know about the possibilities we have to use trenchless and I see that as the main reason for not insisting on the use of trenchless as the only acceptable method when building pipes and cables.
Q: How do the trenchless Societies contribute to making trenchless technology more accepted and better known to clients and the general public?
A: As previously said, there is a lack of knowledge about trenchless possibilities with the authorities but also with the infrastructure owners and general designers. There is a huge role for the National Societies which are the Affiliated Societies of ISTT to spread the information and push their members and others to local and international conferences and exhibitions where there is excellent potential to learn more about the use of trenchless methods. The Affiliated Societies must have good relations with ministries and authorities to share these possibilities for the use of trenchless. The methods for spreading the good news about trenchless include arranging conferences, exhibitions, and courses about best practice etc. In areas where ISTT does not have an Affiliated Society and there are people interested in learning more and spreading interest about trenchless can gather together and contact ISTT to get help with establishing an Affiliated Society.
Q: Finland and other Scandinavian countries are seen as role models for sustainable development. This includes the spread of trenchless technology. Why is that and what can other countries learn from the Scandinavians in this respect?
A: I see many reasons together causing this fact. First, we have lived very close to nature and see the changes when spoiling some parts of it. We also have four different seasons in a year, and we can feel the difference for nature too. We have long been quite rural countries with an agriculture which has not been as easy as in more southern countries. That means we have to develop equipment suitable for our climate and that means maybe that we are used to innovative tools, that is why we have some highly skilled companies manufacturing tools for pipeline rehabilitation. We have also a winter which is not similar to central Europe and that means we have to innovate processes and tools for cold installations and also in houses when weather conditions to not permit work outside.
Q: To conclude, some personal information about you would certainly be interesting for our readers. You have been in the No-Dig industry for a good 40 years. In which functions and what were the milestones on your way?
A: Thanks for asking this. I made my first relining work in 1982 in Finland and since I have been active in the trenchless business. First as a contractor since 2002 when I sold my company’s activities to a Finnish construction company called YIT. There I continued as a contractor until 2006 when I changed, acting as a consultant in infrastructure, first for FCG and then to WSP where I retired in 2019. My clients wanted me to work for them since then too, so I started on my own again and will continue with consulting clients. I joined ISTT individually in London 1987 and have been a member since then. I was elected to the ISTT board (ex esc) in 2014 and as vice-chair in 2016 and a chair in 2018, a position I handed over in Helsinki in October 2022 after being the second longest period as a chair in ISTT’s history.
I was a founding member of the Finnish Society (FiSTT) in 1999 and have been a member of the board of FiSTT from 1999 to 2021. So, I can say my heart belongs to trenchless.
Acknowledgement: Our thanks go to Jari Kaukonen. Thank you very much for this inspiring conversation. Let us hope it will induce more players in the trenchless sector to spread the word beyond the industry to make trenchless construction a public interest.