Consulting Firm Poised for Growth in Infrastructure Market After Restructuring
Hatch, originally an Ontario-based but now a 9,000-person strong, international consulting firm, has always had a strong connection to the tunneling and infrastructure market. In fact, one of its first projects upon its founding in 1955 was a subway tunnel project for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). Later, Hatch pioneered the use of precast segmental tunnel liners in North America on another TTC project the 1960s.
But as the company continued to grow, infrastructure became a lesser part of Hatch’s overall business. Increasingly, Hatch became more heavily involved in the industrial, mining and energy sectors working for private clients. In fact, Hatch frequently partnered with U.K.-based Mott MacDonald, known for its work in civil infrastructure and working with public clients, on tunnel projects including the Channel Tunnel , the St. Clair River Tunnel, which at 9.52-m was the largest EPB used in North America at the time, and the Red Line tunnels for the LA Metro.
In 1996, Hatch and Mott MacDonald officially created a joint venture partnership to provide civil engineering services for infrastructure projects in North America. Outside North America, the companies operated separately. In late 2015, however, the two companies announced that they would dissolve the partnership and operate as separate entities once again.
“The partnership was a success, but, as special purpose joint ventures often do, it ran its course,” said Michael Schatz, Managing Director for Hatch. “The markets were continuing to develop and evolve, and it was recognized that the joint venture was not keeping pace. Both Hatch and Mott MacDonald saw the need to move on and open up the world business to each company.”
As a result of the new structure, Hatch retained the JV’s assets in Canada, while Mott MacDonald retained U.S. assets. However, both Hatch and Mott MacDonald have offices in both the United States and Canada.
“As Hatch, we are quite excited about the future,” Schatz said. “Over the last 20 years, Hatch has grown tremendously worldwide, and we are now able to connect all of our global infrastructure businesses in one integrated team. We can bring our depth of knowledge and our strong project delivery capabilities together to provide top-level solutions for our clients.
“We like doing tough projects and are very committed to client outcomes. We are open to alternative ideas and we are committed to innovation across all of our businesses.”
Since the Hatch Mott MacDonald partnership was formed in 1996, Hatch grew from a company of about 1,000 people to roughly 9,000 today. The growth in mining worldwide fueled much of the growth, which was aided by acquisitions along the way. Hatch saw growth in Australia, Africa and South America, in addition to North America, providing services in more than 150 countries. That includes more than 100 professionals engaged directly in tunneling – including project engineers, geologists and construction managers.
With that expanded footprint and capacity, Hatch has positioned itself to provide its service in infrastructure, as well as mining and energy, across the globe. “There is growth in the infrastructure market worldwide – not only outside of North America but in Canada and the United States as well,” said Gary Kramer, tunnels practice lead for Hatch. “We have 15 offices in the United States and we are looking to expand on that. We are picking up work in South Africa, Australia, Brazil and other areas where we have not typically been active before.”
He points to the tunnel projects in South Africa as an example of how the company’s new structure can help make it successful. “In areas like South Africa where we already had a presence, we are able to leverage our infrastructure experts to supplement the capabilities in all of our offices,” Kramer said. “We are a full-service consultancy that is able to provide a full range of tunnel services across all of the sectors we serve.”
In the tunneling sector, Hatch is involved with projects including rail and transit, road tunnels, water and sewer tunnels, and pedestrian tunnels, in addition to underground projects associated with mining and energy projects. Right now, Canada is seeing a large demand for transit, with projects being planned or underway in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. There are also strong opportunities outside of Canada, and Hatch is involved with transit projects in Los Angeles, Sydney and Melbourne.
“Toronto is in the midst of a transit renaissance,” Kramer said. “The Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension is nearing completion, and the tunnels for the Eglinton Crosstown project are nearly complete. On the horizon there are plans for the Scarborough Subway Extension and the Relief Line, both multi-billion dollar extensions to the existing subway system in Toronto.”
Kramer adds that Hatch’s Mississauga office has a wealth of experience in transit project, including for the center of design work for tunneling and underground LRT projects in Minneapolis and Seattle, in addition to Toronto.
Going hand-in-hand with Hatch’s tunneling work is the emerging trenchless market. Trenchless construction is expanding in Canada, and globally, in both developing and developed areas. In developed areas, trenchless construction techniques allow the construction of new utilities in crowded urban areas with minimal disruption to businesses and residents, while trenchless rehabilitation can extend the life of existing utilities, also while minimizing impacts. Trenchless is also being used more and more for pipeline projects for river or mountain crossings.
Marc Gelinas, who leads Hatch’s trenchless practice, has been involved with the trenchless market since the 1990s, having left Canada to work in the burgeoning trenchless market in California. He had little idea that he would come back to Ontario and find it a leading player on the world stage. Over the past several years, Ontario has seen several firsts in microtunneling – first underwater recovery, first curved mirotunnel, first multiple curve microtunnel. Additionally, longer drives, larger diameters and tighter curves have been achieved. As a testament to the growth, Ontario now is home to three microtunneling contractors, as well as two specialty jacking pipe manufacturers.
“Microtunneling has really taken off in Ontario and Canada, and that is because owners are seeing that trenchless is a better way of completing these projects and they are willing to give their backing,” he said. “Within Hatch, we will continue to promote trenchless technology and be a driving force in introducing it to new areas. We have the advantage of being able to learn from our tunnel practice in terms of technology and approaches to risk management. We can apply that experience to small tunnel projects so that we can push the boundaries of what can be done.”
Driving the growth of the trenchless sector is aging infrastructure and increased urbanization, necessitating the need to provide more and more capacity. Hatch’s trenchless expertise also benefits other areas of the company’s practice. “We are seeing a need from our mining and energy sectors for trenchless applications, in addition to a strong demand from our traditional municipal owners,” Gelinas said. “The trenchless market has been expanding year after year, and we don’t see any signs of it slowing down.”
Trends and Future
Ultimately, for a consulting firm to be successful, they need to serve the needs of the client, no matter how difficult it may be. Kramer points to the example of a utility tunnel constructed under a hospital at McGill University in Montreal. In that project, Hatch designed a drill-and-blast tunnel that was completed with no impacts to the sensitive facility above. “Hatch has never been afraid to take on difficult tunneling projects,” Kramer said. “While other consultants may have viewed the job as having too much risk, we were able to deliver a solution to the client. “
Continuing evolution of tunneling technology has impacted the way tunnels are designed and constructed. For example, soft-ground tunneling technology is allowing tunnels to be built economically in areas that weren’t previously feasible. “We are seeing continuous improvement in terms of advance rates and settlement control for soft-ground TBMs,” Kramer said. “It is a combination of selecting the right type of technology along with monitoring systems, control systems and additives. We are to the point now where we can tunnel the full range from sand to clay while controlling settlements.”
Currently, Hatch is pioneering the use of large-diameter TBMs for subway station construction as part of the design for the Scarborough Subway extension. By using large TBMs – in the range of 12 to 13 m – station excavation can be completed without the need for disruptive and expensive cut-and-cover excavation. “You get a better solution for less cost,” Schatz said.
Increased use of design-build, P3 and other alternative contract delivery method sometimes has changed the traditional business model for consulting engineers, but Hatch’s experience in providing solutions for public and private clients has translated well into working with contractors. “We have a very strong relationship with the contracting community,” Schatz said. “They look for the value proposition of delivering innovative ideas and great technical solutions. They want to lower risk and increase safety. These things matter to contractors, and they matter to us, and as a result we are finding very strong connectivity with them.”
Looking forward, Schatz sees nothing but opportunity for the North American and worldwide markets. “We view the market in North America and worldwide with optimism and enthusiasm,” he said. “We have very strong market position and a large team situated across the globe. We have the resources, willingness and capability to invest and grow the business.”
Jim Rush is editor/publisher of TBM: Tunnel Business Magazine.