Reflections on 25 Years of Microtunneling — Q&A with GHD’s Craig Camp

craig camp Now in his 25th year in the microtunneling industry, Craig Camp has seen the technology move from its infancy in the United States, to a mature market that is seemingly setting new heights every week. TBM: Tunnel Business Magazine sat down with Camp to share his thoughts on the market – past, present, and future. Camp worked for Iseki from 1994 to 2000, and has been closely involved with microtunneling since, as a consultant at various firms, most currently, with GHD.

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How did you get started in the microtunneling industry?

Growing up in the mining district of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, I always had an interest in mining. I earned a degree in Mining Engineering from the University of Idaho, and worked in the Gypsum Mining industry before joining Iseki, in 1994. At the time, Iseki was a leading supplier of microtunneling equipment for the North American market. My mining background certainly helped the transition into the industry. Early on, I worked closely with Tom Kusumoto, who had long roots with the company, going back to the creation of microtunneling equipment. He fully understood the trade, and I spent many, many hours under his mentorship, learning how the equipment was designed and operated.

How has the industry evolved since you got involved in microtunneling?

The early days of microtunneling felt like a close-knit, small family; everybody knew everybody. There were quasi territories, and contractors stayed within their understood areas. The contractors at that time had to be committed to the market – one had to be knee deep and up to elbows in grease to achieve success, mainly because experienced hires were scarce, if not impossible, to come by. Now it is more of a mature market, and it is very much a national market. Contractors travel to a greater extent, as there is more competition.

How has the equipment changed?

A big change in the market has been the size of machines. There are a greater number of machines on the market today that are greater than 60 inches in diameter, as opposed to in the past, the major portion of the market was under 60 inches. With bigger machines come more power, more torque and durability all positive changes.

Additionally, manufacturers have developed more effective and compact power units that help equipment excavate complex soils. That, in combination with improved guidance systems and data acquisition, have allowed longer drives and curved drives through a range of conditions. The support industry, from inflatable packers to slurry handling systems to pipe manufacturing, has kept pace with all the changes.

What are the most common misconceptions or mistakes you see?

Some people think the microtunneling technology to build a tunnel is a ‘silver bullet’, but contrary to popular belief, it’s not. Microtunneling has its strengths and weaknesses, and there are other methods that prove more efficient for some ground conditions. Hence why those methods are still around today. A misconception has been because microtunneling is being applied, no issues will arise. False.

How have you have been active in the development of educational publications for the industry?

I have been involved in several of the American Society of Civil Engineers publications, the first being Standard Design and Construction Guidelines for Microtunneling (ASCE/CI 36-15). I have also been involved with ASCE Manuals and Reports on Engineering Practice for Horizontal Auger Boring (No. 106), Pipe Bursting (No. 112), Pipe Ramming (No. 115), Trenchless Renewal of Culverts and Storm Sewers (No. 120), and Pilot Tube and Other Guided Boring Methods (No. 133), as well as the North American Society for Trenchless Technology’s New Installation Methods Good Practices.

I believe in trying to improve and grow the industry, and these manuals help provide an educational foundation for successful projects. Many of these documents go through revisions; they are continuously being improved upon, and build consensus among various parties involved in construction. Having an understanding of the various methods is key, because in underground construction, you can only take what Mother Earth will allow. You can have the best method in the world, but if it is used in the wrong ground condition, you have nothing.

How has the use of curved drives evolved in the United States?

Curved drives are a combination of many factors. We have had technology changes that have given us better pipe in some cases, better guidance systems, better lubrication and better control of the joint (Jackcontrol™). When you do a curved tunnel, you are essentially taking a system that is set up to build a perfectly straight tunnel, and point loading the tunnel 100 percent of the time. To accommodate the change, you must plan for it. The newer technology allows this to happen. Curved microtunnels have been slow to take root in the United States, but are clearly the right solution in some cases.

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What other trends are you seeing?

Another recent development impacting the market is the merging of HDD and microtunnling technology. This is the system that Herrenknecht calls Direct Pipe™, and MTS Perforator calls System 2™. The system uses steel casing and an inverted arc, like HDD, and the slurry is controlled with microtunneling technology. In essence, it is a curved microtunnel with a different thrusting method and setup. This is another great tool, for the right ground conditions.

How can the market be improved?

One element that limits the market is the low bid mentality. With underground construction, it is crucial to use the right technology, but that can come at a higher initial cost. However, I have seen projects with change orders that are greater than the cost of the tunnel. Let that serve as an example – the initial cost should not be the focus. The focus should be on implementing the right technology, coupled with engaging the right contractor and experienced personnel.

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One, if not the, most crucial keys to success is communication. You need to take the time to discuss the needs of the project, as well as the risk factors, before the project commences to ensure the job is executed properly and correctly. Many times in a low-bid environment, there is not ample opportunity for open communication before the project begins. Design-build is a better vehicle for allowing that communication, but often times leaves the owner feeling as though they are giving up too much control. Each individual project is unique and possess its own nuances, but it has been my experience that the success of a project is strongly correlated to effective communication.

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