SAK Construction Builds A Solid Reputation Based On Rehabilitation and Inspection Experience

SAK Construction sets the standard for pipe rehabilitation and trenchless technology.
SAK Construction Builds A Solid Reputation Based On Rehabilitation and Inspection Experience
Kyle Bowen (left) and Zach Andrews of SAK Construction guide the terminal end of a CIPP liner out of a manhole on a sewer relining job in St. Louis.

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There was a time when pipe relining was an unknown and little-trusted solution for repairing broken sewer lines. But judging from the rapid growth of SAK Construction in O’Fallon, Mo., that perception is disappearing like water down a drain.

Founded in 2006 by Jerry Shaw, Bob Affholder and Tom Kalishman – the S, A and K in the company’s name – the pipeline rehabilitation and inspection firm started with just five employees. Today it employs more than 300 people; owns a multimillion-dollar fleet of equipment, ranging from vacuum trucks and water jetters to cured-in-place pipe systems and pipeline inspection trucks; racks up more than $100 million in annual gross revenue; and serves customers nationwide from branch offices in Baltimore, Phoenix, Tampa, Fla., and Rocklin, Calif.

In addition to CIPP, SAK offers a wide range of pipeline rehab technologies, from sliplining to spiral-wound PVC to shotcreting to compression-fit liners.

“We’re one of the fastest-growing, privately held pipeline rehabilitation companies in the country,” says Jim Kalishman, the company’s chief information officer. “We mainly serve municipal markets, but we’re expanding into industrial and energy segments, too. We also do tunneling and are looking to go international in that segment.”

Part of the rapid growth stems from the state of rapidly deteriorating sewer and pipeline infrastructure nationwide. “It’s a competitive market, but it’s still growing,” Kalishman notes.

In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that some $355 billion worth of work is required to address water and sewer pipeline woes throughout the United States. In addition, many municipalities nationwide are under orders from the EPA to make infrastructure repairs or improvements – and have committed funding to doing so. Then there’s the growing acceptance of trenchless technology as a viable solution to broken sewers.

“There’s broader acceptance of CIPP as customers see that it works,” Kalishman says. “Engineering firms are more receptive to it, too. Like with any new product, it was considered an alternative solution when it was first introduced. But as people grew aware, and heard more and more reports of success with the product, it was no longer an unknown alternative. In fact, in most cases, it’s now part of the normal specs in contracts.”

Pioneering veterans

But there’s another equally important factor at work here: The company’s founders, who comprise a “dream team” of sorts in the pipeline rehabilitation industry, with more than 100 collective years of experience in the industry. Shaw (the company’s president), Affholder (vice chairman) and Tom Kalishman (chairman and chief executive officer) are trenchless-technology pioneers who used to lead Insituform Technologies (now Aegion Corporation), one of the country’s largest pipeline rehabilitation contractors.

Moreover, Affholder – who founded St. Louis-based tunneling and boring company Affholder Inc., in 1968 before co-founding Insituform – recently was elected to the North American Society for Trenchless Technology Hall of Fame. Shaw was selected as the Underground Construction Technology Association’s most valuable professional for 2014.

“We have the expertise to solve the most complex infrastructure issues and get the job done right,” Jim Kalishman asserts. “Our team’s experience, at all levels of management and in the field, is second to none in the trenchless industry.”

That experience has enabled the company to successfully complete many difficult projects, including:

• Using CIPP technology to reline more than 10,400 feet of 54- to 78-inch-diameter interceptor line owned by the Los Angeles County Sanitation District and serving the Los Coyotes Water Reclamation Plant, without disturbing activities in busy residential and commercial districts.

• Employing high-density polyethylene to repair 3,100 feet of a 30-inch-diameter, cast-iron water main in Amarillo, Texas. Installed in 1927, the line’s lead joints were leaking. Open-cut repairs weren’t an option and flow capacity had to be maintained during the rehab work. Crews ended up doing unusually lengthy, 1,000-foot-long pulls to save time and minimize the need for connections and disruptions.

• Utilizing spiral-wound PVC technology to reline 1,050 feet of a deteriorating 42- to 48-inch diameter, stacked-stone sewer line in a historic area of Fort Worth, Texas, with limited access, restricted working hours and no bypass ability.

• Temporarily bypassing water service to 145 individual residences and 11 fire hydrants in a heavily populated neighborhood in Omaha, Neb., while relining more than a mile of 6-inch-diameter, cement-lined, cast-iron water main. The main ran under driveways, streets and sidewalks and the project was the city’s largest structural lining endeavor to date. To save time, money and materials, SAK crews installed the bypass piping along common property lines through backyards. They also developed a new loader system that carried up to 11 service connection plugs into the pipeline, saving countless hours of labor. And to stop the liner’s curing resins from getting into corporation stop valves, SAK crews relied on advanced robotics to plug and later reinstate the 145 service connections.

Advanced technology

One of the keys to the company’s success is its large fleet of technologically advanced equipment, which includes: combination sewer cleaning trucks made by Vactor Manufacturing (a subsidiary of Federal Signal Corp.), generally equipped with 80 gpm Vactor pumps and 10- or 12-cubic-yard debris tanks; water jetters made by Sewer Equipment and Vactor Manufacturing (typically generating flow and pressure of 80 gpm at 2,000 psi); several International tractor cabs; tri-axle International trucks used for hauling materials and curing equipment; truck-mounted pipeline inspection systems made by Aries Industries, CUES and RS Technical Services; PipeTech, Granite (CUES) and WinCan inspection software; and Ford pickup trucks and F-550 crew trucks.

For sewer relining, SAK uses its own proprietary CIPP technology; for pressurized water pipes, the company offers customers a proprietary relining product.

“When it comes to equipment, we rely on a keep-it-simple philosophy,” says Steve Hirtz, SAK’s vice president of operations, noting that the company prefers to use the same vendors for equipment to leverage the benefits that derive from standardized vehicles and equipment.

“Standardization is a big thing for us,” Hirtz says. “When you grow a company from zero to as big as we are, and you’re spread all over the United States, standardization is important for easier maintenance, training support and purchasing power for repair parts. If employees know about a particular piece of equipment, they can easily move from one piece to another and will still know how to maintain it and operate it efficiently. It’s really no different than Southwest Airlines running all [Boeing] 737 airplanes.”

There are times when larger pieces of equipment might be more efficient on certain projects, Hirtz concedes. But in those instances, SAK still would rather run smaller machines or equipment a little longer because the overall benefits of standardization outweigh the incremental productivity gains.

SAK doesn’t hesitate to invest in capital projects that can improve customer service, better manage inventory and exert more control over project scheduling. A good example is the CIPP tube-manufacturing facility the company built in 2012 in O’Fallon, which expanded the company’s facilities there to 120,000 square feet.

“In a nutshell, we wanted to control more of our own destiny,” Hirtz says, explaining why it made sense to manufacture its own CIPP tubes. “By making our own liner, we can shorten the lead times for ordering liner and carry less inventory on hand. But we still have great relationships with other vendors we work with.”

More growth expected

Looking ahead, company officials expect continued expansion into industrial and energy sectors and also are looking at major international projects as well. The company has new technologies “in the pipeline” to solve customers’ infrastructure rehabilitation needs, Kalishman says. They are also planning for continued growth through a variety of means, like the 2011 purchase of Pipenology Inc. in Rocklin, which then became the company’s western regional headquarters. But don’t expect growth for growth’s sake.

“This is a dynamic industry that is both growing and highly competitive,” says Tom Kalishman. “We hope to continue to earn our share of new business. In the past, SAK has grown both organically and through acquisitions and we will consider all options as we move forward.”

More Information

Aries Industries, Inc. - 800/234-7205 -

CUES - 80/327-7791 -

PipeTech Software - 800-262-7817 -

RS Technical Services, Inc. - 800/767-1974 -

Sewer Equipment - 800/323-1604 -

Vactor Manufacturing - 800/627-3171 -


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