Streamlining Pipe Replacement

A pipe bursting system provides an Iowa contractor’s customers with an attractive alternative to opencut pipeline replacement

Streamlining Pipe Replacement

Paul Williams (center) increased his company’s profitability by investing in a Roddie RX-30 pipe bursting system. The system speeds up pipe replacement work for his crew, which includes the father-son team of Doug Klosterman (right) and William Klosterman (left).

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Some contractors might feel a bit squeamish about spending $22,000 on a new piece of equipment. Paul Williams is not one of them, and his willingness to give new technology a try — in this case, an RX-30 pipe bursting system made by RODDIE — provides an example of how making such investments can increase productivity, profitability and customer service.

Williams, who owns Williams Excavation and Directional Boring in Ackley, Iowa, bought the RX-30 in summer 2018 after seeing RODDIE pipe bursting equipment a few years ago at the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport (WWETT) Show. “I already owned an R2 pipe burster from RODDIE and was impressed with it,” he says. “So I kept an eye on the company, and when the RX-30 came out, I bought one (with accessories) for $22,000. It’s a great price for what it does — money very well-spent.”

Williams figured the RX-30 would streamline one of the company’s core services: replacing waterlines and sewer lines. Founded in 2006, the company employs five people and also does horizontal directional boring in and around north-central Iowa.

The master plumber’s hunch proved to be correct. Williams says that generally speaking, pipe bursting with the RX-30 is roughly twice as fast as opencut jobs, reducing a two-day job to just one day. “I’d say our profitability increases by about $1,000 or more per job when we use the RX-30 compared to a conventional opencut project, and that money goes right back into our business pocket,” he says. “And when we can do more jobs per week, that increases profitability, too. Efficiency definitely drives profitability.”

Out with the old

In pipe bursting, a conical-shaped device called a bursting head is pulled under extreme pressure through the pipe that’s being replaced. The bursting head is larger than the host pipe, so it fractures the pipe as it passes through.

At the same time, the bursting head tows a length of HDPE pipe that replaces the old pipe. During the process, new sections of pipe are fused onto the tail end as needed; the company uses a pipe-fusing machine made by McElroy.

The ability to replace pipelines without disturbing customers’ property is an extremely strong selling point. Even though pipe bursting typically is a little more expensive than conventional excavation, it saves money in the long run because customers don’t have the additional property-restoration expenses that often accompany opencut jobs, such as replacing trees and shrubs, sidewalks, fences, patios, driveways and sidewalks.

“An opencut job might destroy a tree that was a gift from a customer’s grandma, for example,” Williams explains. “But if we do a trenchless repair from the house to the main, you’ll never know we were there except for a hole in the street and a hole in the basement floor.”

He recalls one particular job where a damaged residential sewer line ran right under a narrow space between a property line and a large, wraparound porch. “There was no room for an opencut job. To do so would’ve required removing the porch and a nearby fence, too.

“So instead, we used the RX-30 to pull a new pipe through from the street, leaving the porch and fence intact,” he says. “It would’ve cost a huge amount of money to replace that porch — much more than the cost of the sewer line replacement. The customer was very grateful. I’m sure I made a lifetime customer there.”

To break a hole in basement floors, employees use an electric 90-pound jackhammer made by Wacker Neuson. To cut into pavement and excavate in streets, they rely on Stihl concrete saws and three Bobcat excavators. The company also owns two Bobcat skid-steers.

Portable and powerful

The RX-30 essentially consists of a pulling unit that breaks down into two pieces for easy transport. The components weigh 70 and 60 pounds each. The unit can accommodate either a 9/16-, 11/16- or 3/4-inch-diameter cable; the cables, bursting heads and other accessories aren’t included in the base price.

“We love the way it breaks down into smaller pieces, which makes it easier to move,” Williams says. “One guy can grab one piece, and another guy grabs the other piece. And the machine is small enough that we can easily use it inside a basement.”

The unit is hydraulically powered (possible power sources include a mini-excavator, a skid-steer or a hydraulic power pack). The RX-30’s compact footprint (16 inches long by 12 inches wide by 24 inches tall) belies its power; it generates up to 30 tons of pulling power at 3,000 psi and can pull up to 8 feet of pipe per minute, according to information provided by RODDIE.

“The power is more than adequate,” Williams says. “I don’t think we’ve ever needed more than 10 to 12 tons of pulling power. Cast iron pipes are the hardest to break and we’ve never had any problem. The RX-30 just busts right through them.”

Williams says the RX-30 has easily paid for itself already. And he expects no shortage of work in the years ahead, noting that the company uses the machine several times a month and does approximately 20 to 30 pipeline replacement jobs annually.

“The RX-30 is central to what we do because we replace so much sewer line,” he says. “In our service area, most of the housing was built in the 1950s and ’60s, when they used Orangeburg pipe for sewer lines. That pipe now is reaching the end of its service life — a lot of it is in really bad shape.

“We’re going to be putting in new pipes for a long time around here. I don’t see any end to it. So we might as well do it as efficiently and cost-effectively for customers as we can.”


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