Engineering Success With Cutting-Edge Pipe Lining Technology

Florida contractor takes a tactical, high-tech approach to trenchless pipeline rehab

Engineering Success With Cutting-Edge Pipe Lining Technology

 Engineered Lining Systems Project Manager James Macko (left) and owner and president Don Arch stand in front of the latest addition to the ELS trenchless installation fleet. The truck, built out by Omega Liner Company, contains an IBG Pro UV curing system.

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Engineered Lining Systems prides itself on taking a decidedly technology-centric approach to trenchless pipeline rehabilitation. And few things epitomize that philosophy more than the company’s nearly $1 million investment in a German-made pipe lining system.

Developed by IBG HydroTech, the system is designed to line pipes from 6 to 72 inches in diameter. It uses a computer-controlled curing process that uses a UV light “train” that can cure up to 7 feet of glass-reinforced plastic liners per minute.

“It’s the most powerful curing truck in the United States right now. It’s a very complex system,” says Don Arch, owner and president of the Jacksonville-based company. “And the return on investment so far has been tenfold.”

The investment in the IBG system reflects a key strategy that has contributed greatly to the company’s growth to $6 million yearly revenue: Be the first to invest in advanced, productivity- and profitability-enhancing equipment and technologies.

That’s an expensive philosophy in terms of upfront costs. But on the other hand, a six- or seven-figure price tag also creates a high barrier to market entry by competitors, Arch says.

“We pride ourselves on being first to market with new technology. It keeps competitors at bay who don’t want to or can’t afford to make those kinds of investments.

“In fact, we end up doing a fair amount of UV-curing for other companies because they also realize it’s the best technology for their customer, but they just can’t pull the trigger on such a significant investment.”

A strategic niche

Since the company’s inception in 2004, Engineered Lining Systems has also embraced another strategy, similar to the old hit-it-where-they-ain’t baseball philosophy: Develop a base of clients that require more specialized and technical trenchless solutions that other companies aren’t interested in tackling.

As such, the company serves a wide range of customers in somewhat niche markets, including nuclear power plants, power utilities, airports, military bases and hospitals, Arch says.

“We try to go into areas where there’s not a lot of competition. We pride ourselves on doing projects that require a lot of logistics and working with companies that require a great safety record.

“Instead of going after competitive, low-bid projects, we try to focus on negotiated projects for customers that are looking for a good, long-term solution, not just putting a Band-Aid on a repair.

“We also have a reputation for looking at projects, breaking them down with methodical analyses and making sure all stakeholders understand the risks involved,” he adds. “We’re good at looking at all the hurdles involved and coming up with well-researched solutions, which requires us to constantly keep a finger on the pulse of new technologies.”

After completing projects, ELS also strives to maintain business relationships via multiyear service agreements that emphasize long-term repairs and maintenance as opposed to random, one-off and very expensive emergency calls.

“Helping clients understand the cost of downtime from a piping failure is a conscious business model that we work under,” Arch says. Showing clients where they need to focus, say, five years down the road helps them develop budgets proactively rather than reacting to expensive surprises.

“Customers really do appreciate it. Progressive companies look at money spent as money saved and that’s the kind of customers we want.”

Liners for everything

That approach also inspired the company’s name. “We wanted something that would tell the customer we’re not just showing up with an old pickup truck, throwing a liner in the ground and hoping for the best,” he says.

“And I say ‘we,’ I mean everyone. It’s a total team effort here. We’ve attracted world-class project managers and crews that have pushed the company to the next level. We get a lot of comments from customers about how knowledgeable our people are. To me, that means everything.”

The company also does pipe lining work for industrial and municipal clients as well as state departments of transportation. Its crews have lined sewers, culverts, electrical conduits and process-pipe systems.

One project involved lining a vacuum tube at a veteran’s hospital that’s used to send nuclear medicine from a lab to an operating room about half a mile away, like the tubes used at bank drive-through stations, Arch says.

Progressive choices

After graduating from high school, Arch spent about 20 years in the plumbing and mechanical arena before establishing ELS with a business partner who’s no longer with the company. He opted to get into trenchless technology because it seemed like a much better solution to common problems plumbers face — particularly leaking water pipes in concrete slabs, which are quite common in Florida.

The company’s first investment was an epoxy lining system for smaller-diameter pipes. The company then expanded into work on military bases scattered throughout the area, he says.

“That’s where we really started to cut our teeth on lining large-diameter pipes.”

A pivotal moment occurred while Arch attended a Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo International trade show (now called the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport Show) in 2008, where he ran across emerging pipe lining technology from Europe.

“We decided we wanted to be ahead of the curve — be progressive about how we put these projects together,” he says. “UV-cured pipe lining was definitely a step in the right direction.

“You get better quality control and with military and airfield clients, that was very important — they like documented quality control. So we started making investments in equipment and it’s paid off very well for us.”

High-tech equipment investments

ELS has also invested in other UV-cured lining systems. It owns a Prokasro Services USA system, housed in a 2006 International 4300 D truck with a 30-foot-long box body made by Supreme Corp. It can line pipes from 6 to 48 inches in diameter at speeds up to 5 feet per minute.

The company uses liners made by Omega Liner, SAERTEX multiCOM, iMPREG and APEX CIPP Solutions.

For cleaning pipelines, the company has invested in a GapVax combination sewer vacuum truck, featuring a 2009 Sterling chassis, a 10-cubic-yard debris tanks, an Ingersoll Rand blower (5,000 cfm), an 80 gpm, 3,500 psi water pump and a 3,500-gallon water tank.

The company’s roster of equipment also includes a 2009 Chevrolet C5500 camera truck, outfitted by CUES with Ultra Shorty III and Steerable Pipe Ranger II pipeline inspection cameras; a Kubota RTV-X1100C all-terrain vehicle equipped by CUES with a digital universal camera; a 12-ton winch made by Hammerhead Trenchless; and NozzTeq Lumberjack root-cutting nozzles.

In the company’s plumbing and mechanical division, technicians rely on a SpeedyLight+ UV curing system. Made by SEWERTRONICS for 3- to 8-inch diameter pipe, it’s better at navigating lines with multiple bends. Other equipment includes Mini Miller and Maxi Miller drain cleaning/descaling and lateral-reinstatement machines from Picote Solutions; two CUES MPLUS+ push cameras for pipeline inspections; and a Picote Brush-Coating System for sealing pipes.

Focus on training

ELS also invests heavily in training, for both trenchless technologies and on-the-job safety, with the latter coordinated by an in-house safety director. Product manufacturers supply some of the equipment training, while other portions are handled in-house, Arch says.

Like so many others that need skilled labor, the company finds it difficult to find enough qualified employees. To remedy that, Arch is working with a handful of manufacturers to develop an internal apprenticeship program for pipe lining and other technologies, similar to the apprenticeship program he followed to become a plumber.

“I feel an apprenticeship still is the best way to learn and get hands-on training and mentoring,” he says. “We want to get new talent and grow, but there’s not a large pool of trained people. So I think we need to do it on our own. A very high caliber of training is critical to our success.”

Moreover, ongoing training helps to keep employees inspired and motivated. Advanced technology that relies on robotics and sophisticated computer programs — think robotic pipeline cameras and GIS mapping software, for example — also plays a role in attracting and retaining younger employees, Arch points out.

“They look at it as a big video game,” he says. “It’s kind of the world they grew up in — they’re just naturals at it.”

As an example, Arch cites a cloud-based GIS mapping system called Unearth. Among other features, it allows technicians to upload pipeline inspection videos to a platform where clients can watch as mapping progresses. The technology gives clients access to collected data in real time, as opposed to weeks if using conventional technology, and clients can communicate with office personnel and fields crews as the system collects data.

“It’s this kind of responsiveness to customers and their needs — giving them information in a timely manner so they can make decisions in a timely manner — that helps us make a name for ourselves,” Arch says. “It’s another example of how we utilize technology to keep us moving forward.”

Managing growth

As Arch looks back, he says he never could’ve imagined not only how fast the company has grown, but where his career has taken him. The company has worked on projects under the U.S. Capitol and the White House, as well as in Trinidad, the Bahamas, Panama and Colombia. He’s also taken business trips to Sweden and Germany.

“This career has taken me, a plumber, to areas of the world I never would’ve imagined possible — pretty much all over the world,” he says. “We’re just a little company in Jacksonville, but we’re known around the world for the work we do.”

Even after more than 15 years in the trenchless technology sector, he still feels as passionate as ever.

“It may sound weird, but it still gives me goose bumps when I talk to people about it,” he says. “I love talking about it and I love doing what I do. I wake up every morning excited about the challenges ahead.

“And I love to see our employees keep improving themselves, too. It makes me feel like we’re making a difference in the world.”

As for what lies ahead, Arch says he anticipates intelligent, managed growth. If companies don’t plan correctly and don’t run projects properly, things can go sideways quickly, which usually is expensive, he notes.

“That’s why we want controlled, managed growth. Eventually, we’d like to leapfrog over into certain areas like Atlanta and maybe some satellite office out West.

“But for now, we’re focusing on refining procedures and processes before we take the next step. We want a plan in place, not just go somewhere and open an office and hope for the best.” 

The quick UV cure
In 2019, a 480-foot long, 42-inch-diameter culvert that runs under a runway at a Florida airport needed repairs. But airport officials were concerned about the cost and major disruption of shutting down a major runway.

Engineered Lining Services (ELS) in Jacksonville provided a solution: Line the culvert with a UV-light-cured, glass-reinforced plastic liner.

The total cure time for the liner was just two hours and the total project time was about 14 hours — a vivid demonstration of the benefits of trenchless pipeline rehab technology.

“And flights were coming in as we worked,” says Don Arch, owner and president of ELS.

To do the job, the company relied on a nearly $1 million pipe lining system manufactured by Germany-based IBG HydroTech. The system can line pipes from 6 to 72 inches in diameter and utilizes a computer-controlled process that can cure liners up to 7 feet per minute via a light train outfitted with 400- to 1,500-watt bulbs.

The system is housed inside a 40-foot-long box body, made by Ohnsorg Truck Bodies, mounted on a 2018 Peterbilt 567 truck. Its sophisticated computers constantly monitor factors such as air pressure within the liner, curing speeds, air temperature inside the liner, the wattage outputs from the bulbs and so forth, Arch says.

One advantage with UV-curing is that crews can see inside the liner and spot abnormalities and imperfections before the curing process starts, courtesy of two cameras mounted on the light train. After the liner is inflated with a Gardner Denver blower system (600 cfm), technicians send the light train through with its lights offs.

When technicians are sure the liner is properly positioned, with no wrinkles or other abnormalities or deformities, the light train passes through again, this time with its lights on. A computer controls its speed, based on factors such as the liner’s diameter and thickness.

“It’s the next leap forward in trenchless technology,” Arch says. “When people see it, they’re sold on it.”

The faster curing speed is a game-changer, too, in terms of productivity and profitability.


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