A Good Pipe Lining Education Comes From On-the-Job Mistakes

The best learning opportunities can sometimes be what, in the moment, looks like a catastrophic error, as Florida-based Pipelining Technologies can attest

A Good Pipe Lining Education Comes From On-the-Job Mistakes

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Any trenchless pipe rehab company knows that high-risk, high-reward pipe lining jobs can easily break bad. While certainly not ideal, it’s imperative to learn from such mistakes to avoid them on future jobs. 

“We treat a job that goes sideways as a learning experience,” says Loren Wilson, operations manager at Pipelining Technologies in West Palm Beach, Florida. “This industry still is relatively new, so there aren’t any trade schools or apprenticeship programs for pipe lining — it’s something you learn every day on the job. We’ve had occasions that we thought were catastrophic at the time, but they taught us to plan better.”

One of those sideways jobs occurred about six years ago when Pipelining Technologies got a call from a Miami hospital with a big problem: two areas where 4-inch-diameter PVC drainlines were cracking, allowing groundwater to flow inside.

Worse yet, the pipes were located 16 feet below a 4-foot-thick slab of reinforced concrete that held a giant, 220-ton cyclotron, which generates protons for precision, targeted radiation treatment of various kinds of cancer.

The huge machine requires large amounts of water to keep it cool; afterward, that radioactive wastewater drains into a large holding tank about 300 feet away. To make the job even more challenging, that drainline had multiple bends, Wilson says.

Because the water table in Florida is so high, groundwater was infiltrating the drainline.

“We pushed a camera in there and it looked like a fire hydrant pouring water into the pipe,” he says. “All of that water requires treatment, so the extra volume made the treatment costs astronomical.”

The company decided to use a fiberglass point-repair system to fix the two 4-foot-long areas with leaks. But company employees had never used the product before, aside from one day of doing practice runs, Wilson says.

Nonetheless, the first repair went smoothly. But after the second repair, which was 250 feet from an access point and covered a wye fitting, an employee accidentally cut into the fitting while reinstating the line, which created another leak. After workers installed a point-repair inside the fitting, things went further off the rails when the rubber bladder that inflates the point-repair liner got stuck.

The end result: A three-day job turned into a three-month job, Wilson says.

“We had to figure out a way to perform a surgery of sorts and remove that bladder. Excavation wasn’t an option, so we ended up investing about $250,000 in equipment, including a robotic cutter from IMS Robotics in Germany, that we used to cut out the stuck bladder.”

Fortunately, this all occurred during construction of the treatment facility, so the cyclotron wasn’t usable, Wilson says.

“It was the worst job, yet it was the best job, too, because it required a lot of problem-solving. The takeaway here is don’t use a brand-new piece of equipment on a job site, no matter how simple the job may seem. Now we do about a month of in-house testing with new products before we use them on a job.”

Read more about Pipelining Technologies in the April 2022 issue of Cleaner magazine.


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