Pipebursting Evolution

Technology Can Now Burst/Split – And Install – Virtually All Kinds Of Pipe, Sizes
November 2009 Vol. 64 No. 11

Over the past 20 years, pipebursting has become firmly established as a primary method of replacing underground pipe infrastructure past its useful life.

The process is relatively straightforward: a bursting tool is inserted into the pipe to be replaced and pulled through the pipe, shattering or splitting it. An expander behind the head displaces fragments or pieces of pipe as new pipe is pulled in behind it.

Two types of bursting tools are available: pneumatic bursting heads use percussive action to crack pipe; static heads are equipped with blades that cut or split the pipe.

Key benefits of the method are reduced excavation requirements that allow new pipe to be installed in urban areas where restoration would be costly and disruptive, and the ability to increase the size of new pipe.

The pipebursting industry changed significantly in 2005 with the expiration of British Gas/Advantica pipe bursting patents, opening the market to new manufacturers and allowing contractors to perform pipebursting without paying licensing fees.

Advances in bursting equipment have significantly changed the types of pipes that can be replaced and new pipe that can be installed by the process.

"Initially, pipebursting was primarily used in the replacement of friable-type pipe materials that would crack or shatter to allow for insertion of a replacement pipe material," says Gerry Muenchmeyer, P.E. president of Muenchmeyer Associates, LLC. Muenchmeyer has pipebursting experience both as an engineer and a contractor, and serves as NASSCO’s Technical Director. He is also the former president of the International Pipe Bursting Association, a division of NASSCO.

"In subsequent years," he continues, "pipebursting technology has advanced to include the replacement of such materials as ductile iron, steel and plastic pipes using the pipe splitting technique."

Wide choice of materials
Not only has pipebursting technology advanced, says Muenchmeyer, but choices for the replacement pipe now include such materials as vitrified clay, FRP, ductile iron, PVC and steel, in addition to polyethylene which has the longest history as replacement pipe using the bursting methods.

"The ability to install different pipe materials has opened up significant opportunities for sewer and water pipe replacement as well as for other related industries," Muenchmeyer says. "The installation of new clay pipe, using the static bursting technology has demonstrated that in addition to continuous pipe, segmented pipe can also be effectively installed one section at a time using this technology."