Can Trenchless Technology Help Asia’s Growing Construction Industry?

By Tabitha Mishra
Published: July 7, 2020 | Last updated: July 5, 2023
Key Takeaways

Developing countries in Asia are among the world’s fastest-growing economies with millions being invested in infrastructure development every passing year. This fast-paced growth, however, is not matched by the same pace of improvement in sub-surface utility lines, especially in the water and sewer sector.

The trenchless construction industry is flourishing like never before. Better buildings, roads, bridges, metro lines, railways, airports, and seaports are being constructed on a global scale.


The global connection necessary for trade and development is fulfilled in part by the construction industry by enabling easier transportation and globally acceptable lifestyle. With the increase in global trading, the virtual boundary between nations is disappearing. Developing countries in Asia are among the world’s fastest-growing economies with millions of dollars being invested in infrastructure development every passing year.

This fast-paced growth, however, is not matched by the same pace of improvement in sub-surface utility lines, especially in the water and sewer sector. As per Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Mr. Takehiko Nakao, about 300 million people in the Asia and Pacific region do not have improved access to water and 1.7 billion lack accesses to basic sanitation.


The Problem Below the Surface

Asian countries make up more than three-quarters of the world’s population with transit from country to urban happening very rapidly. This has put extreme demand on water and sewer networks that is already aging and deteriorated.

World-class infrastructure is being constructed to cater to the many delegations that come into Asia to bring in technological innovation and new industries, and to keep pace with the expected industrial growth, requiring faster movement of workers and material.

But the sub-surface largely lies out of sight and ignored. Taking the slow route for improving the sub-surface infrastructure is not beneficial.

The logical solution to this clear and present issue is trenchless technology.

The main problem, however, lies in the fact that the number of players advocating for trenchless technology in these regions is very low. (Read Top 5 Challenges Faced By Trenchless Technology Projects.)


The Asian water demand is expected to grow more than half by 2050, putting around 3.4 billion people at the brink of facing water insecurity. The past 20 years have seen Asia incur half of the estimated global economic cost of water-related disasters.

The sewer network, on the other hand, needs up-gradation to cater to the increased load from innumerable lateral connections to main sewer lines. These main lines were not designed to carry the load that is being imposed on them without improving their carrying capacity. (Read How Loads Affect Buried Pipes.)

The Solution in Trenchless Technology

Trenchless technology is not just limited to installation and repair. (Read Why Trenchless Technology is a Perfect Fit for Fiber Optic Cable Installation.)

The most important benefit of trenchless technology lies in the ability to use non-destructive methods to study sub-surfaces.

This study not only allows trenchless companies to understand what lies beneath in terms of geological features which helps in designing pipelines for installation, but it also helps in conducting a condition assessment of existing pipelines.

Condition assessment helps in identifying problems at an early stage by using non-destructive remote inspection methods such as closed-circuit-television (CCTV) cameras, cameras mounted on robotic crawlers, and pipe penetrating radar. (Read A Look at Pipe Penetrating Radar.)

Some benefits are:

  • It helps identify problems and take appropriate measures based on maintenance or capacity issues.
  • Helps identify previously unknown problem areas that could result in major maintenance issues.
  • Helps reduce costs associated with emergency maintenance requirements by identifying serious problems before it becomes an emergency.
  • Helps in planning and prioritizing projects based on rehabilitation or replacement.
  • Early identification leads to the use of rehabilitation methods that are less expensive.

Many old pipelines are structurally degraded impacting its operation and maintenance. Where problems such as deposition of sediments, inflow/ infiltration (I/I), and tree root infiltration have taken place, the pipeline will need to be rehabilitated.

Sometimes the condition of the pipeline is so deteriorated and the grade completely spoiled that it may require complete replacement using trenching.

Trenchless Methods

Horizontal directional drilling (HDD), microtunneling, pipe ramming, pipe jacking and horizontal auger boring (HAB) are some of the trenchless pipeline installation methods. The requirement for small areas of excavation compared to trenching the entire length is very beneficial for cities.

Usually two excavations — one at the entry point and one at the exit are enough for a trenchless project. All these methods are remotely guided using the latest technological advancements. This prevents cross boring and deviation allowing pipelines to be installed with very little variation in line and grade.

Cured-in-place pipe, sliplining, pipe bursting and thermoformed pipe are some of the trenchless rehabilitation methods. Most of these methods can be carried out from manholes or from small excavations, eliminating the need to dig up to pipe depth to get to the problem area.

Trenching also carries with it the risk of harming other pipelines in the vicinity and also mistakenly exposing pipes that do not require rehabilitation.

Trenchless inspection methods on the other hand help pinpoint problem areas, ensuring that only the problematic areas are rehabilitated leaving good pipes intact. The technology can also be used to upgrade pipe size and increase carrying capacity without digging and removing the old pipe.

The growing construction industry in Asia can benefit greatly by adapting trenchless technology. Improving sub-surface infrastructure along with surface infrastructure is a great way to renew a city from its depth.

The best way to maintain the sub-surface is to conduct periodic condition assessment and carry out regular maintenance work using trenchless methods which is also the best answer to a lack of space in cities.

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Written by Tabitha Mishra | Civil Engineer, Technical Content Writer

Tabitha Mishra

Tabitha has a Bachelors Degree in Civil Engineering from Mumbai University, India, and is currently freelancing as a technical content writer. Prior to writing, she has worked as a site engineer and site manager for various building construction, building rehabilitation, and real estate evaluation projects.

Tabitha is also certified as a Primavera project management professional and is well versed with Auto CAD. In her spare time, she does private consultation for small-sized home builders and assists with plans and permissions.

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