Pipe Prowess

By Beacon Staff

Replacing a broken sewer pipe, like the one at a Kalispell business recently, would normally require uprooting the entire line through excavation. The playground and part of the back alley would need to be torn apart in order to fix the collapsed sewer. But Rod Herrick replaced the entire stretch of line 110 feet underground without tearing up the ground above.

“When we left you never would have known we were there,” said Herrick, founder and owner of Roddie, Inc.

Originally from Silicon Valley in California, Herrick has set up shop in the Flathead Valley and will begin manufacturing and contracting his trenchless pipe bursting technology he began developing in the 1980s. Herrick’s devices apply a method of sewer replacement that requires only a hole at each end of the broken line instead of the conventional method of digging a trench along the entire length.

Pipe bursting is a relatively new process that can be implemented in a variety of ways. Most methods transfer new pipe through the ground, fragmenting the old line into the surrounding soil and replacing new pipe at the same time using a bursting tool being guided from above ground. Different technologies employ different ways to generate force and transfer pipe.

Herrick understands the process sounds implausible, or at the very least obscure, which is why he’s been frequenting trade shows and holding public demonstrations, like the one in Kalispell two weeks ago. Plumbers and other contractors showed up to see Herrick’s technology come to life, which it did and in less than a day’s work.

Herrick plans on manufacturing and distributing his machinery across the nation from the Flathead, a place he said offered a “better quality of living” and cheaper taxes compared to California. He’s partnering with Acutech, a metal manufacturing company on Montana Highway 40 in Columbia Falls, to build components for the trenchless devices, including a new “state-of-the-art” product expected to hit the market next year.

“I’m very impressed with (his technology),” said Dean Grommet, a principal owner and cofounder of Acutech, which supplies components to other manufacturing companies. “I think it’s got a huge future.”

It began with a basic question and a primitive solution. What if there was another less obtrusive way to fix and replace broken pipes? Herrick first asked himself that question in 1985. He was fresh out of high school working as a contractor when he was hired to fix an extensive pipe system next to a massive amusement park in the metropolitan Silicon Valley. Digging up trenches was out of the question, so Herrick brainstormed. Herrick’s solution was converting a military winch into a device that could wind cable through pipes and replace line intravenously.

“It was very primitive but we did get the job done,” he said. “We’ve just taken that and let it evolve over the years and we’ve never stopped trying to improve on that device. That’s how we wound up where we’re at now.”

One of his trenchless machines cost $27,000 on the market, he said, and they’ve shipped across the world. Last year Herrick began contracting out the machines but eventually he wants to stick to only manufacturing. Working with Acutech, he plans to build everything in-house, including a micro tunneling machine that could install new pipe underground using the same trenchless method.

Herrick said he chose to move his company to the Flathead after visiting for years and finally deciding the reward outweighed the risk.

“We wanted to change our direction and we thought this would be a nice platform,” he said. “Well it’s a perfect platform for us, I think, not only as manufacturers but also as contractors working. There’s a lot of old sewer lines in this valley and they’re starting to go bad.”

For more information about Roddie, Inc., visit roddieunderground.com. For more information about Acutech, visit waterjetcut.co.

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