FER-PAL Infrastructure

Leaders in Trenchless Technology

Established in 1986, FER-PAL Infrastructure is a trenchless technology company that offers complete water main rehabilitation solutions.

Trenchless technology refers to the method in which FER-PAL replaces or repairs water mains. “We use a methodology that allows us to access the water main at strategic points on the pipeline—approximately 150 metres apart,” says Shaun McKaigue, Vice President at FER-PAL. “We prepare the pipe with different tools and then build a new pipe inside the old one with cement mortar lining or structural pipe lining.”

By using trenchless technology, FER-PAL minimizes traffic delays, restoration costs, and energy consumption.  If you consider the alternative, which is the open cut and replacement methodology, trenchless makes a lot more sense. Instead of a few holes, conventional methods usually call for a long trench to be dug along the entire length of the pipeline, closing streets for a few weeks. Then dump trucks have to take all the dirt, transport it out of town and bring it back when the trench needs re-filling.

Located in Toronto, FER-PAL got into trenchless technology business when its President, Paul Ferretti, saw the potential in cement mortar lining in the late 1980s, even though it wasn’t en vogue at the time. Cement mortar lining counteracts a number of problems with old and corroding pipe, such as rust and poor water quality. Over the years, the company has grown further into the niche industry, becoming a specialist.
“We now offer more than just the cement mortar lining product, says McKaigue. “We are also pioneers in cured in-place pipe (CIPP); in fact, we’re the largest installer of CIPP lining in water mains in North America.”  With well over 100 employees, FER-PAL rehabilitates over 120,000 metres of pipe per year and is a major supplier to municipalities.

FER-PAL has made a name for itself in Ontario, winning several awards for their work. Last year, the company received an award from the Ontario Regional Common Ground Alliance for minimizing damage to an underground plant. “We dig thousands of holes in the course of a year,” says McKaigue,” and we were the most successful contractor in maintaining the plants we have to dig around when accessing water mains.” As an urban-based company, FER-PAL is used to working downtown Toronto, so their strengths lie in the urban infrastructure environment.

It’s not just industry associations that are catching on to trenchless technology, McKaigue says it’s a growing business. “More and more people are trying it and seeing its benefits,” he explains, “and most of our customers are repeat customers.”

It hasn’t always been that way. When you’re dealing with people’s drinking water, change is hard to incite. At first, it was difficult to make municipalities comfortable with the idea of something new. FER-PAL was fortunate to connect with dedicated civil servants that saw the benefits that a city can glean from using trenchless technology. Slowly, decision-makers gave them opportunities, and that’s when they proved themselves.

Increased costs and the prevalence of city congestion also helped in making the company more viable. “People are starting to consider the long term, such as social impact, costs and environment,” says McKaigue. “It used to be driven by the bottom line only.”

Infrastructure deficit
FER-PAL finds itself in the kind of industry where their services will always be in demand. Replacing or rehabilitating water mains are absolutely necessary, especially when municipalities are facing a significant infrastructure deficit.

To put things in perspective, McKaigue explains that even though the design life of any pipe is 50 years,  FER-PAL works on pipe that went into the ground in 1870. Cases like these are not the exception, but the rule. “Cities have been asking pipes to live well beyond their intended lifecycles—the average span right now is about 100 years, so two times longer than what they’re designed for,” he reasons. “At present, municipalities aren’t replacing even 1 per cent of the pipe they need to every year, so you can begin to appreciate the math.”

What happens when pipes are left too long? Water quality is certainly called into question; we all know metal and water makes rust. “Water quality is one aspect that FER-PAL is able to address by using cement mortar lining and structural liners,” says McKaigue. “We can do a lot to improve or maintain water quality, as well as tackle water loss and improving fire flows.”

McKaigue believes that pipes have gone unnoticed because no one sees them. It’s the old adage “out of sight, out of mind”. Until it reaches the critical factor, people aren’t likely to want spend tax money on water mains. “They’re not flashy,” he laughs. “It’s been the poor cousin for a while.”

But cities are starting to look at it from a long-term standpoint,” McKaigue continues. “They’re seeing the reality that what they have under the ground is in need of replacing, and they can’t really afford to stop. Our industry is not a boom and bust industry; it’s a slow progression.”

Coming down the pipe
As their success broadens, FER-PAL Infrastructure is sure to remember the people who helped bring them there: their employees. President Paul Ferretti seemed to be a man of few words, but he was sure to mention his beloved staff who he owes the success of the company to. “Without them, FER-PAL would be nothing,” Ferretti smiles. “We have some of the most innovative and creative people you could ask for. They are the backbone of our company and they are brilliant.”

FER-PAL Infrastructure is expanding to a branch in Michigan, where they are seeing the exact same things. Neglected water mains are not unique to Ontario. “We can see there’s a market out there for our services,” McKaigue says. “I think we can continue the company and fulfill the needs in Ontario, as well as other markets all over North America.”  

Health and Safety
FER-PAL Construction Ltd. believes that every employee is entitled to work in a safe environment. FER-PAL’s commitment to safe work practices begins with its rigorous health and safety training program for each of its employees, a complete and concise Health and Safety manual and an active Joint Health and Safety Committee. FER-PAL offers in house safety training courses such as WHMIS, Chainsaw Safety and Confined Space Awareness and enrolls its employees in training courses offered by the CSAO, EUSA, THSAO and St. John Ambulance’s First Aid training. Through these initiatives FER-PAL is meeting and continues to meet its legislative responsibilities, but most importantly ensures all employees have confidence in their abilities to perform their duties safely and efficiently.