Levi Strauss Pipe

Levi Strauss: PIPE Bursting at the Seams

While infrastructure deterioration is often associated with municipalities, the problem does not stop there. Factories and plants around the country are facing the same problem. Their sewer systems have failed and need to be replaced. Many facilities built in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s are now in need of pipe rehabilitation. This problem creates many challenges for plant managers and facility engineers. These problems include, rehabilitating without causing a major disruption to the plant, halting production or losing valuable man-hours and, of course, remaining fiscally responsible.

Levi Strauss recently dealt with this situation at two of its plants, one in Warsaw, Virginia and the other in El Paso, Texas. The plant in Warsaw was the first Levi plant built east of the Mississippi River. It’s celebrating its 45th anniversary this year. Its problems were typical. After several decades a 322 foot length of cast iron sewer pipe deteriorated and could no longer function properly.

Project Profile:

  • Warsaw, VA – PCF 145 Grundocrack tool with a 6″ front expander for the 322′ long burst.
  • A 5 ton constant tension GRUNDOWINCH.
  • El Paso, TX – PCF 145 Grundocrack with a 6″ front schnoze and rear expander for the 240′ burst which took 47 minutes.
  • The 4″ cast iron system was upgraded to 6″ HDPE SDR 17 pipe.
Levi Strauss Pipe

Pipe fusion took place outside the plant. In addition, the 240 foot PE pipe was connected to the pipe bursting tool and launched from outside of the building.

According to Jim Green, Levi’s North American Facilities Planning Manager, there was plenty of trouble with the old sewer pipe. He says, “The plant had constant problems with the sewer backing up and flooding. The local sewer and drain service was called in on a regular basis. Eventually the pipe got so bad, it had to be replaced.” The Levi Strauss plant in El Paso, on the other hand, was built in the early 1970s. It was suffering from a deteriorating 4 inch cast iron sewer pipe. After constant back-ups a local sewer and drain service shot a video of the pipe with a fiber optic camera. The video showed a deteriorating pipe, but did not reveal the total extent of the damage. After more back-ups, something needed to be done.

Pipe Bursting Solutions

Levi Strauss Pipe

Charlie LeFon and Eastern Utilities Specialists crew member Clem Hough III, at the El Paso plant, watch as the Grundocrack finishes a successful pipe burst.

Pipe bursting was the ideal rehabilitation method for the Levi Strauss plants. Specifically pipe bursting with the Grundocrack System from TT Technologies. Green did not want to open trench either facility and face a major plant re-organization and equipment move. Moving equipment at any Levi Strauss plant is very difficult and time consuming. Their sewing machines are nothing like Grandmother’s antique treadle machine. These are state-of-the-art. In order to move them, air connections and electrical lines, as well as an electronic network, would need to be disconnected.

Besides the complex network, the machines need to be perfectly level to operate correctly. Then there is the human factor. Green says, “In many cases an operator has used that machine for years, they know it inside and out. Once moved, it changes and that operator has to become re-acquainted with it. Production is thrown off.”

Green had another concern. The tile in both plants is held in place with asbestos based glue. While that is okay as long as the tile is not disturbed, tearing it up and replacing it requires an abatement by specially trained and licensed technicians. Special permits are also needed. That type of removal is rather expensive and takes a tremendous amount of time. Plus, it would have needed to be done before work could begin on the sewer pipe. That’s why Jim Green decided to go with a trenchless option for the plant in Warsaw and ultimately the plant in El Paso.

Eastern Utilities Specialists, Inc. (EUS) of Fredricksburg, VA was contracted to pipe burst the Warsaw plant. According to Charlie LeFon, President of EUS, industrial pipeline rehabilitation is a common occurrence. He says, “There are plants all over this country that are old and have this problem. Pipe bursting is a perfect way to solve it.”

Down In The West Texas Town

Levi Strauss Pipe

The PCF 145 Grundocrack pneumatic pipe bursting tool with a 6 inch front schnoze and rear expander emerges after a 240 foot run at the Levi plant in El Paso.

The Levi Strauss pipe burst in Warsaw was completed over a weekend. The EUS crew used a PCF 145 Grundocrack from TT Technologies with a 6 inch front expander. The 322 foot burst went underneath the entire length of the plant diagonally. Jim Green was so impressed by the result, he recommended Eastern Utilities Specialists for the El Paso job. Now, Charlie LeFon and his EUS crew, along with TT Technologies Product Specialist/Trainer Brian Mattson, were headed to El Paso for another pipe burst.

The El Paso job was just the second pipe burst with the Grundocrack system for the EUS crew. Warsaw was the first. Brian Mattson would continue to provide technical assistance to the crew. Before they even left for El Paso, Mattson provided thorough training on everything from set up to maintenance. On the job site, he made sure they had everything they needed for a successful burst.

LeFon explains, “We only had the weekend to complete the job in El Paso, a long way from home. If we didn’t have what we needed, we would have been in a tough situation. Brian did an excellent job helping make sure things went according to plan.”

When the EUS crew arrived at the El Paso plant, they ran a more advanced closed-circuit camera through the sewer line. LeFon says, “We could see the entire bottom of the old cast iron pipe was eaten away. It was in very bad shape. We also used the camera to locate lateral connections to the pipe.”

Levi Strauss Bursting With Success

Levi Strauss Pipe

A section of the old 4 inch cast iron pipe from the El Paso plant shows significant deterioration

After the EUS crew identified lateral connections at the Levi plant in El Paso, they set locations for launch and exit pits. The launch pit was outside, to the right of the main entrance. The exit pit was inside, 240 feet away, on a section of floor that was not tiled. A 5 ton GRUNDOWINCH was brought in on a fork lift through service doors. Only one sewing machine was moved.

The GRUNDOWINCH provides constant tension as it guides the bursting tool through the host pipe, despite varying tool speeds. Ultimately it ensures no “slack” is present in the winchline.

The burst went very smoothly. The 4 inch cast iron system was upgraded to 6 inch HDPE SDR 17 pipe. The Eastern Utilities crew was assisted by H.B.B. Construction of El Paso, TX. H.B.B. supplied a master plumber, made all of the lateral connections and did restoration work after the burst was done. The 240 foot burst took only 47 minutes to complete.

Jim Green was very pleased with the results. He says, “I would not hesitate to use pipe bursting again. It saved us time, labor, money and a lot of potential headaches.”

Recently, companies like Levi Strauss, Hoechst Celanese and General Motors have found the solution to a problem facing thousands of companies in the United States and beyond. They have been able to upgrade and rehabilitate deteriorated sewer lines, without disrupting their facilities, halting production or being fiscally irresponsible. The solution they found is pipe bursting.


By Jim Schill

Trenchless Technology, August 1998, Pages 59-61