Dr. Ray Sterling, director of the Trenchless Technology Center (TTC) at Louisiana Tech University since 1995, has retired but will continue his association with the center as a part time research professor.
Sterling’s last day as director was May 31, and he said he is returning to Minnesota where much of his family lives. Dr. Robert McKim, a former faculty member and TTC associate director from 1998 to 2001, is returning to the Ruston campus as the center’s administrative director. Dr. Erez Allouche, who had served as associate director, has been appointed technical director.
Sterling took the TTC job at a time when the center’s future was uncertain. Founder Dr. Tom Iseley, who had directed the center since it was established, had left to pursue another career opportunity. An interim director kept the center functioning but although there were research proposals pending, there were funding issues and no clear direction for the course the center should take.
“At the time,” said Sterling, “I was administrator of a research center at the University of Minnesota which was suffering a university and state fiscal crisis. We were slated to lose our core operating funds. Even though the center had a substantial annual research budget, it was not realistic to operate the center without core support.”
Sterling had worked with Iseley and followed developments in the various trenchless construction technologies.
“I believed trenchless was a very interesting area of construction and recognized it had great potential,” remembers Sterling. “Trenchless procedures were offering a whole new set of tools for underground construction.”
The vacant TTC directorship was attractive to Sterling at a time when he was ready for a change, and ultimately the center offered him an endowed professorship linked to the position of TTC director.
Sterling immediately set out to better define the center’s role within the trenchless industry and re-energize its links to trenchless companies and municipal users of trenchless technologies.
“I saw our purpose as an independent research organization dedicated to serving the best interests of both municipalities and the industry,” he said.
“We gather technical information and conduct research in an objective fashion, identify and discuss issues, and make the results available in an unbiased manner.”
That Sterling and the staff he has assembled have succeeded is evident. The TTC is making valuable contributions to the continuing development of trenchless technologies through research and development programs and the education of engineers, government agency personnel, contractors and others about the availability and capabilities of trenchless procedures.
An important element in the center’s success, Sterling believes, is its university, industry and government base of support. Other contributing factors include its interdisciplinary faculty’s broad range of expertise, highly specialized testing facilities along with active technology transfer and information dissemination activities to allow the latest technologies to reach those who can make effective use of them.
A milestone for the center came in late 2007 with the dedication of the center’s new National Trenchless Technology Research Facility that includes a 20 by 20 foot soil box for testing to apply horizontal and vertical loads to soil and structures and allow construction of purpose built testing frames. The soil box is one of the largest of its kind among the few in North America. Among its capabilities is the ability to conduct controlled studies of full scale soil structure interaction for pipes of several feet in diameter, It enables monitoring of ground movement during pipebursting and pipe jacking and the study of HDD bore hole stability as well as utility locating and pipe characterization technologies.
“The test facility has enhanced our research program tremendously, and we use it extensively,” said Sterling. “It employs a full time technician and has been quite a hive of activity during the past year.”
The addition to the research facility positions the center to more effectively compete for available research projects, said Sterling, and credits it with playing an important part in gaining a three year project for the Transportation Research Board of the National Research Council about rehabilitation of culverts. The study is being conducted in conjunction with CNA Consulting Engineers, Minneapolis, MN, and Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario.
Other programs recently completed or under way are: testing CIPP linings for water pipes in Hamilton, Ontario; a request by New York City to investigate potential methods for lining sewers that are subject to the regular release of steam; a study about utility locating and characterization for the Transportation Research Board; research in collaboration with Battelle on water and sewer rehabilitation innovations for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and research about radar applications to pipe characterization and see ahead utility locating. Another strong area of research activity growth is the study of geopolymer applications to the trenchless industry.
Any time he discusses the TTC center and its programs, Sterling always emphasizes the accomplishments are a team effort and include the support of many organizations and individuals.
“The director is only the face of the center’s successes,” Sterling said. “Without the core financial support and guidance of the TTC industry advisory board and the dedicated faculty and staff of the center, we simply could not have developed to where we are today.”
Sterling believes the center provides a setting that encourages the ambition and mutual support that creates success.
“I like to work in a positive environment, and I believe the TTC provides that,” he said. “Everyone here works hard and cooperatively. It makes working hard fun, and all of our staff certainly works hard.”
Sterling said he believes he is leaving the center in good condition and in good hands.
“The research under way is increasing and the range of the research is expanding” he said. “Reports of inventions are rising, and the increase in activity and workloads is very rapid. This puts a special strain on our core staff, such as Jadranka Simicevic, who has been the center’s researcher engineer for more than 12 years. Dr. McKim has prior experience at the center and is an excellent choice as administrative director. Dr. Allouche has played a key role in the center’s recent upsurge and will serve as technical director. With an immediate goal to complete the new testing facility and new areas of research, there is much to be done.”
Reflecting on his tenure at TTC, Sterling said working with people in the various segments of the trenchless industry has been a highlight of his career.
“One of the real pleasures of my life,” he said, “is knowing people all over the country and the world and sharing personal and professional friendships with them. And that will continue into my retirement, because I intend to remain active in the industry, although at a slower pace.”