Growing up in heavy construction, and running projects for his dad during summers, one thing Gregory Penza says he learned is that the only way to compete in construction is to come up with new and better ways to do things. And he decided after he started a pipeline rehabilitation company in the early 1990s that new and better in that line of work has to include robotics.
“I bought the only pipeline robot on the market for cutting holes for lateral reinstatement,” he says. The device was designed to crawl through newly relined sewer mains and reopen the covered-over connections to the service lines to residences. “It didn’t work,” he adds.
He worked with a couple of machinists to try and fix the robot, but in the end he gave up and worked with them to create his own robot. That was in 1994, and he hasn’t looked back. Penza now is president, CEO and founder of ULC Robotics Inc., Hauppauge, N.Y. “We are an R&D company—and then we commercialize the products we develop,” he says. ULC has four divisions that cover robotics R&D, robotic pipeline inspections, services to energy utilities and UAV aerial services. It has 89 employees—40 of them in R&D—and the company holds 17 patents and has 30 active patent applications, many listing Penza as an inventor.
In 2018, among the company’s creations, a robot called CISBOT (cast-iron sealing robot) began gaining traction with utilities in the U.S. and the U.K. The companies are using 10 of the CISBOTs to crawl through cast iron pipelines to find and seal leaking joints from the inside, avoiding a great deal of street opening work and excavations.
“Greg Penza is a key partner to National Grid,” confirms Kenneth Daly, the company’s COO in the electric division, one of Penza’ customers. “The CISBOT technology has provided the highest level of innovation, while being user friendly and practical to implement. This technology has transformed the way we repair gas pipelines. It has saved our customers $35 million in costs and reduced our environmental footprint.”
Daly called Penza “an industry leader,” and says “he has delivered industry-changing robotic solutions to the complex operations and engineering challenges that we face as a company.”
Penza moves fast on innovations to improve safety and efficiency, and talks more about the future and what’s in development than the past—as is to be expected. But stay tuned: His next construction innovation robot promises to be a showstopper.