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[November 13, 2006]

Small HDDs Take It The Final Feet

(Construction Equipment Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) After several difficult years, times appear to be good again for the horizontal directional drilling (HDD) industry. Contractors have work, and equipment manufacturers are selling drilling equipment and support products. Although few go so far as labeling HDD's resurgence from the depression of the early 2000s a new "boom," the market is closing 2006 on a strong note and prospects for 2007 are encouraging.

Although big projects where large drilling units install thousands of feet of large-diameter pipe continue to attract attention, most trenchless installations by directional drilling actually are made by much smaller models.

The most recent Universe of Construction Equipment study conducted by Construction Equipment
magazine found that 62 percent of the active HDD population is comprised of equipment rated at 20,000 pounds of pullback or less, and drilling units in that category are the subject of this report.

Currently, six manufacturers offer 15 HDD models in this class, ranging in pullback ratings from 5,000 to 20,000 pounds. Thirteen are track machines, two are skid-mounted, pit-launch models. All of these products pack a surprising amount of power in small packages.

The rebounding telecommunications market, and especially accelerated projects to deploy fiber optic networks to bring broadband services to new customers, is given much of the credit for increasing demand for directional drilling. Many fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) projects are in established neighborhoods where excavation is impractical, impossible or sometimes prohibited.

Horizontal directional drilling is the perfect solution in such situations, and contractors are talking full advantage of the technology to bring services from curb to home or building. Most of these installations are less than 100 feet in length to bury small-diameter conduit in which fiber optic cable is placed.

"Limiting excavation is the key," says Ed Savage, underground segment manager for Vermeer. "That translates into less restoration costs, less closed driveways, less closed streets, less closed sidewalks, less disturbed landscaping, and happier homeowners."

There even are instances where property owners demand trenchless construction once a compact drill unit has worked in a neighborhood, trenchers and even vibratory plows are not welcome there, and residents may pressure project owners and contractors to install services trenchlessly.

Although much attention is focused on the benefits of compact machines for FTTP construction, their value is not limited to only those projects. Compact HDD equipment is active on a variety of projects, including extending electrical-distribution and natural-gas-distribution systems, replacing old power cable and gas pipe, and installing water service lines and sewer laterals.

Several new model designations in the machines in the 20,000-pound-and-less class have been introduced. But basic designs and key components of compact drill units have not changed in the past several years, and some of the features considered standard on mid-range equipment on-board pipe racks, automatic pipe make up and removal are not available on some smaller models. However, manufacturers continue to refine those designs, enhancing already-proven products that have the capabilities needed by the marketplace.

Exceptions of note: Digital Control Inc. (DCI) and Vermeer recently unveiled a new electronic tracking system developed specifically for Vermeer's compact 5,500-pound pullback drilling unit. And while pit-launch HDD units have been available for several years (CE covered the product category in 1998), they have not been widely used. They now appear to have found a new niche on FTTP jobsites with extremely limited space.

Manufacturers offer the following comments about compact-drill units and how they are being used:

Astec Underground
(two models under 20,000 pounds pullback), Gaylord Richey, territory manager: "These small, compact packages allow quick set up in tight working conditions, but have plenty of power to get the job finished in a timely manner. They also require smaller support packages, vehicles, trailers and crews, which makes them more marketable for the residential neighborhoods. When comparing brands and models, buyers should consider size-to-power ratios; thrust, pullback and torque; size of footprint; ease of operation; safety features; and weight for transporting."

Ditch Witch
(four models with pullback of 20,000 pounds or less), Richard Levings, senior product manager: "Which compact model is used depends on job requirements and space available for setup. Smaller models are used in tight spaces and installations from house to curb, larger units are better in difficult soil conditions and for longer runs two blocks or more. Some features are left off small models because they add weight and size and really aren't needed. It also keeps costs down."

McLaughlin Group
(one pit-launch model), Dave Gasmovic, president: "Small, mini-directional rigs are ideally suited to residential fiber installations, but pit-launched models, although more labor intensive in terms of setup and restoration, are an extremely viable alternative when right-of-way restrictions prohibit the use of a surface-launched unit.

Some pit-launched systems allow for the use of multiple drilling methods, not possible with a surface-launched unit, while affording the operator comparable power. Pit-launch versions use the same fluid assist method and also are capable of using an auger and a rotary percussion bit for rock conditions. The system can operate dry or with drilling fluids."

StraightLine
(one 20,000-pound pullback model), Don Cary, president: "The 20,000-pound machine is a good size for many projects. It provides a lot of horsepower that translates into more work with a machine that weighs less and fits in smaller spaces than medium-size models. There is a significant amount of FTTP construction, but there also are new levels of work for gas, power, force sewer systems, and small pipeline construction. We believe this is the foundation for the future of HDD."

TT Technologies
(one track-mount and one pit-launch model with pullback of 20,000 pounds or less), Chris Brahler, president: "Keeping the environmental impact to a minimum is always a benefit of using compact drills, and the demand for the smaller rigs of 20,000 pounds or less has been really strong and growing they are very powerful and versatile. Pit-launch units are used when going building to building. They are great for inner city jobs."

Vermeer
(five models with pullback of 20,000 pounds or less), Ed Savage, underground segment manager: "Compact HDD equipment is suited for any job requiring short (typically 500 feet or less) installation of small-diameter product (4 inches or less). Such jobs include not only fiber deployment, but water, electric, cable television, and sewer laterals. The new DCI DigiTrak LT is a cost-effective HDD tracking system for use with our 5,500-pound pullback drill unit for making the short, relatively shallow installations associated with deployment of fiber systems to end-users."

Estimated Operating Costs Of Compact HDD Equipment Size

Average List Price

Hourly Rate

Units to 7,000 lb.

$75,000

$33.98

7,00110,000 lb.

$81,855

$38.08

10,00115,000 lb.

$128,250

$52.64

15,00120,000 lb.

$154,500

$63.67

HDD Specifications (less than 20,000-lb. pullback) Make

Model

Max Pullback (lb.)

Max Rotational Torque (lb-ft)

Gross Engine Power (hp)

Operating Weight (lb.)

Max Drill Pipe Dia. (in.)

Astec

DD-65 MiniMax

6,000

500

26

2,600

1.75

Astec

DD-1215

12,000

1,500

65

8,500

1.67

Ditch Witch

JT520

5,000

500

26

3,150

1.10

Ditch Witch

JT921

9,000

1,100

50

6,670

1.58

Ditch Witch

JT1220 Mach 1

12,000

1,400

60

9,700

1.82

Ditch Witch

JT2020 Mach 1

20,000

2,200

83

10,800

2.06

McLaughlin

McL-10-H

13,250

1,030

36

1,200

1.50

Straightline

SL2020

20,000

2,000

99

11,000

2.50

TT Technologies

Grundopit 40/60

8,800

442

13

440

1.80

TT Technologies

Grundodrill 4X

9,800

1,100

38

4,100

1.75

Vermeer

D66 Six Shooter

5,500

550

25

2,815

1.32

Vermeer

D711 Series II

9,000

1,300

47

5,660

1.66

Vermeer

D1014

9,600

1,400

47

6,270

1.66

Vermeer

D1620A

16,000

2,000

63

8,800

1.90

Vermeer

D2022

20,000

2,200

85

11,160

2.06

Ditch witchJeff GriffinPower for the Job

The JT2020 packs 20,000 pounds of pulling power and the highest ratio of power to size in its class. Maximum torque is 2,200 foot-pounds and maximum spindle speed is 2,200 rpm. Key features include: a double-sided rack-and-pinion thrust system that provides outstanding power transfer and performance for a wide range of HDD jobs; cruise control that simplifies drilling and back reaming by reducing operator effort; and two-speed carriage decreases cycle time, significantly increasing productivity. Tethered ground drive controller allows the operator to maneuver the unit from a position which provides outstanding power transfer and performance for a wide range of directional-drill jobs.

Number of HDD models with 20,000 pounds pullback or less:
2

TT TechnologiesJeff GriffinCompact for the "Last Mile"

The compact Grundodrill 4X, designed for residential service and "last-mile" operations, offers 9,800 pounds of thrust and pullback. The drill features a dual hydrostatic pump system and four-auger stake down system that provides greater stability. The Grundodrill 4X also comes with the smart-vice system that performs vice cycling operations automatically. The track-mounted machine develops spindle torque of 1,100 foot-pounds and spindle speeds to 200 rpm.

Number of HDD models with 20,000 pounds pullback or less:
2

StraightlineJeff GriffinHydraulic-over-Hydraulic Controls

Central to the design of the SL2020 is the elimination of complex electrical systems in favor of hydraulic-over-hydraulic controls. Additionally the SL2020 has many other class-leading features: 99-hp diesel engine; 30-gpm triplex mud pump; mud-ready swivel; rugged motor/planetary combinations; stake down matched to the size of the machine; machine fit rack and pinion; efficient rotary drive and simple hydraulic and electrical circuits that are intentionally designed to be contractor serviced. At 52 inches wide, the SL2020 fits easily in congested residential areas. Yet, with 20,000 pounds of thrust and pullback and 2,000 foot-pounds of rotary torque, it delivers the performance of a much bigger rig.

Number of HDD models with 20,000 pounds pullback or less:
1

Astec UndergroundJeff GriffinWorks Around Obstacles

The Astec EarthPro DD-65 MiniMax horizontal directional drill offers power and versatility in a compact package. This unit is small enough to work among obstacles in existing landscapes or tight work areas such as against walls or buildings. This unit offers 6,000 pounds of thrust and pullback force and is capable of up to 500 foot-pounds of rotary torque, with a maximum rotary speed of 180 rpm. An onboard duplex mud pump can pump 5 gallons per minute at 650 psi. This unit features the field-proven dual rack-and-pinion carriage drive. It uses 5-foot drill stem with an outside diameter of 1.75 inches and can carry up to 150 feet of pipe. The patented Es!Lok system is integrated into the drill controls.

Number of HDD models with 20,000 pounds pullback or less:
2

vermeerJeff GriffinTwo-Speed Rotation

The Vermeer D2022 produces 20,000 pounds of pullback and has a two-speed rotational system allowing the operator to choose a high rpm to do the pilot bore, and then select a high torque for the pullback. Matched with 2,200 foot-pounds of torque, the D2022 has enough power to turn cutting tools in demanding soil conditions and longer-distance bores, and sufficient torque to accommodate larger back reamers than other machines in this HDD class. The D2022 is the only drill in its class that offers an integrated rock-boring system. A state-of-the-art operator's station is designed for ease and efficiency and provides a forward view of the drilling operation. Controls for thrust/pullback, rotation, and water-pressure gauges are conveniently located.

Number of HDD models with 20,000 pounds pullback or less:
5

McLaughlinJeff GriffinPit-Launched Boring

The powerful McLaughlin McL-10H, pit-launched HDD model can be set up in confined areas where use of a surface-launched drill is prohibited. It produces 13,250 pounds of pullback and 17,000 pounds of thrust, develops 1,030 foot-pounds of torque, and has a maximum spindle speed of 125 rpm. The McL-10H offers different installation methods to accommodate both the soil and job conditions. The system can operate dry or with drilling fluids. Pullback diameters from 2 to 12 inches are possible.

Number of HDD models with 20,000 pounds pullback or less:
1

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information. All Rights Reserved.

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