Horizontal directional drilling (HDD) comprises a large portion of the workload of Chesapeake, Virginia, contractor Global Underground Solutions. Most days Global has five HDD crews at work on a wide variety of projects.
Today, directional drilling is accepted as a proven method of construction by utility providers and engineering consultants who plan projects to install underground infrastructure.
This wasn’t always the case.
Not that long ago, most utility company managers and many contractors viewed the process as a novel experiment too risky to try.
Global partner Rudy Fifield knows the evolution of HDD very well, because he’s been in it since the technology first became available to the utility market.
“I started with a Ditch Witch 4/40 machine in 1990,” said Fifield. “At the time, the company I worked for was making 50- and 60-foot road crossings with unguided boring tools and pipe pushers.”
When Fifield saw the first directional drill at work, he said he knew it represented the future. Subsequently his company purchased what he believes was the second 4/40 machine sold.
“[The 4/40] was nothing like today’s equipment. With 4,000 pounds of thrust and pullback, the drill frame and power pack were separate, tethered by cable,” Fifield said. “The machine had to be pushed around by hand and stakes driven in the ground to hold the machine down. Someone had to carry the rods from the trailer to the machine and tighten every joint with a pipe wrench. Controls were on the carriage frame, so the operator had to walk with the controls up and down the track. Equipment to track the bore path was limited and primitive.”
Fifield and his future partner, John Dennis, learned the directional drilling business and watched it quickly evolve with new, larger, more powerful models that extended the range of HDD installations.
Through an arrangement with communication contractor Secured Network Solutions, Fifield and Dennis established Global Underground Solutions in 2008. The company provides drilling services for clients in telecommunication, electrical, water, and sewer companies, and general contractors in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and North Carolina.
Keys to successful HDD operations are experienced crews using the right equipment.
Global operates five Ditch Witch HDD models: a new JT25 with 27,000 pounds of pullback, two JT2720 models (27,000 pounds pullback), one JT4020 (40,000 pounds pullback), and one JT1720 (17,000 pounds pullback), the oldest and smallest machine in service. Fifield considers the JT25 one of the best drills the Ditch Witch organization has offered since the introduction of the JT2720, which has been his favorite drill model.
“Project owners and prime contractors see the advantages of not having to open-cut roads or figure out how to get across waterways or around obstacles,” Fifield said. “Today, we have also been receiving more calls from engineering firms to consult about projects they are having issues figuring out how to complete. Now we have directional drilling engineers that are opening the world to the directional drilling process.”