DTE Energy Tackles Tough Terrains, Efficiently Powers Michigan

As the largest utility company in Michigan, DTE Energy is responsible for providing gas and electricity to homes and businesses across the state. Due to the state’s range of landscapes, meeting tight completion deadlines for jobs in diverse ground conditions is familiar territory for DTE Energy. In the South, for example, clay is common. Up north, sand is often encountered.

When the utility won a project near Traverse City in northern Michigan with sprawling hills of loose, sandy soil, they knew an additional challenge would be thrown in the mix. This soil alone could tax machines on flat terrains, and the addition of hills risked turning the installation into a crawling endeavor.

“Some projects have been challenging in the past because our machines didn’t have the power to efficiently work in diverse jobsite conditions,” said Mike Kocis, construction supervisor at DTE Energy. “For the Traverse City project, we expected to plow between 700 to 800 feet on the best days. Not fast enough to complete the job by our deadline.”

The project involved utility installation in a new, tiered housing development where each row of houses was set another layer up the hill. Before development could begin, 5,000 feet of pipe needed to be laid for the incoming houses. The tiered design also increased the difficulty of the jobsite by making certain portions hard to access.\

An Uphill Battle

Before the work had even begun, the DTE Energy Greater Michigan construction group was searching for new, potential solutions in case the complex conditions caused too many inefficiencies with their current fleet of trenching, plowing and other installation equipment. But committing to a new machine depended on the first day of the job.

“On day one, we took our equipment out to the easiest part of the jobsite, where it was flat and relatively accessible. The sand alone slowed us enough to risk missing the deadline if we stuck with it,” continued Kocis. “The tires sunk in, and the machine would hardly move. We needed to look beyond our traditional practices.”

In the past, tough jobsites led DTE Energy gas construction crews to pull their trenching equipment with backhoes. The method was inefficient and increased costs due to an additional worker and machine on-site. For the Traverse City project, the company knew that this was not an option. As part of the search for a potential fix, DTE Energy turned to the local Ditch Witch Sales of Michigan dealership located in Howell, Michigan, which shared the benefits of a Ditch WitchRT125 Quad utility tractor.

Powered by 121-hp turbocharged Tier 4 diesel engines for boosted performance, the RT125 Quad provides boosted power for a wide range of utility installation jobs. It also offers best-in-class ground clearance and standard four-wheel drive systems for enhanced maneuverability, traction and mobility for a variety of ground conditions.

To fully learn what the RT125 Quad was capable of, DTE Energy challenged the Ditch Witch dealer to demo the machine on one of the toughest sections of the project: a steep hill composed almost entirely of soft sand.

“We expected some efficiency improvement because of the tracks, but what we experienced was unbelievable. The RT125 Quad moved up that hill faster than we could walk it,” said Kocis. “Over a single day, it put 3,000 feet of 2-inch pipe in the ground. The cost-per-foot efficiency gains were immediately apparent.”

DTE Energy rented the RT125 Quad for the remainder of the project. The machine offered a huge boost to productivity and helped redistribute the extra employees who used to pull the old machine with a backhoe. The company also installed the gas pipe well before the project deadline.

An Expanding Fleet

News of the cost-per-foot savings was shared across the company once the Traverse City project was complete. Employees heard about the rate pipe was going into the ground and realized new, available work. Crews were also working better, as they could make full use of a machine suited to their job.

“DTE Energy used to pass jobs onto contractors who had the capacity and equipment to do the work,” explained Kocis. “The efficiency gains from using the RT125 Quad has helped us take on more projects we wouldn’t have in the past.”

The newfound success received attention from the DTE Energy budget team, which was responsible for evaluating potential new equipment. Their evaluations took into consideration efficiency gains and the ROI from the Ditch Witch unit. In the end, the RT125 Quad was deemed a worthwhile investment.

After four months of renting the trencher, DTE Energy invested in a both a Ditch Witch RT125 Quad and a more compact, mid-size RT80 Quad ride-on trencher.

Grayling and Beyond

Now with the RT125 Quad and RT80 Quad available for crews, DTE Energy continues to take on more jobs ideally suited for the machines. For example, the company has found the RT80 especially beneficial in Grayling, Michigan, a city east of Traverse City where more flat land with tough clay soil is found.

“The efficiency of the Ditch Witch trenchers has let us take on a Grayling job that was previously passed over,” said Kocis. “The RT80 Quad is a perfect fit for the territory. We need something compact yet powerful that gives operators the confidence to tackle any project.”

For more information on the Ditch Witch trenchers, please visit https://www.ditchwitch.com/trenchers#content-359.

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