Maximize Productivity on Fiber Jobs with HDD Tooling

By: Jeff Davis, Ditch Witch product manager, HDD tooling and drill pipe

The fiber industry is rapidly expanding, increasing demand for horizontal directional drilling (HDD) installation. It is a demand that will continue steadily as the need for quicker data delivery shows no signs of slowing down. 

Most contractors working in the underground fiber installation industry, know that selecting the appropriate drill for each project is key to optimal productivity and ROI. Some may not realize, however, the equal importance of choosing the right HDD tooling for each job.  

HDD plays an important role in the fast-growing fiber installation industry. Even on long-haul jobs – where vibratory plows and trenchers are best suited for product installation – HDD units are often required to step into tough operator conditions, such as overpass embankments, side hills, water crossings, wooded areas and rough terrain.

HDD tooling is vital to helping operators maximize their productivity on projects where drills take a leading role. 

Backreamers can make these projects easier, subbing for drill bits during the installation of large diameter product. Drill bits, on the other hand, can be used exclusively to create the smaller bore paths required for many feeder lines which extend off the main, central fiber backbone. On these projects, many operators forego a backream, shooting through the hole, out the exit and pulling the drill bit right back as quickly as possible. 

To help guide HDD tooling selection for fiber jobs, operators should consider these questions: 

What are the ground conditions? 

While many fiber job sites have a smaller footprint requiring compact drill rigs, ground conditions can vary widely. Operators need to know what they’ll encounter underground to select the best tooling to confidently, effectively and efficiently complete the project, as well as increase the life of their equipment. After all, time is money. 

Soft soil, sand, dirt and cobble rock each impact drill bits and backreamers differently. For instance, cobble rock requires tooling that will help operators more accurately steer and maneuver down hole. Clay, meanwhile, requires tooling that helps with fluid management and accuracy. Correctly matching HDD tooling to ground conditions before a job begins will help reduce premature wear on equipment.

Remember: Every job and bore is different, so tooling decisions should be made separately for each project after conditions are analyzed. 

What tooling is best for varying ground conditions?

Soft Ground

In soft soils, it is recommended that operators use a bit that effectively penetrates the soil, assists with steering adjustments and helps properly mix soil with fluids. For example, the Ditch Witch® Barracuda and Tornado bits are the most cost-effective in these conditions and don’t wear prematurely, especially in more abrasive soils such as sand or soft clay. Additionally, the paddle design and angle best mix material with fluids for a successful bore.  

  • Barracuda Bits – can be effective in most soil conditions, but work best when in soft and medium conditions, including sand and sandy loam soils. 
  • Tornado Bits – designed with button and crushed carbide,they optimize performance and extend tool life when working in medium-soft soils, such as sandstone. 

If a backream is necessary in soft soils, it is recommended that operators choose a backreamer that will quickly attach to the rig, saving valuable time on the job. Today, some backreamers have easy connectors built-in, such as the Ditch Witch® EZ Backreamer, to help operators quickly attach the reamer without using machine torque and putting additional stress on the connection point. In addition, choosing a backreamer with efficient fluid mixing is important in soft-to-medium soil conditions, like sand and clay, that require more effective fluid management. For example, the Ditch Witch SandHog HD and Beavertail HD backreamers effectively enlarge the hole while mixing the drilling fluids with spoils using less horsepower for easier product installation. 

  • Beavertail HD Backreamers – have a low-weight design and low-resistance profile that provide more efficient fluid-mixing downhole and require less horsepower for rotation. Featuring replaceable, hardened-steel Allen-head nozzles, flow flexibility is improved and lifecycle is extended. 
  • SandHog HD Backreamers – designed for aggressive cutting, mixing and packing, these triple-action backreamers create the best prepared bore paths for pullback in sandy and soft soils. They are strategically engineered to cut the hole true to size and provide maximum capacity for fluid flow while affording easy product pullback in unstable ground conditions. 

Hard Rock

Hard, solid ground conditions present their own set of distinctive challenges on fiber projects. Drill bits often wear down prematurely, increasing the difficulty of making steering adjustments.  Choosing a drill bit that most effectively moves loose material out of the way will assist operators with steering and provide a clearer cutting path. To boost performance in these conditions, drill bits with a hard surface, such as carbide, help protect the tool from abrasive environments and extend their usable life. Additionally, replaceable, angled carbide teeth improve longevity and increase cut productivity. The Ditch Witch Tuff bits and TriHawk® bits are designed specifically for hard ground, and if drilling in solid rock, the Rockmaster® rotary bits are designed specifically for our All Terrain drills, to improve productivity and assist with more accurate steering. 

  • Tuff Bits – designed for improved longevity, they are ideal for hard, compacted soils and sedimentary rock. The bit’s strength and stability is able to handle the pounding and vibration of drilling in hard rock. 
  • TriHawk Bits – field-proven to provide unbeatable performance and reliability in hard, soft and cobble rock, they are high quality and heat treated allowing steel and strategically placed carbide to extend their usable life. 
  • Rockmaster® Bits – engineered with premium bearing technology and patented edge guard protection, improve longevity in hard rock conditions. These bits are specifically designed for the Ditch Witch® All Terrain drills, and are made with high-performance components and tungsten carbide or steel tooth design options for variable ground conditions. 

When installing fiber in rocky conditions, operators may or may not require a backreamer and enlarged hole. For fast installation in these environments, the Ditch Witch Swab backreamers flush the hole with proper drilling fluids without enlarging it. If a project calls for an enlarged bore hole, however, the Rockmaster® backreamers help operators productively install fiber conduit by enlarging the hole in solid rock. 

  • Swab Backreamers – designed for direct pullback for the All Terrain drills in rocky and hard soils, they connect directly to the All Terrain drill pipes without the use of connectors for improved productivity and efficiency on the job. 
  • Rockmaster® Backreamers – designed for heavy and solid rock bores, they are available in four reamer body sizes to fit a variety of different job sites. They feature replaceable cutters, reducing costs and extending the life of the backreamers when working in these challenging conditions. 

Understanding ground conditions and selecting the correct tooling is the first step for any fiber job. This will both improve job-site productivity and extend the life of the equipment. Do your research and make sure tooling is a part of the planning process. For assistance with tooling selections, visit the Ditch Witch tooling site or contact your local Ditch Witch dealer.

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