HDDs Still Doing What They Do Best

Sept. 28, 2010


With more than 1,000,000 pounds of thrust/pullback, the American Augers DD-Million Eighty from Astec ranks among the largest HDDs. It's mounted on its own trailer, which tips up for operation.
The all-terrain version of the Ditch Witch JT4020 is designed to drill through virtually all types of material. The HDD uses an inner and outer pipe arrangment.
TT Technologies uses a percussive action along with thrust and rotation to steer through difficult and rocky soils.
The number of HDDs in operation in 2003 is 11,648 - a 35 percent increase over 1999. The majority of the increase took place over the last two years. The number of firms operating HDDs climed 7 percent from 1999 to 6,150 firms.
Vermeer's new D100x120 Navigator has an operator's station equipped with an adjustable swivel, toggle switches with breakout system and a Remote Lockout System.
Manufacturers at a Glance


American Augers (Astec)

New models: DD-220C, DD-580, DD-880, DD-Million Eighty.
Noteworthy features: New control panel, ES!LOK exit side lockout system, enclosed cab, rack-and-pinion carriage.


Noteworthy features: Enclosed cab with heater and air conditioning, John Deere engine, hydraulic setup, choice of rod-loading system.

Case (Astec)

Noteworthy features: Duplex Drive System, Load Management and Control System, on-board drilling fluid pump, two-speed thrust/pullback, two-speed ground drive.

Ditch Witch

New models: JT4020AT. Noteworthy features: All-terrain capability, cruise control, mechanical horsepower transfer, low drilling fluid.

Robbins HDD

Noteworthy features: Rack-and-pinion carriage travel system, self-contained units, two-speed carriage travel. Midi and maxi HDDs, reliable hydraulic systems.


Noteworthy features: Centerline thrust, auto-drill feature, independent pumps for pullback and rotation, Power Loader, positive grip open top wrenches, ergonomic operator's station, fast tramming, power stake-down system.

TT Technologies

New models: Grundodrill 15x c.
Recent changes: Upgraded thrust/pullback to 33,000 pounds.
Noteworthy features: Percussive action, self-contained, dual hydraulic system, rod-management system, easily accessible components.


New models: D100×120, D200×300.
Recent changes: Added Remote Lockout.
Noteworthy features: Rack-and-pinion carriage drive, RockFire operating mode.

$220,000  Average base price, HDDs with 20,000-lb. pullback to 100,000-lb. pullback.*$484,000 Average base price, HDDs with more than 100,000-lb. pullback.*11,648  Number of HDDs in operation in 2003. This is a 35 percent increase from 1999.***Source: The "Green Guide," vol. 2, published by EquipmentWatch - 800/669-3282
**Source: 2003 Universe of Construction Equipment, published by Construction Equipment
  • Basic Specifications: HDDs (Over 20,000 pounds of pullback)

The good news is that despite some rocky going lately, the horizontal-directional-drill (HDD) business is still viable, although not in areas that once showed the greatest promise. A couple of years ago, it looked as if the telecommunications market would take just about all of the HDDs being produced. But with the decline of the big telecoms, that HDD business took a big dip.

Contractors who had staked their claim on the future of the telecom business lost out. Today, the market points to used HDDs, and that market is doing well. According to the 2003 Universe of Construction Equipment study conducted by Construction Equipment, the number of HDDs acquired new has decreased from 86 percent in 1999 to 67 percent in 2003.

But while the telecom segment of the market has diminished, other areas such as cable installation and utilities work remain viable. And the use of HDDs to install underground lines remains the best and most efficient way to go. The benefits of HDD installation stay unchanged. When it comes to underground installation in areas where ground surfaces can't be disturbed, the HDD remains the choice. When accuracy over longer distances is required, the nod goes to the HDD.

In this story, we'll be focusing on HDDs with a thrust/pullback of more than 20,000 pounds. This represents 38 percent of the total number of HDDs in operation, according to Construction Equipment's Universe Study. Of this number, 29 percent fall into the 20,000- to 50,000-pound category. The largest HDDs, running up to several hundred thousand pounds in thrust/pullback generally are owned, and often designed, by companies that specialize in work requiring these size machines.

A look at some of the newest HDDs shows that despite slack sales, manufacturers are not neglecting advancements in design and operation. For example, Vermeer's two newest machines, the D100×120 Navigator and the D200×300 Navigator, account for a number of important features. The D100×120, with 100,000 pounds of pullback, also has 12,000 ft.-lb. of rotational torque—a combination, says Vermeer, that results in easier, more efficient handling of larger products. In addition, the drill is designed to produce high mud flow. This is accomplished using a 200-gpm on-board pump for increased backreaming efficiency and powering downhole mud motors.

Where once HDDs were difficult to operate, refinements have greatly eased the job. Case in point: the operator's station on the D100×120. At the operator's station, an adjustable swivel, toggle switches with breakout system, fluid pump, radio and throttle switches are all within easy reach. Strategically placed between the operator and the bore path, drilling pressure gauges, a flow meter and a drilling fluid pump monitor the bore. Also featured is a Remote Lockout System, a two-way communication and control tool that allows workers to lock out the drill stem rotation, thrust and fluid flow along the bore path or at the exit site.

The larger D200×300, with 200,000 pounds of thrust/pullback, has many of the same features as the D100×120, but also has a two-man enclosed operator's station from where virtually all functions are controlled. It also has an attached crane to handle drill stem up to 32 feet long and upset diameters up to 10 inches.

Among the latest models in Ditch Witch's HDD line is the JT4020, which comes in two versions: Mach 1 and All Terrain. With 40,000 pounds of pullback, the unit is packed with electronics that handle many of the HDDs functions. A cruise-control feature maintains desired thrust, pullback and rotation speed. And a single-lever control allows for precise drilling and backreaming adjustments. In addition, the automated pipeloader consists of hydraulic pipe grippers, single pipe loading, hydraulic shuttle stop, and automated thread lubrication. A high drilling fluid flow is achieved with an on-board pump that enables productive drilling at extended distances. Normal flow rate can be operated simultaneously with thrust/pullback and rotation.

The JT4020 All-Terrain version is designed to take virtually all types of conditions, including the ability to drill through rock, cobblestone, broken rock, gravel, and soil/rock mixes. The system uses an outer pipe for steering and backreaming, and an inner pipe for mechanically powering the bit during the pilot bore. The HDD remains secure in all types of ground conditions, thanks to a hydraulic four-point anchor system. As with the Mach 1, the All Terrain has an adjustable drill frame that can be set up at normal drilling angles without raising the tracks off the ground.

Also available in a Mach 1 and an All Terrain version is the JT2720. It has an on-board processor that controls the ground drive and pipeloader, as well as all drilling functions. This processor also works to increase productivity with a diagnostics feature that automatically monitors and troubleshoots the system. Also included is the cruise-control feature found on the larger JT4020. The JT2720 has a pullback of 27,000 pounds and a thrust of 24,800 pounds.

TT Technologies' solution to drilling through rocky soils is the Grundodrill 15x c. In addition to the typical thrust and rotation applied to the drill, the Grundodrill also applies a percussive action. According to TT Technologies, this percussive action lets the 15x c take on jobs that usually are reserved for larger machines. With 33,000 pounds of thrust and pullback, the 15x c has an on-demand percussive force that provides the dynamic energy needed to steer in difficult and rocky soils.

Astec Industries, which purchased American Augers and also markets Case HDDs as well as three machines under the Astec name, offers a number of machines in a wide size range through its Astec Underground Group. Case's offering in the 20,000-pound-pullback-and-up range is the 6030 Turbo. The machine features Case's Duplex Drive System, a chain-drive system that Case says reduces load on key drive components by more than 50 percent compared to competitive HDDs. The system also provides smooth operation and fine controllability of the drill head. Maintenance demands are also reduced, because there are no cylinders. The system's components can be easily accessed for routine service and adjustment.

An optional Load Management and Control System controls thrust speed to manage engine load and automatically assists the operator to maintain maximum system performance. The 6030 Turbo has a two-speed thrust/pullback of 30,000 pounds.

Larger HDDs from American Augers range from the DD-6, with a thrust/pullback of 60,000 pounds, to the massive DD-Million Eighty, which develops 1.08 million pounds of thrust/pullback. This HDD is powered by two Cat engines, providing a total of 1,500 horsepower. This maxi-rig also served to introduce American's new control panel, now available on mid-range as well as maxi-rigs. The new low-profile panel gives the operator a better view of the drill stem as it is being put into the ground. In addition, the illuminated gauges for pressure, thrust, and pullback have been enlarged for easier viewing at the top of the new panel. The updated panel also includes new cabling and connectors throughout and more durable labeling. The operator's controls have friction-hold settings built in so that the operator can set desired levels for speed, rotation and thrust/pullback without having to physically hold them in position. As with previous models of this control panel, drilling-fluid-system controls, if used, may be integrated directly into the panel or attached afterward if desired.

Others with HDDs in the mid- to maxi-size range include StraightLine, Robbins and Barbco. StraightLine, which was one of the first companies to produce HDDs, has the model 2462, with 24,000 pounds thrust and pullback. The drill string has been lowered to the same plane as the pull down chains, providing more stable platform and transforming power more effectively into the ground. The Auto Drill feature allows the rotation/pullback speeds and mud flow to be precisely set for "hands-free" drilling.

Robbins, long known for its large tunneling equipment, now has the HDDs previously sold under the Contractors Manufacturing Services name. The new group is known as Robbins HDD. In the lineup are a number of machines ranging from the 3010TMSC with 32,800 pounds pullback up to the 55030TLMSC at 550,000 pounds pullback. The 3010TMSC can drill up to 1,200 feet in soft soil or rock. The fully self-contained unit has a rack-and-pinion carriage travel system with fast two-speed carriage travel. The maxi HDDs start with the 18030TMSC at 180,000 pounds pullback and range up to the 55030TLMSC.

Barbco offers three HDD models ranging up to 110,000 pounds pullback. This machine, the BD110-20SC, is powered by a 275-hp John Deere engine. The rod-loading system is available with an automatic rod loader or a crane with a rod handler. The operator's station is enclosed in a heated and air-conditioned cab.

Basic Specifications: HDDs (Over 20,000 pounds of pullback) Manufacturer/Model Maximum Pullback (lbs.) Maximum Thrust (lbs.) Max. Rotational Torque (lb.-ft.) Mounting Gross Engine Power (hp) Operating Weight (lbs.) Specifications shown here are based on information provided by manufacturers and Spec Check and are given here for comparison only. Specifications are subject to change and manufacturers or their distributors should be contacted for the most current information. American Augers             DD-10 95,000 95,000 15,000 Track 375 54,600 DD-140B 140,000 140,000 25,000 Track 300 58,000 DD-220C 220,000 220,000 45,000 Track 525 85,000 DD-330 330,000 330,000 48,000 Trailer 750 81,500 DD-580 580,000 580,000 88,500 Trailer 1,200 DD-6 60,000 60,000 10,000 Track 188 22,250 DD-8 80,000 80,000 13,600 Track 260 24,000 DD-880 880,000 880,000 88,500 Trailer 1,200 DD-Million Eighty 1,080,000 1,080,000 100,000 Trailer 1,500 145,000 Astec Underground DD-6 60,000 60,000 10,000 Track 188 22,250 DD-8 80,000 80,000 13,600 Track 230 31,000 DD-10 95,000 95,000 15,000 Track 375 54,600 Barbco BD-100-20SC 100,000 100,000 12,000 Track 275 42,000 BD-110-20SC 110,000 110,000 17,500 Track 275 43,000 BD-50-20SC 50,000 50,000 8,000 Track 185 36,000 Case 6030T 30,000 30,000 4,000 Track 124 13,685 Ditch Witch JT2720 All Terrain 27,000 16,500 2,700 Track 125 19,850 JT2720 Mach 1 27,000 24,800 3,200 Track 125 20,320 JT4020 All Terrain 40,000 36,000 5,000 Track 185 22,380 JT4020 Mach 1 40,000 36,000 5,000 Track 185 27,500 JT7020 Mach 1 70,000 70,000 10,000 Track 261 42,600 Robbins HDD 18030TMSC 180,000 40,000 Track 450 84,000 25030TLMSC 250,000 48,000 Trailer 525 87,000 3010TMSC 32,800 4,000 Track 125 14,500 36030TLMSC 360,000 52,000 Trailer 920 87,500 4515TMSC 48,000 5,200 Track 155 18,000 55030TLMSC 550,000 68,000 Trailer 1,100 90,000 6015TMSC 64,000 14,000 Track 185 26,500 9015TMSC 100,000 22,000 Track 275 29,000 9030TLMSC 100,000 22,800 Trailer 275 38,000 StraightLine 2462 24,000 24,000 2,250 Track 62 12,020 3550 35,000 35,000 5,500 Track 155 23,330 TT Technologies Grundodrill 10X 27,600 27,600 3,100 Track 68 15,432 Grundodrill 12 G 26,977 26,977 2,655 Track 86 Grundodrill 20 S 44,962 44,962 7,380 Track 160 Vermeer D150×300 150,000 150,000 30,000 Track 400 76,000 D24×33 24,000 24,000 3,300 Track 115 17,000 D24×40A 23,800 17,900 4,000 Track 125 16,600 D33×44 33,000 20,000 4,400 Track 125 15,700 D55×100 55,000 43,500 10,000 Track 185 36,500 D80×120 80,000 56,000 12,000 Track 225 39,000 D100×120 100,000 55,000 12,000 Track 225 39,000 D200×300 200,000 200,000 30,000 Track 400 76,000
Web Resources
  American Augers
Ditch Witch
Robbins HDD
TT Technologies