Conditions Notwithstanding, Need to Drill Remains

Sept. 28, 2010

A challenging time for new-product sales is one thing; absolute industry dormancy is another, perhaps even mortally worse condition. Fortunately for manufacturers of horizontal directional drilling (HDD) units, their sector is anything but the latter, says Richard Levings of Ditch Witch.

"The industry is actually pretty good," says Levings, a senior product manager for trenchless products, "in terms of the usage of HDD, the acceptance of HDD, and the move from other overhead-type installations. HDD, because it's minimally invasive, has opened up the opportunity for a lot of things that are normally put overhead to be put underground. For that reason, and because of just an overall acceptance and somewhat of a maturity stage of the industry, the utilization of HDD is very good.

"Unfortunately for manufacturers, the market for new HDD units is somewhat down, but the utilization is still there. It's not like, 'There's nothing going on; HDD is dead.' It's actually that the utilization is fantastic, but companies are now running their equipment longer and just getting more out of it rather than trading," says Levings.

"When the economy is really good and folks have a year's worth of backlog, they trade fairly often. Backlogs aren't typically out to a year right now; they're two to three months. And that makes a company evaluate their position and say, 'OK, let's fix thisthing a little bit longer or let's ride it. Instead of a two-year trade-in time frame, we're going to go ahead and extend that to a three-year.' And we're kind of in that period. We had sold a lot of new machines the last several years, and so we're in that period of needing to wear those out, so we can cycle back intoa period where they believe it is time totrade up."

In the meantime, customers have been telling manufacturers they want enhanced and new products, and accordingly product lines continue to evolve, as indicated in the gallery of manufacturers (below) serving the market for HDD units above 20,000 pounds in pullback. Updates to the specs chart (below) were being made upon deadline at a pace uncommon to other equipment types featured regularly in this space.

New mid-sized tracked HDDs from such brands as Ditch Witch and Astec Underground, as well as jumbo tracked and maxi-rig trailer units from the likes of Vermeer, American Augers and Barbco push — and pull — the ability for customers to take on more and bigger jobs, says Vermeer's Jon Heinen. With the acquisition of the maxi-rig line from Horizontal Rig & Equipment (HRE) in early 2008, Vermeer offers the Navigator D500x500, D750x900 and D1000x900 units ranging from 500,000 to 1 million pounds in rated maximum pullback. The company's previous largest model was the 333,000-pound-rated jumbo tracked D330x500.

"Really what has drove us into the HRE acquisition was our customers," says Heinen, Vermeer's segment business manager for underground. "Vermeer prides itself on the 'Voice of the Customer,' listening to our customers, and the customers in that 330 market who we have good relationships with — they have come to expect the Vermeer support, and the Vermeer parts, and the local entity with the 330 — they asked us for larger machines.

"They asked us for larger machines, because the bids that they were seeing, the specs on the jobs that they were coming across, were growing, so for us the demand for a larger machine was growing. Basically, it was customer request saying, 'Hey, Vermeer, if you folks are looking to expand your product line, here's where you need to go and here's the reason why: The longer installations, the larger-diameter pipe, and the desire to do business with Vermeer on these larger installations.'

"If we're going to keep some of our existing customers, this is a natural progression for us," says Heinen. "This also opens the door to many customers we traditionally didn't do business with."

During a transition phase, the Vermeer-branded maxi-rigs were manufactured by Texas-based HRE. Now the units are entirely made by Vermeer in Pella, Iowa. The D500x500, D750x900 and D1000x900 packages are comprised of trailer-mounted drill racks, skid-mounted power units and skid-mounted operator control cabs.

A to Z

While recognizing the profound differences in the utility and maxi-rig markets for HDD, Heinen says the HRE product acquisition brings the worlds together under Vermeer.

"What it does for our product line is make us now really the only supplier in the industry to go from the smallest rigs used for telecom and fiber-to-the-home projects all the way up to the biggest rigs in the industry used on pipeline installations. We're really the only manufacturer that gives you an A-to-Z offering, from our D6x6, which is a 6,000-pound machine, up to our D1000, which is a million-pound machine," says Heinen. "One of our separating factors is that we are also the only company in the industry of the larger rigs, or maxi-rigs, that has a dealer network, that consists of nearly 200 locations."

The differentiation of the markets is reflected in dedicated Vermeer engineering, sales, management and now manufacturing staffs for the maxi-rig market, says Heinen. Natural-gas and oil-pipeline work is a core application for the products, he says, "but there's also just severe conditions that warrant this type of machine, let's say a long telecom crossing going underneath the Mississippi River. A common theme that we're hearing is that jobs are getting larger in diameters — the pipe's getting bigger.

"It's been a thumbs-up in the market. We've had some good success, both domestically and internationally. We just bring a different perspective and a different approach to this market that it hasn't seen before. The factory-direct method, I'm not saying that's a bad method, but we have a different approach. The service commitment and the parts commitment that we have made, both at our headquarters in Pella and also in the field, is a new wrinkle. In this industry, downtime is not acceptable. You cannot have this amount of money tied up into a machine, this amount of money tied up into a product underneath the ground, and afford to be down. That's our separating factor; that's what we're exposing, that's what we're chasing. When you experience a problem, you have these nearly 200 locations around the world to go to for help."

At Ditch Witch, the HDD product offering remains focused on the utility and underground markets with compact, Mach 1 and All Terrain product families. This year, in response to market demands, the company introduced its most powerful HDD model yet. The JT100 Mach 1, rated at 100,000 pounds of pullback, is based on the platform of the model it replaces — the 80,000-pound rated JT8020.

"Typically in that size class, they always want more," says Levings, "and some jobs were actually designed for and specified for a '100,000-pound unit.' The 8020 customers could actually do the job, but they didn't meet the spec. This gives them more flexibility. It gives them a machine in the size of an 8020, but with the power of a 100,000-pound unit.

"It is a more powerful machine; it is not a bigger machine," he emphasizes. "It does weigh a little bit more, but the physical dimensions are not bigger."

"What allowed us to go to the 100,000-pound on the same platform was the rack-and-pinion was heavy enough and the components were strong enough. We've always had the platform there to take the pullback. When we redesigned it and designed for the rack-and-pinion thrust and pullback drive, it allowed us to move on up into that 100,000-pound rating."

While extending Ditch Witch product use for existing customers, the 268-horsepower JT100 also serves contractors "doing pipelining type work and larger sewer and water projects who felt like they needed that 100,000 pounds of pullback," says Levings. "This let's us reach up into that market more effectively.

"The 100 is unique . . . for the unit size that it is. I guess the thing that makes it stick out the most is the amount of available horsepower and power that it has, and that translates into productivity. We constantly hear from our end-users that they have used about all brands, but they have never run one quite like the JT100."

Following the industry shift from chain-and-sprocket thrust drive allowed Ditch Witch to offer a more powerful HDD on an existing platform. The JT100 has a heavy-duty, double rack-and-pinion thrust drive.

"Chains served the industry well, but we recognized that a rack-and-pinion system boosted longevity and it was quieter," says Levings.

In the Ditch Witch HDD product lines, only the smallest compact unit has a chain-and-sprocket thrust drive system. The All Terrain version of the 40,000-pound rated JT4020, which uses a two-pipe rock-drilling system, was upgraded to include a rack-and-pinion system in the past two years.

HDD markets, as reflected in product-line upgrades in various size classes, have been asking for more punch. But, at the top end, the industry's biggest models, although adding in number, remain rated at or just above the million-pound mark in maximum pullback. Recently joining the ranks is Barbco with its BD-1MM TR rated at one million pounds. American Augers tops the group with the DD-1100 at 1.1 million pounds.

"I am starting to hear requests to go bigger, to push the limit," says Vermeer's Heinen. "Whatever somebody has the benchmark set at, always the question's going to be asked, 'Can I have the next one bigger?' Part of that is being driven by specs of the jobs; part of that is being driven by contractors wanting to offer the most power. Because of the customer request for longer installations and larger diameter that contribute to the requirement for bigger machine, I see it growing . . . I definitely see it growing."


Massive Units Top Off Large Family

Vermeer recently introduced its three largest HDDs. With maximum thrust and pullback of 500,000, 750,000 and 1 million pounds, respectively, Navigator D500x500, D750x900 and D1000x900 maxi-rig packages feature trailer-mounted drill racks, skid-mounted power units and skid-mounted operator control cabs. The D330x500, with 330,000 pounds of thrust/pullback and 50,000 pounds-per-foot of rotational torque, is a self-contained tracked jumbo rig. The smaller D24x40, D36x50, D80x100 (photo) and D100x120, as well as the D20x22 rated right at 20,000 pounds of pullback, are Series II tracked HDDs.


Product Family Is Growing Up

Barbco offers six track-mounted HDDs ranging from 60,000 to 750,000 pounds in maximum pullback. The new 500,000-pound-rated BD500-TK (photo) has ground-bearing pressure of 8.5 psi. The two tracked product families — three mid-rigs with maximum pullback from 60,000 to 120,000 pounds and the three new maxi-rigs topped off by the BD750-TK — have also been joined by the BD-1MM TR, boasting 1 million pounds of maximum thrust/pullback.

Astec Underground

New Model Coming Down the PikeAstec Underground's HDD line moves above the 20,000-pound mark with the debut of the 40,000-pound-rated DD-4045, expected out in late summer or early fall. Sized between those models, the established DD-3238 (photo), with 32,000 pounds of maximum thrust/pullback and 3,800 pounds-per-foot of maximum torque, has an enclosed onboard Triplex mud pump — with up to 47 gallons-per-minute of flow — to flush cuttings from the hole and maintain hole integrity.

Ditch Witch

Most Powerful Unit Yet Hits Market

Ditch Witch released its most powerful HDD unit yet. The 268-hp JT100 Mach 1 is designed so that rotation, thrust and drilling fluid flow can operate simultaneously at full power, resulting in faster job completion. With 100,000 pounds of pullback and 12,000 pounds-per-foot of torque, the JT100 is built for both long-range bores and large-diameter pipe installations. With another recent product upgrade, Ditch Witch offers the industry-standard rack-and-pinion thrust drive on the All Terrain version of the JT4020 (photo).

American Augers

On Track with Newest Large Model

The DD-440T offers a 440,000-pound-maximum-pullback-class solution in a track-mounted model. With rotary torque of 60,000 pounds-per-foot, the new large American Augers model features the Wiggle Steer system for rotating and thrusting drill pipe in a back-and-forth motion to open the bore path during steering. The DD-440T is built to international standards, boasting the smallest footprint in its class. The cabin is separate from the drill, allowing jobsite flexibility.

TT Technologies

An Alternative to Hydraulic Thrust

By incorporating a combination hydraulic/percussive steerable boring system with its Grundodrill 15X unit, TT Technologies offers an alternative to fluid-assisted hydraulic thrust and rotational drills. Providing 33,000 pounds of pullback and thrust, the Grundodrill 15X is designed to penetrate compacted and rocky ground with an on-demand percussive hammer action variable up to 1,000 strokes per minute. Equipped with a drill-rod magazine holding 48 10-foot stems, the self-contained, track-mounted unit weighs 15,432 pounds including drill stems.

Vermeer Navigator D1000x900 HDD Maxi-Rig
The Navigator D1000x900 is the largest of three maxi-rig packages added to the Vermeer HDD line.
The Navigator D1000x900 is the largest of three maxi-rig packages added to the Vermeer HDD line. Comprised of trailer-mounted drill racks, skid-mounted power units and skid-mounted operator control cabs, the maxi-rigs feature Hagglunds motors, Sauer-Danfoss pumps and Caterpillar engines.
With 100,000 pounds of pullback and 12,000 pounds-per-foot of torque, the 268-horsepower JT100 is the largest Ditch Witch horizontal directional drill, built for both long-range bores and large-diameter pipe installations. There's plenty of power, says Ditch Witch, for an optional onboard crane and anchor system.
A brand of Astec, American Augers offers eight HDD models above 20,000 pounds in maximum thrust and pullback. The range is topped off by the DD-1100, which according to data compiled and verified by Spec-Check boasts the largest rated thrust and pullback in the industry, at 1.1 million pounds.
  • Vermeer
  • Barbco
  • Astec Underground
  • Ditch Witch
  • American Augers
  • TT Technologies
In this story:
  • A to Z
  • The Cost of Ownership
  • Horizontal Directional Drill Specifications
The Cost of Ownership
Maximum PullbackList Price*Hourly Rate
* Hourly rate represents the monthly ownership costs divided by 176, plus operating costs. Adjusted operating unit prices used in the calculation are diesel fuel at $2.60 per gallon, mechanic's wage at $46.29 per hour, and money costs at 5.75 percent.
Source: , phone 800/669-3282
20,001 – 30,000 lb.$216,980$86.67
30,001 – 50,000 lb.$249,408$107.21
50,001 – 70,000 lb.$351,663$138.36
70,001 lb. and up$558,429$205.67
Horizontal Directional Drill Specifications
ModelMaximum Pullback (lb.)Maximum Thrust (lb.)Max. Rotational Torque (lb.-ft.)MountingEngine ModelGross Engine Output (hp)Operating Weight (lb.)
Source: Xpanded Specs (as of July / 09)
Robbins HDD UNI 24x4024,00024,0004,000TrackJohn Deere n/a12514,000
Vermeer D24x40 Series II24,00024,0004,000TrackJohn Deere 4045HF27512514,690
Ditch Witch JT3020 All Terrain30,00016,5004,000TrackCummins QSB4.514822,200
Ditch Witch JT3020 Mach 130,00024,8004,000TrackCummins QSB4.514822,300
Astec DD-323832,00032,0003,800TrackJohn Deere 4045T125n/a
TT Technologies Grundodrill 15X33,00033,0003,100TrackHatz 4L41C68n/a
Robbins HDD UNI 36x5036,00036,0005,000TrackJohn Deere n/a14014,000
Vermeer D36x50 Series II36,00036,0004,995TrackJohn Deere 4045H14016,200
Ditch Witch JT4020 All Terrain40,00025,0005,000TrackCummins QSB6.719028,170
Ditch Witch JT4020 Mach 140,00036,0005,000TrackCummins QSB6.719027,670
Robbins HDD UNI 45x6045,00045,0006,000TrackJohn Deere n/a15517,700
CME CME-50DD50,25050,2509,100TrackJohn Deere 6068T18520,200
American Augers DD-660,00060,00010,000TrackCat C6.6 ACERT17422,250
Astec DD-660,00060,00010,000TrackCat C6.6 ACERT17422,250
Barbco BD60-15SC60,00060,00011,600TrackCat C9 ACERT33542,000
Robbins HDD UNI 60x7060,00060,0007,000TrackJohn Deere n/a17017,700
AmKin DCT 80080,00040,000n/aTrackn/a30036,500
Vermeer D80x100 Series II80,00080,00010,000TrackJohn Deere 6068H20036,600
American Augers DD-901490,00090,00013,600TrackCat C6.6 ACERT23036,728
Astec DD-901490,00090,00013,600TrackCat C6.6 ACERT23036,728
Robbins HDD UNI 90x12093,00093,00012,500TrackJohn Deere n/a25030,000
Barbco BD100-20SC100,000100,00015,000TrackCat C13 ACERT44050,000
Ditch Witch JT100 Mach 1100,00070,00012,000TrackDeutz TCD 2013 L06 2V26845,300
Vermeer D100x120 Series II100,000100,00012,000TrackJohn Deere 6068H22537,870
Barbco BD120-20SC120,000120,00020,600TrackCat C15 ACERT54055,000
Robbins HDD UNI 120x180120,000120,00014,000TrackJohn Deere n/a32535,000
Robbins HDD UNI 160x240160,000160,00023,800TrackJohn Deere n/a35035,000
American Augers DD-210210,000210,00025,000TrackCat C9 ACERT30058,600
Barbco BD250-TK250,000250,00047,600TrackCat C15 ACERT540n/a
Vermeer D330x500330,000330,00050,000TrackCat C15 ACERT54090,000
American Augers DD-440440,000440,00060,000TrailerCat C11 ACERT75086,000
American Augers DD-440T440,000440,00060,000TrackCat C15 ACERT54079,000
Barbco BD500-TK500,000500,00063,000TrackCat C18 ACERT700126,000
Vermeer D500x500500,000500,00050,000TrailerCat C27 ACERT760n/a
American Augers DD-625625,000625,00080,000TrailerCat C15 ACERT52584,500
Barbco BD750-TK750,000750,00080,000TrackCat C27 ACERT950n/a
Vermeer D750x900750,000750,00092,000TrailerCat C18 ACERT1,200n/a
American Augers DD-880880,000880,000100,000TrailerCat C18 ACERT1,40091,731
Barbco BD-1MM TR1,000,0001,000,000100,000TrailerCat C18 ACERT1,400n/a
Vermeer D1000x9001,000,0001,000,00092,000TrailerCat C27 ACERT1,600n/a
American Augers DD-11001,100,0001,100,000100,000TrailerCat C18 ACERT70091,731