Trenchless Equipment Stands Out

April 16, 2012

More than 2,400 attendees at the Underground Construction Technology (UCT) conference and trade show were treated to exhibits of the latest in trenchless pipe placement and rehab equipment-and a few open-cut exhibitors as well. Attendees at the show, held in January in San Antonio, included utility contractors, owners, municipal officials, engineers, manufacturers, and dealers.

“We expect to exceed last year’s attendance, which at 2,400 was up from 1,900 the previous year,” says Karen Francis, convention manager for Oildom Publishing Co., Houston, which owns and operates the conference. Nearly all exhibitors reported that business is good to excellent.

“We’re puzzled by the disconnect between the bad economic news we read and the health of the pipe rehabilitation market,” says Jarrett Cowden, senior vice president at Hammerhead Trenchless Equipment, a manufacturer based in Oconomowoc, WI. “Our business was up substantially in 2011 from the prior year.”

ICON Tunnel Systems introduced its new Front Steer Guided Auger Boring System. That is a steerable microtunneling auger system for the trenchless installation of jacking pipes. The system allows for the direct jacking of product pipes while providing a 1-inch or better line and grade in hard, nondisplaceable soil conditions up to a possible maximum of 2,900 psi. “This system takes pilot tube microtunneling to the next level,” says Dave Crandall, an ICON vice president. “It uses the same guidance system as our pilot tube guided auger boring, and it lets us tunnel in soils with up to 100 blow count to penetrate 12 inches.

ICONs tunneling machines are non-manned systems; the operator steers the machine from his position in the launch pit. The guidance system consists of a digital theodolite electronic camera, an LED illuminated target, and a control monitor for real-time constant monitoring and maintaining of line and grade.

Speed Shore Corp. of Houston registered its presence with shoring shields, vertical shores, waler systems, steel trench shields, modular aluminum panel shields, aluminum trench shields, and slide rail systems. “You can put our shields across utilities, but with a trench box you have to move the whole thing,” said Gary Hicks, southeast sales manager for Speed Shore. “With shoring we put active pressure on the walls to prevent a trench cave-in. But a shielding product prevents the workers from being injured from the cave-in once it happens.”

Speed Shores’ patented Shoring Shields combine the benefits of aluminum hydraulic shoring with the solid-wall security of a trench shield. Built with high-strength aluminum alloys, Shoring Shields are ideal for utility maintenance, cable splices, pipeline bell holes, trenchless technology pits and vault placements. Shoring Shields feature Speed Struts, which incorporate hydraulic cylinders and return springs with rugged telescoping steel sleeves.

The McLaughlin Group Inc. showed its “On-Target System” for steering an auger-boring machine. “We needed a way to do lateral control of the auger boring machine, so people would use a pilot tube system or a microtunneler because they wanted line control from left to right,” says Dave Gasmovic, McLaughlin’s chief executive officer. “But those systems were too expensive. So we developed this On-Target System that lets us use hydraulics to control line and grade. We have four movable flaps on the machine-a top flap, two side flaps and a bottom flap. Hydraulic cylinders move the flaps to steer the bore.”

McLaughlin, which is partly owned by Vermeer Manufacturing, now also markets vacuum excavators with a capacity of up to 3,000 gallons of spoil. The previous largest vacuum machine had a capacity of 1,200 gallons. The largest truck-mounted vacuum excavators can carry up to 935 gallons of water. “What these larger capacities allow you to do is to work longer on the job site without emptying the tank,” says Gasmovic.

We asked Gasmovic how business is shaping up for 2012. “In our industry I think it’s going to be very good,” came the answer. “We’re as busy as we’ve ever been at the factory. And the contractors seem more upbeat than they have been in previous years.”

Vermeer had a prominent exhibit at UCT, and introduced Borestore-an online shopping center for Vermeer tooling. “Borestore lets us leverage the entire inventory of tooling at all dealer locations and the factory as well,” says Jason Zylstra, Vermeer marketing manager. “Contractors can shop online for tooling-and see our prices-24 hours a day, seven days a week. And in addition to the website we have a hot line, so that customers can talk to experienced drillers to make sure they’re getting the right tools. Vermeer tooling includes drill bits, adapters, drill heads, reamers, and more.

Hammerhead, a major manufacturer of ground-piercing tools and other trenchless equipment, introduced its 3.5-inch catamount, or mole, and a four-and-three-eighths-inch mole. “We already have a 2.5-inch and a 3-inch mole, so now we have two larger ones as well,” says Jason Haas, marketing manager for Hammerhead. “The catamount has a reciprocating head that moves back and forth. A mechanism inside the head pneumatically resets the head after every impact. So as the head moves forward and back, the mole wants to progress forward instead of recoiling back against the operator.”

Hammerhead also announced its 3.5-inch replaceable head on a mole. Haas says that in soft ground a reciprocating head can hurt production because the head cannot gain enough friction to leverage the mole ahead. “So for those cases a replaceable head is better,” he says. In most cases, an operator simply slides the product pipe in by hand after the mole has been removed. However, the operator can also drill in with the mole, disconnect the pipe from the pneumatic hose and pull the pipe back. The third way to install a product pipe is to pull it in behind the mole.

As well, Ditch Witch had a major display at UCT. The company is introducing the JT100, an all-terrain horizontal directional drill (HDD). It has a two-pipe system for drilling, with one pipe inside the other. The inner pipe runs the tri-cone drill bit, which does the cutting. And the outer pipe positions the housing for steering. “So if you position the housing at three o’clock it will cut to the right, and if you position it at nine o’clock it will go to the right,” says Randy K. Rupp, product manager for HDD and drill pipe.”

The JT100 features 100,000 pounds of pullback capacity and 12,000 pounds of rotational torque. The machine uses only a fraction of the drilling fluid that a mud motor requires, but it still needs some drilling mud to keep the hole open and lubricated. Ditch Witch mounts a crane on the JT100 to drive the stake-down system and to load or unload pipe boxes. “With that system you can stake the machine in dirt or in rock,” says Rupp.

Barbco Inc., of East Canton, OH, offers a complete line of auger-boring machines, tunnel attachments, directional drills, and pilot bore systems. At UCT, Barbco introduced its Tribor System, which combines all three common methods of trenchless installation: directional drilling, auger boring and guided pilot tube boring. Tribor’s strongest mode of operation is directional drilling. Tribor is available in models that are comparable to 150,000- to 750,000-pound directional drills. The machine’s high-torque, through-shaft spindle delivers enough downhole power to drill through almost any soil type with fluid or air assist.

“Business is tough in the US, but better for us internationally,” says Dave Barbera, Barbco’s vice president of production and general manager. “We’re doing 50% of our business in countries outside the United States. And in 2008 that figure was about 20%. We have active dealerships in the Middle East and in Russia. In fact, we sold the first Tribor machine to our dealer in the Middle East. That is B&H Paving, a total site developer based in the United Arab Emirates.”