From the magazine, HDD

HDD in Australia – an interview with Peter Brown

Peter has a trade back ground as a fitter and turner, working for 8 å_ years with Asahi Australia as their South East Asian Service Technician which included building, designing and repairing underground exploration drilling machines and down the hole motors taking Peter to mine sites all over Australia and New Guinea. In the late 90s he worked for Vermeer Australia as their construction representative in NSW specialising in Horizontal Directional Drills and trenching machines. Peter now works for Sydney based Infrastructure Constructions which is one of Australia’s most successful HDD companies. He has a total of 15 years experience in the drilling industry.

Trenchless Australasia: How do you think the HDD industry in Australia has developed since the first rigs arrived in the country?

Peter Brown: The original small HDD machines which first landed on our shores back in the early 90s were of the umbilical type which meant having a separate power pack mounted on the transport truck. This set-up required long, heavy and cumbersome hydraulic hoses that ran from the power pack to the HDD machine. This required a large set up area, required the HDD machine to be kept close to the power pack, caused damage to the environment with numerous hoses lying around, made tracking the machine difficult and made the work site look messy and unattractive to residence.

Current machines are self contained meaning that the power pack is within the HDD machine itself. Only the mixing system is located on the transport truck which only requires one water hose which can be attached to the machine once it is in place and ready to drill. The machine can be tracked into tight confined spaces such as backyards, between buildings, deep into forests and even on pontoons without the need of external hydraulic hoses.

TA: What sort of projects garner the most work for the HDD practitioner and is there enough work to go around at the moment?

PB: For us it’s; Communication (30 per cent), Underground Power (34 per cent), Water (3 per cent), Gas (1 per cent), Low Pressure Sewer (25 per cent) & Gravity Sewer (7 per cent).

HDD still has a limited market compared to all other installation methods due to the fact that it is not widely known throughout the construction industry. I am still amazed at the comments I get when talking to well known companies regarding HDD and its abilities. Most have no idea what HDD can achieve and how it can help with the construction of their underground infrastructure. This is due to several factors:

1. Only limited companies that run HDD machines compared to the thousands that own excavators and trenchers.
2. Previous and current companies who have unsuccessfully operated HDD machines and unfortunately failed to show its benefits/abilities. It easier to remember the failure than the success.
3. HDD awareness is also a major issue. Shows like No Dig 2006 are good but still don’t reach the people who have never heard of the method.
4. The initial price for using HDD is usually more than open trenching but when re-instating, traffic control, disruption to the local residence etc is worked out, the price can be equal if not cheaper. Also time can be shorter using HDD.

Is there enough work? Yes there should be but like any industry it has its highs and lows. Once again some unprofessional companies can kill a major project due to bad or incorrect work practices.

TA: What sort of rig sizes are the most commonly used?

PB: We currently operate two JT1720, Grundodrill 10X & 13X, 2720 AT & JT4020. This is a great mix of machines for us as it allows us to take on a wide variety of projects and gives us a huge flexibility.

It depends on who you ask and what they own as to what a small/medium machine is. For argument sake we’ll go with the following. The small HDD machines have a pullback ability under 40,000 lbs and are the most common. This is where most machines are owned by owner operators who have only one machine.

The second most common is the mid size machine 40,000 lbs to 150,000 lbs pullback. These are still very few and far between as there aren’t as many machines available due to the skill and running cost required. Most are owned by multi machine companies. The maxi rig is the rarest machine in Australia due to higher running cost, more skill required and not the range of work available.

TA: In the purchasing market what sort of role does used equipment play? Any real life stories of new/used equipment success/problems that you can share?

PB: Second hand machines are always a problem for both the operator and the manufacturer. It’s rare that a company running HDD machines will increase their machine numbers. When most companies upgrade to a newer machine they usually trade in an older machine. These older machines are rarely taken to the scrap heap and are placed straight back on the market through sales usually to owner operators. This minimises the chance of another new machine being introduced into the industry and also helps keep the old technology in the industry which is not always recommended.

Another problem is the introduction of second hand machines from the overseas market. This can cause many problems for both the new owner and the appropriate manufacturer. It’s rare that a second hand machine purchased overseas is landed into Australia without problems. Quite often these problems end up being serious. No one knows the history of an overseas machine and many trap doors can open up for the unwary buyer.

TA: What are the major growth areas ahead for the HDD industry? What technologies/techniques are set to take off in the trenchless market?

PB: All areas of underground utilities can increase with the use of HDD. HDD methods are still only a small percentage of work being completed in all infrastructure projects.

Every six months new products are being introduced to help the industry ranging from:

1. More accurate electronic equipment for location of the drill head.
2. More efficient HDD machines allowing the operator to working easier, quicker and achieve harder and more accurate projects.
3. New drilling additives that allow better production and minimise environmental problems in all ground conditions.
4. Due to the introduction of new products like Polyethylene pipe an array of new projects are now being achieved using HDD. These areas include the water, sewer and underground power industry.

TA: What does the future hold for HDD? Will projects previously thought of as too challenging/impossible become viable?

PB: This is happening now. The future depends on operator skill level, open minded utility companies and the technology now being tested by the HDD machine manufacturers. The problem is getting the utility companies to be thinking HDD and not conventional techniques. Again the fact that the previous attempt was unsuccessful or a less skilled HDD operator attempted or walked away from the original project because they said it was unachievable remains in the minds of the utility companies. Sometimes getting a second bite of the apple is not that easy.

A recent project undertaken by IC is a good example. Several HDD companies (including IC) were involved in tendering for a gravity sewer project but unfortunately an array of different achievability using HDD was expressed to the customer. A HDD company was chosen to complete the project but once on site they informed the customer that the project couldn’t be completed due to several different reasons. IC was then asked by the customer if the project was still possible and we said yes in accordance with our original proposal. IC had previously visited the site and walked the prospective bores. We were then given the task of proving that HDD could install gravity sewer successfully. IC successfully completed two drills and has now been asked to investigate the possibility of completing several more bores within the same project.

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