From the magazine, HDD

Entering the HDD market

Trenchless Advisor’s Peter Brown says “When you’re buying or introducing any new technology or equipment into your business, you want to make sure it has the ability to complete the task assigned to it safely, productively, and as per the client’s requirements and for minimum running costs.

“You also need to consider whether to buy new or second-hand, what the maintenance and consumable costs are, and if there is a company that can service the equipment locally. Additionally, you need to consider what training is available for the equipment, or where and how to locate already trained personnel. It is also important to consider what tickets or certification do personnel need to operate this type of equipment.”

Mr Brown says that operating a successful horizontal directional drilling (HDD) machine/operation is not just about sitting on the seat and pulling a few handles.

Mr Brown continues, explaining that the fastest growing trenchless sector within Australia and New Zealand would currently have to be the HDD market due to the building of national and regional communication projects, new and up-graded underground power networks as well as gas, water, sewer and recycled water projects. It is thought that within New South Wales alone there could be between 180 to 200 HDD machines currently operational. Rigs ranging from small single machine operators to larger companies running multiple (six or more) machines. For a small industry, the number of machines sold by the likes of Vermeer and Ditch Witch over recent years is staggering. Since the year 2000 Ditch Witch itself has sold approximately 240 All Terrain HDD machines throughout the Australian and NZ regions. The increase in HDD machine numbers shows the confidence the construction market has for installing its underground assets through trenchless techniques.

When buying new HDD equipment, you have the security of receiving a warranty period and the manufacturer’s back-up. This can be worth gold when you’re on a job site and the clock is ticking. Buying second hand can save you a lot of money initially but also opens you up to many unknown problems and pitfalls including:

1. Uncertainty of equipment history or true running hours

2. Usually no warranty period

3. Unknown internal mechanical/hydraulic condition

4. Overseas purchase (actual condition, local backup, is it what you think it is)

5. Cost to get equipment up to acceptable condition (worn downhole tooling/correct tooling/maintenance).

Contrary to some beliefs, running and operating a HDD machine requires knowledge, experience and skill to ensure the construction of the borehole, location of the drillhead, installation of the product pipe is as per the client’s requirements. There is also the need to operate your machine and conduct your work site safely and efficiently. Like most machines and techniques, the most effective and productive way to learn about HDD is to be on the job site learning from those who have years of experience within the industry. There are five main areas that need to be mastered when learning about HDD:

1. Operating the HDD machine: Apart from understanding the basic machine operations, there is also the need for knowledge and experience when understanding downhole pressures and flows, feeling and hearing the machine’s reaction as it rotates, pulls/thrusts and vibrates as the downhole tooling penetrates the grounds formation. Also understanding the drill head’s movements through the grounds formation to accurately steer the drillhead along the required alignment, depth and grade.

2. Tracking the drillhead: The tracking of the drillhead is dependent on a sonde/transmitter or guidance system placed in or behind the drill heads’ body. There are a variety of location systems which all require individual training and knowledge. The skill to accurately track the drillhead through differing ground conditions while also encountering the presents of active and passive interference is not one gained over a few days, weeks or months.

3. Mixing drilling additives: This can be the make or break of the HDD project. Understanding why drilling additives are used and how they affect the borehole’s construction is a must. The different additives available, their correct mixing amounts and even the appropriate order in which the additives should be mixed is all extremely important. There is not a “÷one mix suits all’; every bore can require a different type of drill additive mix.

4. Planning: If you correctly plan your HDD project then you’re more than half way there. You need to understand correct machine and tooling selection, existing utility location, bore planning, machine set-up, achievable bend radius, potential problems with location interference, product layout as well as having appropriate contingencies in place regarding safety, environmental, mechanical and downhole problems.

5. Contingencies: Having the expertise and knowledge to instigate appropriate action and responses when trouble occurs during the boring process. This can turn a simple project into a disaster or a difficult bore into a hugely successful achievement. Only time, knowledge and common-sense will determine this.

As you can see, there are quite a few requirements for running and operating a HDD machine. Buying the machine is only a small part of the equation. Learning the machine’s operations does not give you the knowledge it takes to safely and competently produce a borehole and install a product. When buying a new machine and location equipment, you should always receive professional training to safely and competently operate this equipment. When you buy second hand machinery or equipment, the appropriate training may not be as easy to come by. You should be able to contact the manufacturers of equipment for appropriate training though a cost for this may by incurred.

As for acquiring the knowledge and skill to actually construct a borehole using the HDD equipment, it really comes down to learning from others and being involved in actual projects. Again this can take years until the skill and knowledge is perfected though you are always learning on a HDD project as every bore is different in its own way. There is now the ability to achieve certification as a HDD operator including training manuals to assist in your development though this can still takes years to achieve competency (

Two things you should always remember is if you don’t get product pipe in the ground as per client’s requirements, you usually don’t get paid and cutting corners in this industry usually doesn’t pay off.

For more information you can visit

Send this to a friend