Canadian Underground Infrastructure Logo

Keys to a smooth running HDD operation


Company info

2712 Airpark Dr
Santa Maria, CA
US, 93455


Read more

Success in the HDD business is about more than boring a stable hole and completing a successful pullback. It's about running your entire HDD operation like a well-oiled machine. Here are five ways we've seen successful HDD companies make businesses function more smoothly and create lasting success, followed by an example of what to look for in on specific type of tool, the backreamer. 

1. A quality crew 
Your equipment is only as useful as the people who operate it. Mixing and matching crews with various levels of experience and different personality types can slow down a job. Hire teams of experienced drill rig operators and locators who either come as a pair or have been proven to work well together. When a drill operator and a locator work together regularly, they end up developing their own communication and production rhythm that helps you drill further faster.

2. An assortment of tools 
It's tempting to stick to the OEM tools that come with your rig but filling out your toolshed with bits, reamers and other condition-specific parts will save you time, frustration and expense down the line. Start to acquire high quality directional drill products as you undertake different projects in various conditions. As you're bidding out jobs, pay attention to the materials you're likely to run into underground and invest in tools that have been proven to handle those conditions. Buying quality and maintaining your parts correctly will shave time off your jobs and save you in the long run.

3. Your distributor is a resource
Don't turn to your distributor only when you need a new part. Your local distributor is a wealth of knowledge and wants to share it with you. They love getting to know you and hearing about your challenges and successes. Speak to your HDD distributor contact frequently about the types of jobs you do and the products you use. Give them feedback and suggestions. Ask for their advice. Many times your distributor can provide you with cost-effective solutions to get the job done faster than you expected. Don't be shy. Capitalize on their experience because they know what works.

4. Get custom-made HDD tools
Sometimes the right tool for the job doesn't exist - yet. That's where your HDD tooling experts come in handy. While OEMs provide a range of parts and accessories, manufacturers of directional drilling products can take your idea, add their expertise, and output a custom backreamer or other tool designed specifically to handle the conditions of your job. Just like distributors like to get to know drillers, manufacturers of directional drill products, like Melfred Borzall, love to see how tools stand up to tough real-life drilling conditions and get feedback from the crews who use them daily. If you have a challenging situation that you're not sure your current tools can handle, don't hesitate to develop a relationship with a manufacturer who can help.

5. Standardize your tooling 
There's nothing worse than getting out to your job site and discovering that the threads on your tools don't match those on your rig. Tooling manufacturers or other after-market manufacturers of directional drill products can supply you with - or design and produce - a complete set of adapters that ensure that all your parts connect. Not only will you gain efficiencies in productivity but you'll get more mileage out of your entire equipment shed because you can use any tool on any rig.

Backreamers: the workhorse of every HDD drilling operation
Too many drillers make the mistake of thinking that one backreamer can do it all. The fluted reamer that comes with the rig is great, under certain conditions. However, drillers try to use the default drilling reamers in situations where a specialized reamer would increase production.
What can happen when you rely on the wrong reamer?

At best, picking the wrong backreamer can make your drilling proceed slowly and drag your efficiency way down. At worst, your reamer can snap off in the hole, causing you to stop drilling to retrieve it or forcing you to abandon the hole altogether and re-drill a new pilot. A reamer that pulls back too fast may cause road humping for which you will be on the hook to repair; too slow, and you get cratering.

All these scenarios eat up time and stall your progress. Broken backreamers require replacement of the original reamer, plus an investment in a reamer that is better suited for the job. Add on the extra cost for the rushed air freight to get the reamer to your jobsite as fast as possible and that's a lot of cash that you could have saved if you had the right reamer in the first place.

Before you decide which reamer you need for the job, think about the following factors.

Ground conditions: Know the type of material you expect to encounter before you drill your pilot. 

If you are drilling in ground that is unstable or sticky, like clay, you need a reamer with excellent mixing action and enough fluid pressure to make sure the material doesn't ball up or leave big chunks behind in the hole. 

For unstable conditions that face the risk of collapse, such as sand, you need to have an efficient mixing action that keeps the cuttings and the drill fluid mixed together to support the borehole wall, and not allow the sand to collect on the bottom of the hole.

Cutting action: The type of cutting action you'll need also depends on your ground conditions. 

Shale and soft limestone require backreamers with more cutters for fracturing material, then grinding it up. Softer ground, like clay or sand, requires fewer cutters or you risk balling up. 

Harder conditions like cobble or river rocks mean you don't need to break up baseball-sized cobble as much as you just need to push it out of the way. For these conditions you need reamers with a gradual, tapered body that help push the rocks aside. This is where a solid, tapered body reamer like the basic fluted or stacked plate reamer performs best. 

Finally, solid rock conditions need cutting action that pulverizes the rock as it's spinning, making small rock chips that are easier to pump out of the hole.

Rig size: Using an undersized tool (not the cutting diameter but the shaft it's built on) on a drill rig that is too powerful can damage the backreamer and stop your job. Choose a backreamer that is strong enough for the size of rig you're using. Don't use a 20,000-pound drill tool on a rig with 40,000 or 60,000 pounds of pullback. If you must mix and match, it's better to use a big rig reamer on a smaller rig than the opposite.

Drilling fluid volume: Always be sure you have plenty of drill fluid flow when backreaming. Pressure isn't as important as making sure you have enough volume passing through the shaft. If you're not using enough fluid, you're not going to be able to get all the cuttings out. Pulling back too quickly without enough fluid to carry the cuttings out of your hole can just push the material forward with the reamer, causing it to get stuck or create a speed bump. 

If you're using a reamer meant for a small rig on a big rig, the fluid holes in the reamer could be too small - not allowing enough flow to carry your cuttings out. 

The opposite applies, too. Using a big reamer with big fluid holes on a small rig means not enough pressure, limiting your flow and causing the whole thing to ball up.

Peter Melsheimer, Marketing Director at Melfred Borzall, has a degree in Mechanical Engineering and has been in the HDD industry since 1989.

More from Horizontal Directional Drilling

Vermeer introduces new D23X30DR S3 Navigator horizontal directional drill

The new Vermeer D23x30DR S3 Navigator horizontal directional drill, integrates dual rod technology into a compact machine design to efficiently maneuver through rock in congested cities, busy neighborhoods or tight jobsites. Featuring a class-leading narrow footprint and a weight of 16,500 pounds (7484 kg), the Vermeer D23x30DR S3 is the lightest rock drill on the market and is well suited for fiber, electrical, gas and water installation in hard rock, as well as other challenging ground conditions.

ICUEE 2019: What to see at the demo expo, part five

ICUEE, the International Construction & Utility Equipment Exposition, will take place October 1-3 in Louisville, Kentucky. ICUEE is the utility industry's largest trade show, covering 28+ acres of indoor and outdoor exhibits, and bringing together more than 18,000 utility professionals every two years.

Quanta Services sets new HDD operators up for success through valuable training

The rise in underground utility projects is good news for contractors across the country. However, whether it be due to fiber build-out or aging infrastructure replacement, this growth requires underground utility contractors to find and employ more horizontal directional drill (HDD) operators. This demand has resulted in a shortage of qualified, skilled and confident operators in the underground construction industry.

Vermeer's new Navigator horizontal directional drill designed to deliver in rocky, congested environments

The new Vermeer D23x30DR S3 Navigator horizontal directional drill (HDD) integrates dual-rod technology into a compact machine design to efficiently maneuver through rock in congested cities, busy neighborhoods or tight jobsites. Featuring a class-leading narrow footprint and a weight of 16,500 pounds (7,484 kg), the D23x30DR S3 is the lightest rock drill on the market and is well suited for fibre, electrical, gas and water installation in hard rock, as well as other challenging ground conditions.

HDD virtual reality simulator developed by Ditch Witch to improve training and safety

More than 50 percent of reported underground utility damages are the result of insufficient excavation practices according to the 2017 DIRT Report. The Ditch Witch organization, a Charles Machine Works Company, has introduced an industry-first Virtual Reality (VR) Simulator to better prepare horizontal directional drill (HDD) operators for safe underground construction through cutting-edge training technology. 

Ditch Witch updates fluid management systems to improve HDD productivity

The Ditch Witch organization, a Charles Machine Works Company, has updated its line of fluid management systems to increase productivity and reduce costs on horizontal directional drilling (HDD) jobsites. These advanced models incorporate new design features to meet the highest standards for jobsite productivity, improved drilling fluid flow, increased durability, and faster mixing cycles and yield times.

Subscribe to our free newsletter

Get our newsletter

Learn more

Radius HDD Over-Bit Reamer

Designed and tested with the help of small bore contractors, the Radius HDD Over-Bit Reamer easily attaches to an existing rock bit without breaking a single connection. The Radius Over-Bit Reamer only needs 16 inches of clearance. With the pilot tool still attached, the sonde can be used to track progress through tight easements during pullback. The Radius Over-Bit Reamer is available in 6- and 8-inch sizes with a variety of cutting styles.

Vermeer and Mincon form distribution alliance for rock tools

Two of the horizontal directional drilling (HDD) industry's leading equipment and tooling manufacturers, Vermeer Corporation and Mincon Group PLC, have formed a distribution alliance to expand contractors' access to quality rock tooling worldwide. As part of the agreement, Vermeer dealers are now the exclusive channel for Mincon HDD air hammer systems, HDD pull reaming hammers and HDD support equipment, including HDD support stations and oilers.

Vermeer D8x12 HDD provides compact productivity

Vermeer expands its line of utility installation equipment with the launch of the D8x12 Navigator horizontal directional drill. This new compact and highly productive drill is sized for working in tight spaces, features straightforward controls and delivers quiet operation. With two drill rod options for added versatility, the Vermeer D8x12 is well suited for small service installations, including gas distribution, power, water and telecommunication networks.

Online parts lookup tool aids Ditch Witch customers

The Ditch Witch organization, a Charles Machine Works Company, has released an advanced version of their industry-first, web-based tool that helps customers be more efficient and reduce downtime by quickly finding the service parts they need. The Ditch Witch Parts Lookup gives customers easy access to detailed parts information and a direct line of communication to dealerships for part verification and pick-list creation.

Miami Beach HDD installation recognized as Plastic Pipe Institute's Project of the Year

The longest horizontal directional drilled (HDD) installation of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) pipe in the United States and Canada was recognized as Project of the Year by the Plastics Pipe Institute, Inc. (PPI). The award was presented to PPI member company ISCO Industries at the association's annual membership meeting in May 2017. PPI is the major North American trade association representing all segments of the plastic pipe industry,

Subscribe to our free magazine

Get Our Magazine

Paper or Digital delivered monthly to you

Subscribe or Renew Learn more

Pit-launched mini directional drill

TT Technologies' redesigned Grundopit pit-launched mini directional drill is well suited for difficult fiber-to-the-home and utility service line installations in tight working conditions. The unit is compact, 54 inches long, 43 inches wide and 57 inches tall. The Grundopit delivers 13,489 lbs. of thrust and pull back and 553 ft. lbs. of torque with bore length up to 150 feet. The Grundopit is an ideal entry-level system for utilities, cable industries or as a supplement to larger units.

Robust fluid cleaning system offers small footprint and quiet operation

Pipeline and utility contractors attending the 2017 International Utility and Construction Equipment Exposition (ICUEE) in Louisville, Kentucky, were first to see the newly released American Augers M-300D HDD fluid cleaning system. Based on American Augers' successful, highly portable M-200 platform, the M-300 system's small trailer size lowers registration and excise tax requirements while supporting any make of 60- to 100-ton drill unit with a true 300 gpm fluid-cleaning capability. 

HammerHead Trenchless launches remote-controlled 22-ton winch at ICUEE

HammerHead Trenchless, a Charles Machine Works company, introduced its new 22-ton, radio remote-controlled HydroGuide® HG2200 cable winch at the 2017 International Construction and Utility Equipment Exposition (ICUEE) in Louisville, Kentucky. The HG2200 completes the HammerHead line of next-generation winches designed for maximum efficiency and ease-of-use in pipe-bursting, slip-lining and pipe-slitting applications.

Ditch Witch offers next generation AT40 all terrain directional drill optimizes downhole performance in hard rock

To enhance utility contractors' efficiency while drilling and steering in hard rock, Ditch Witch, a Charles Machine Works Company, has released the new AT40 All Terrain horizontal directional drill (HDD). The machine features an advanced, two-pipe All Terrain drilling system that provides 33 percent more torque than competitive units.  The newly optimized All Terrain drilling system includes multiple patent-pending designs that improve downhole operation. An inner-rod design provides a flush system that improves tool-joint durability and steering in hard rock conditions. To further improve steering and optimize fluid flow, a reliable All Terrain connection reduces the risk of collar damage. 

DITCH WITCH unveils enhanced, next generation underground construction equipment, parts and technology at ICUEE

The Ditch Witch organization, a Charles Machine Works company, is planning to unveil a wide variety of new and enhanced underground construction equipment, parts, tools, and technology—all designed to boost productivity at the International Construction and Utility Equipment Exposition (ICUEE) Oct. 3-5 in Louisville, Kentucky. 

Major upgrade for HDD hammer system

The spring 2017 acquisition of Armadrillco solidified StraightLine HDD's position as a leader in hard condition tooling. The announcement today of the adaption of the patented Armadrillco transmitter housing to the RockEye Hammer System is a significant step in diffusing Armadrillco technology throughout StraightLine HDD tooling platforms.

Subscribe to our free newsletter

Get our newsletter

Learn more

Performix Mixer Upgrade Announced

StraightLine HDD, Inc. announced the implementation of an upgrade to its popular Performix Mud Mix System. At the heart of the Performix System is the centrifugal pump, which generates the best laminar flow in the industry. The performance pump now features an upgraded silicon-carbide shaft seal. Compared to traditional ceramic seals, the new seal represents a considerable advancement in resiliency when subjected to the highly abrasive elements present in mud mixing. In field testing, silicon carbide seals improve service life by a factor of three,over ceramic seals.

Vermeer Introduces Silver Series Drill Rod

Vermeer has bolstered its  line of HDD tooling and accessories with the addition of the Silver Series drill rod. Building on the tradition of it's acclaimed Firestick drill rod, Silver Series drill rod gives contractors a quality aftermarket drill rod at an economic price.

Ditch Witch Launches JT10 HDD Rig

Ditch Witch has introduced the JT10 horizontal directional drill (HDD) providing operators with exceptional power in a compact, reliable platform. For superior productivity, the machine incorporates advanced features found on larger units while remaining the most compact drill in its class.

Ditch Witch boosts drill power with JT60 and JT60 all-terrain HDD Tier 4 upgrades

Today’s horizontal directional drilling (HDD) operators face plenty of challenges on large installation projects, including difficult terrain and tough soil conditions. To provide operators with the power and performance to conquer any job, Ditch Witch has introduced Tier 4 emission standard upgrades to the JT60 and JT60 All Terrain directional drills.

Extend your mud recycler’s lifespan

Equipment maintenance is a topic that no contractor particularly wants to address, but in light of the ever growing need to maximize production and cut down time it is extremely important. Your equipment will only continue to work properly if you take the time to perform simple routine maintenance.

Subscribe to our free magazine

Get Our Magazine

Paper or Digital delivered monthly to you

Subscribe or Renew Learn more