Horizontal Directional Drill (HDD) operators looking for success must first know their machines. Getting the job done quickly and efficiently is the name of the game for HDD crews. And though time is of the essence, and spending some of that time every day conducting maintenance may seem like downtime, industry veterans know that basic care and maintenance routines are instrumental in preventing actual, costly downtime.


Preventative care and maintenance keep machines functioning at a high level and are the best ways to keep an operation moving. It’s also more simple than some may think. OEM’s like Ditch Witch design machines with simplicity for operators in mind, and that includes maintenance. Machines are prepackaged with intuitively located service points, easy-to-understand manuals and quick proper tooling guidelines, making HDD maintenance as straightforward as it’s ever been.


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Here are some basic maintenance best practices that will keep your machines, and operations, running smoothly for the long haul.


Ditch Witch hdd rig


1. Utilize Your Checklist


The most important maintenance best practice is also the easiest. Every machine comes with its own service manual, providing contractors with the necessary information to keep equipment safe, productive and efficient. From the manual, contractors can find the recommended intervals for servicing hydraulic pumps, fluids, oils, coolant and other components. The manual also walks operators through daily maintenance checks. This simple process will reveal any issues left over from the previous bore that might keep a machine from running properly.


Modern telematics and centrally located site gauges streamline the process even more for operators. For example, Ditch Witch’s Orange Intel Fleet Management System is designed to alert contractors about any upcoming service intervals that are tied to the OEM manual. Telematics flag when machines components need to be inspected or serviced, whether it’s at 10 hours or 2,000 hours. Spending 5-to-10 minutes a day conducting service checks will not only save time, money and costly damages from any overlooked maintenance problems, but also keep machines operating at their peak level on the jobsite.


2. Maintaining your Drill Pipe: Rotation and Lubrication


Contractors often view the cost of the rig as the overall cost of the unit, but the truth is that by the time a drill goes through its full life cycle, more money was probably spent on replacing pipe. That is why maintaining proper lubrication and rotation of your drill pipe will not only help lengthen the life of your equipment but lead to its overall success.


When considering drill pipe maintenance, a helpful analogy is to think of the pipe system like it’s a tire. You rotate a tire to make sure the wear is evenly spread and not focused on one specific section. Contractors often use the first several hundred feet of pipe on a bore making corrective actions. And, if the pipe isn’t rotated, the first 100 feet is always being overworked and worn down. Because of this, it is not uncommon that once a crew gets to their last rack of rods, there is only a quarter of footage left.


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Proper lubrication of a drill pipe is important, as well. Every manufacturer has its own standard of proper lubrication, which is designed to optimize thread compression and tolerance. Maintaining your automated greaser machines for proper hydraulic pressure helps contractors achieve proper torque, reducing the chances of the pipe unthreading and breaking downhole.


3. Adhering to Equipment Guidelines


While proper lubrication and rotation are imperative to the success of your drill pipe, monitoring and adhering to proper guidelines – attributed to the pipe’s overall wear—can help contractors know when the pipe is beyond its usable point. Too often, contractors try to fit the wrong sized pipe or tooling on a bore, which can compromise the overall production. By following equipment guidelines and utilizing the properly specked equipment for the correct size rig, contractors reduce the chance of damaging their equipment.


Once a pipe has been oversteered, cracked or exceeded its bend radius, it must be replaced. Continuing to use a pipe after its been damaged or overused can put your budget and schedule at risk. Even a small stress fracture can expand and fully break downhole. And once a pipe breaks underground, its irretrievable, which forces the crew to abandon thousands of dollars’ worth of pipe in the ground and completely restart their bore.


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4. Saver Sub Survival


As the equipment responsible for driving pipe downhole, the saver sub is one of the most essential pieces of a rotary system. One the biggest maintenance fears with a saver sub is if the thread profile becomes damaged inside, which not only leaves your saver sub broken, but also wrecks your entire rack of pipe. A damaged saver sub can cause your entire drill to be inoperable until you get a replacement part.


Crews should make sure to inspect their saver sub every day. And wise fleet managers will make sure that they’re fully stocked with correct parts so that when required, maintenance won’t lead to long stretches of downtime.


5. End of Day Care


At the end of every job, it is recommended that each machine is cleaned to eliminate any blocked jets or pumps that could hinder the efficiency of a drill. To streamline the cleaning process, manufacturers often design machines with a high-pressure pump that gets plugged into the circuit system within the machine, creating an efficient way to perform an end-of-day wash down. While doing this, contractors should look for any connections or hydraulics that might be leaking or flag any broken lines. Identifying these problems ahead of time eliminates the chance of costly contamination issues on a crew’s next jobsite.


What may seem to be tedious, maintenance tasks are important to ensuring the overall success on the jobsite. Through these daily checks, aftercare routines, and keeping up with proper pipe and tooling standards, contractors can keep their machines in the best shape to operate, saving time and money, and reducing downtime on the jobsite.



Cory Maker is  HDD product manager at Ditch Witch.



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