Today’s underground construction operators are continuously looking for ways to work smarter and do more with less. Challenged with workforce shortages, difficult underground terrains and congested jobsites, productivity is paramount to successful job.
So, it’s no surprise contractors are filling their fleets with horizontal directional drills (HDD) that boost performance and uptime. And machines that maintain power but decrease overall jobsite footprint. Oklahoma-based B&H Construction is no exception.
Headquartered in Goldsby, Oklahoma, B&H Construction specializes in horizontal boring for utility installation and rehabilitation. Since 1981, the company has been supplying gas and fiber connections to municipalities, corporations and residential customers throughout Oklahoma and northern Texas.
“Over the years, utility projects have continued to grow, whether it be through new construction or rehabilitation work,” said B&H Construction owner Donnie Beller. “Now on any given day, we typically have close to 25 directional drill rigs running on various jobs, and we continue to look for and evaluate new drills to add to our fleet.”
To meet various customer and jobsite needs, the company has long operated a broad range of directional drills – from small and compact to larger, more powerful drills. But in recent years, the company has learned the two drill categories are no longer mutually exclusive.
Oklahoma and Texas are home to an assortment of arid plains and mountains, consisting of diverse terrains made up of hard soils, clays and rock. Historically, these conditions have caused challenges for HDD operators – impacting productivity.
“On many of our projects we end up working through multiple soil types, typically getting harder and more difficult the deeper we dig,” said B&H Construction drill supervisor Steve Crossland. “Often, we’ll need to change tooling as we encounter new ground conditions, or if we encounter hard rock, we may even bring in a larger machine and a mud motor. The time it takes to switchover eats into our productivity.”
In addition, the company has started working on more installation projects in urban areas on the Northeast side of Oklahoma City. Encountering hard rock or soil is more frequent in this area of the state. Adding to the challenge of tougher ground conditions, urban projects offer little extra space for setup on a project. So, running a large drill or full mud system is difficult.
The company needed a small drill that could combat these challenges without compromising performance.
Small, Yet Mighty
In 2018, Beller and his team tested a Ditch Witch AT40 All Terrain directional drill. Offering 160-hp, the drill has the power to accomplish a wide range of jobs but can also comfortably fit within a small, urban setup where other larger drills cannot.
The All Terrain (AT) technology utilizes power from the drill instead of sending mud downhole, so it doesn’t require the mud systems or other support equipment required by traditional drills. The drill only requires a fluid management system to flush out debris from the bore. The AT technology also helps improve operator steering and efficiency in hard-to-navigate ground conditions like hard rock, soil and cobble.
“The AT40 performed great in the hard ground conditions my team was encountering and was easy to tow anywhere in the city and maneuver around small jobs,” added Beller. “Once they realized we would no longer need to use the big mud systems, it was a no-brainer to purchase more. We now have three AT40 units in our fleet.”
B&H Construction has seen noticeable improvements in jobsite productivity since running the AT40 units.
Using the drill has helped operators save valuable set-up time on a job. Now, having one machine to dig through a variety of ground conditions without extra support systems or changing out tooling/systems in the middle of a project has proved invaluable. And the AT capabilities allow operators to dig longer bores than before.
“On one installation project, we bored through solid rock an unprecedented distance in just three days. This distance typically would have taken us a week to a week-and-a-half using a traditional drill and mud motor,” said Steve.
Beyond productivity gains, B&H operators have also found benefits from the drill’s modern operator cab. Beyond comfort and extensive visibility, the drill incorporates an ergonomic two-stick control. “The control makes it easier for our team to train new operators and help transition operators from other competitive units to the AT40. It’s important to have equipment that any of our operators can use to boost uptime,” added Crossland.