The power and potential of Industry 4.0 has emerged with HDD locating systems. The fourth and latest phase of the industrial revolution is all about harnessing data. Technological advances to automatically capture the as-built details of bore projects – data logging – are transforming the HDD industry.

Traditionally, contractors have relied upon a manual, pen-to-paper approach to keep track of installations while they are processing. Field logbooks played a critical role in capturing installation details, serving as a valuable tool for assisting with steering decisions or determining when rerouting the bore path was required.

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Mag9 receiver

Yet, I think we can all agree, efficiency is not a term often associated with field logbooks, and this labor-intensive practice is far from the most effective way for storing bore data long term, especially if the data needs to be accessed in the future.

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Since the turn of the century, contractors have been asking if it was possible to log data electronically, and HDD locating system manufacturers have offered solutions. Specific methods to acquire and store data varied, yet the tracking approach was generally the same. While locating the drill head during the pilot bore, a tracking device was deployed to capture the relevant drilling data and store it in the locating system. As boring progressed, data was captured. When the pilot bore was completed, a detailed bore profile was available.

Many found these initial automation technologies to be complicated, complex and convoluted. Most objections to using the logging systems focused on data sharing. With electronic logging an afterthought for many manufacturers, most systems made sharing data a challenge. Plus, once the data was shared, there were those lingering questions, “Where did it go and how was it used in future projects?”

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Transferring data with earlier systems required users to download from unreliable Bluetooth devices, or copy data to a memory stick, and then to a computer. The result of these cumbersome requirements meant most drillers, unless required to provide electronic data, stayed with the tried and true pen and paper technique.

UMag Bore Path screen shot

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Today, the process has been exponentially simplified. Data collection with current locating systems is as easy as clicking a button. They record pitch and depth data, identify the rod length of the drilling machine, and produce a comprehensive profile of the pilot bore that can be plotted. Some software programs also include more comprehensive topographical information and details. Also, if there is pre-bore analysis using bore planning software or even a manually produced strategy on graph paper, comparisons with the installation to the plan is very manageable.

Information sharing and collaboration also have taken huge leaps forward. With the installation of Sim cards and WIFI capabilities, integrated data logging is built in to most systems and the transfer of data is streamlined. Precision GPS also has been added to the logging process, giving contractors precise location mapping coordinates.

The goal is to make the logging so simple that everyone will do it. In some cases, the processes are so automated, drill operators won’t even know they’re doing it. Yet, that’s not an issue because once the data is received, the drill operator is required to do nothing but start drilling. The computer recognizes the drilling process has resumed, and the data is stored. At Underground Magnetics, we call this automation “Datalog Sync” — which means the receiver and display are in sync with each other and automatically record data as the bore progresses.

Simplicity is at the heart of our design philosophy at Underground Magnetics. All of our innovations are designed to drive efficiency and success in the field. It’s our intention to provide contractors with the tools they need to get the job done – simply, powerfully, and affordably. Our newly released Mag 9 system, for example, features a built-in Sim Card that is included for no additional charge.

As more utilities are placed in already crowded easements, these new technologies will become even more necessary to keep our infrastructure safe, and service interruptions to a minimum. Many of the systems on the market today have the capability to store multiple runs on the device and have streamlined downloading capabilities. These advances truly revolutionize the industry. Today, we can easily store and distribute permanent records of a particular installation, and detailed bore records for all projects can be managed in a common format to provide powerful intelligence to be used when planning future boring projects.

HDD locating systems have embraced the evolution of our digital world. In the future, a database of projects using this new technology will give contractors the ability to look in the ground, and see what has been installed there using augmented reality software built into their locating systems. They will literally be able to use their locators in real-time and look at already installed utilities while drilling. These capabilities will reduce the number of utilities strikes significantly.

Mike Young is president of Underground Magnetics.