Completing jobs efficiently and profitably is the top priority for any horizontal directional drilling (HDD) contractor. It’s tempting to cut corners or cobble together a “just good enough” solution in service of wrapping up a project fast and moving onto the next. However, wrong decisions regarding HDD tools can come back to haunt you. The cost of operating an entire job site can dramatically increase when you are hit with downtime because of the wrong tooling. Conversely, operating with the best tooling for the type of ground and installation can increase your profitability with speed and efficiency gains.
This article will address some key things to consider with different tooling to ensure you keep your costs low…and profitability up.
HDD Tooling – Pilot Hole
When drilling your pilot shot, it’s tempting to throw the biggest, baddest bit in your tool shed onto your drill and use it in every case. Inexact tooling choices might get the job done eventually, but will hamper productivity and expose your HDD bits and other tools to unnecessary wear and tear.
Select the best bit for your job by using the diameter and quantity of the pipe you’ll be installing as a reference while you walk the path you’re planning to shoot. As you look at the depth and location of various other utility packages, evaluate the cutting diameter of your own HDD bits.
Will your existing tooling allow you to weave through existing utilities?
Your goal is to drill a hole with the minimum diameter that will enable you to successfully pull product without squeezing or stretching the pipe and safely avoiding all other underground utilities.
It’s impossible to know exactly what type of soil you’ll run into during your job, but it’s possible to get a pretty good idea before you begin. Inspect the soil in your entry and receiving pits. By physically handling the dirt, you’ll get a sense of the layers of material running through your bore path. Of course, with all HDD jobs, there will be surprises, but having a good idea up front of the type of material you’ll be drilling will help select the bit that’s best for the job.
For example, penetrating shale takes effort, and an HDD bit needs to break up the material and successfully move it out of the way. A bit with sharp teeth performs ideally in these conditions.
HDD bits like the Eagle Claw SD often end up being the best bang for your buck. Your initial investment may be greater than buying a typical aggressive bit, but once you realize you will wear out ten or more blades before needing to rebuild your Eagle Claw, the benefit vs. risk factor starts to make a lot of sense in favor of a tri-cutter bit.
HDD Tooling – Pullback
Buying a new reamer isn’t cheap, but how much will it cost you if pullback productivity slows down because you’re using the wrong tool? When contracts pay by the foot and you’re paying your crew by the hour, selecting an inefficient tooling solution translates directly into idle crews and stalled revenue.
Using the right reamer for the given conditions can easily speed up the pullback by 25-plus percent.
Do the math: it’s the difference in having to pay a crew for six hours vs. eight. Not to mention the cost to run the equipment. What did that just save you? Plus, you’ll have the right tool in your shed for the next shot. This one’s a no-brainer.
Using a reamer that lacks appropriate mixing action, or trying to drill too much too fast, can displace ground material and force drilling fluid to the surface. Sure, you want to pull back as fast as possible since it’s all about production. However, once again, using the wrong tool — or the wrong procedure — can result in your job shutting down temporarily or permanently. It’s definitely not worth it.
Breakaway connectors have pins that have a precise rating that give under the right amount of force. Using the wrong pin connectors can undermine their effectiveness and put the product pipe at risk…and your entire profit. Using pins that are rated higher than the specs of the PVC you’re pulling renders them useless, since they’ll stay intact under the force of your pullback and stretch your pipe instead. Pipe with thinner — and therefore weaker — walls can become a significant liability…a very costly one.
HDD Tooling Shortcuts ≠ Efficiency
The temptation to save a buck with undersized tooling on a rig with a higher torque and pullback rating can really hurt you in the long run. Sharing tools across drill rigs that have different specs can damage your HDD tools that slow production, wreck your rig and force downtime. Even worse, it may force you to sacrifice the drilling progress you’ve made and abandon your hole completely if your tool breaks down hole.
Another tempting time-saver may be to “pad” tooling by welding on steel or carbide cutters in an effort to increase the cutting diameter. Sometimes this is also done to keep the tool running after its intended wear life. The risk does not outweigh the possible benefit, and it is a recipe for slowed operation…or breaking tools mid-job.
How is this? Well, haphazardly applied cutters generate a tremendous amount of drag. Equally, the lack of balance creates a vibration that will damage other tools and bearings along the drill string by sending uncontrolled vibration back onto the drill rig. Always use the right-sized reamer for the hole you want to drill.
In life, a sense of adventure can be admirable with spur of the moment decisions. In business as a contractor, doing things on the fly is not admirable, nor the best way to go. It only leads to costly errors and a shaky reputation for your HDD operation in the long run. Profitability is closely linked to preparation and minimizing risk. Ensure that your company avoids risky jobs, knows how to assess tooling needs effectively, plans the best approach to projects in advance and stays safe on the job. With all of these things in mind, you’ll all be working toward the same goals — and keeping the company increasingly profitable.