Let’s Talk Tooling

There’s no doubt that choosing the proper horizontal directional drill — a model with the power, torque and operational capabilities necessary to complete a specific job — is important for accomplishing a successful installation; however, selecting the right tooling is also an important decision.

While it may be true that the drill provides the power, it’s the tooling that contributes the efficiency, and ultimately, helps enhance productivity. Given the thousands of varying ground conditions contractors may encounter, it’s not just the power, torque and pullback capacity of the machine but also the effectiveness of the tool that will result in a successful installation.

“Tooling can be considered the ‘business’ end of the machine,” says Chris Fontana, manager of Vermeer Corp.’s Cutting Edge tooling segment. “Given the highly competitive bidding process and tight margins, it’s very important that contractors choose the right tooling, not only for minimizing operational costs, but also to maximize performance and meet deadlines.”

The challenge for contractors is often a double-edged sword. With literally hundreds of different types of tools that, according to manufacturer sources, will all accomplish the same thing, the many options, opinions and productivity claims can be confusing and frustrating. Yet the good news for installers is that tooling manufacturers have responded by developing design and engineering innovations that have proven to be most effective in navigating very specific soil types and ground conditions.

Today’s tooling products are engineering marvels — highly intricate in design and fabric — the result of years of research, science and in-field testing. And as Fontana explains, it’s not only the design precision of the actual tool, but also consideration of how specific tooling products will affect the machine’s performance.

“We could design a tool that would appeal to our customers and has design features necessary to perform but adversely affects machine performance, then we’ve defeated the purpose,” Fontana says. “It’s about cause and effect and we as manufacturers have an accountability to that. A tool may have design features to successfully conquer specific ground conditions, but it isn’t good if it adversely affects the machine.”

Fontana cites vibration as an example. With continuous excessive vibration traveling up the drill stem, the long-term effect to the machine may result in excessive wear that can damage seals, bearings and create other related pre-mature wear issues.

Extending Tooling Lifespan

Wear is inevitable. Every tool or machine — regardless of how well it’s designed, the quality of materials used to fabricate or build it and the maintenance it receives — has a lifespan and will eventually succumb to wear from repeated use. Yet, by being diligent in following a few key maintenance tips, contractors can extend the effective operational life of their tooling investment.

  • Mud and drilling fluids: Mud provides the lubrication that is essential for extending tooling life and helps maximize drilling efficiency and productivity. HDD experts and tooling manufacturers strongly recommend that contractors not make any concessions by cutting back on this critical component of drilling fluid and mud, as doing so is likely to promote avoidable wear and compromise the integrity of bores. Tooling is much more likely to wear out faster if not properly lubricated.
  • Proper use: Knowledge of tooling capabilities and understanding expectations of what a specific tool is designed to do is necessary for choosing the most appropriate tool for the conditions encountered. Using tooling in conditions other than those for which the tool was intended will adversely affect productivity while promoting premature wear. In addition, drill operators should double check connections to the drill string to make sure all is secure and void of any play.
  • Rebuilding: Many tools may be refurbished to help extend tool life. One such practice, known as hard facing, is a metallurgical process of adding a surface to the existing tool that is much harder than the carrier surface. The material is strategically applied at various points on the tool that are most vulnerable to wear. This should only be attempted by experienced companies who have knowledge of metallurgy or metal processing as incompatible materials or surfaces incorrectly applied can actually reduce tool life instead of enhance it.

As is true of any additional equipment enhancement or practice designed to minimize wear and extend tooling life, Fontana recommends contractors do a cost/benefit analysis to determine if the expense associated with such practices can be recouped by extending the service life of the tool.

“In certain applications, especially when drilling in soils that don’t create excessive wear, the additional cost of hard facing and such may not be justifiable,” Fontana says. “Conversely, in areas where rock and conditions such as cemented cobble are encountered frequently, the additional expense may likely justify the means.”

Fontana suggests that contractors consult with their tooling supplier about the feasibility of refurbishing tooling products and discuss acceptable practices before they buy.

Before You Buy

Contractors who are considering expanding their current inventory of tooling options can streamline the process and feel more confident that the selections they make are the right ones simply by asking a lot of questions. Buying tooling for a specific job is likely not the most prudent approach — although sometimes necessary — as contractors would be better served selecting tools with the capability to navigate effectively through multiple conditions. Hence, versatility and functionality is a critical component.

Additionally, with most contractors doing all they can to cut expenses and lower input costs, there may be a tendency to allow pricing to unjustly influence final purchase decisions. That said, understanding there is a combination of factors and components that should be considered including quality of fabrication,  craftsmanship and engineering; the quality of materials used to manufacture, warranty, serviceability and, as most previously discussed, tooling refurbishing options. All of these components factor into overall tooling life span and production efficiencies. At first look, the sticker price may look attractive, but over the long haul, contractors may end up paying more in lost productivity, reduced tooling life span and compromising service.

Randy Happel is a technical writer for Two Rivers Marketing, Des Moines, Iowa.

Product Launch: The Armor Drilling System

The Armor Drilling System from Vermeer is a single HDD tooling system with multiple drilling options designed to provide versatility and performance, and the integrated modular design allows the tooling to be adapted to various ground conditions.

“Compared to other modular systems, the Armor Drilling System offers a complete line of bit options that are easily interchangeable to adapt to varying ground conditions during a bore,” says Chris Fontana with Vermeer Corp. “This helps eliminate the need to purchase multiple housings and tools for different applications and processes.”

A unique and patent-pending advanced bit mounting design utilizes a solid pin for bit retention and for ease in bit interchangeability and maintenance. The housing is constructed with dual water ports that deliver up to 50 gpm at 500 psi of mud flow to effectively carry cuttings out of the bore hole.

To eliminate bolts that can vibrate loose during the drilling process, potentially causing electronics to be lost, the sonde lid is designed with a proven roll pin retention feature and is built from heavy-duty materials to minimize distortion caused by flexing.

The sonde isolation/clocking feature is designed for ease of use and provides that the electronics do not engage any metal surface helping to reduce the transfer of vibration in tough drilling conditions.

The Armor Drilling System features four distinct bits for use in specific ground conditions:

Gauntlet bit — designed for use in soft to medium rock, shale, hard pan and caliche ground conditions up to 10,000 psi with exceptional steering capabilities. Carbide buttons are strategically placed on the bit for optimum cutting, and carbide hard facing helps to enhance wear and performance characteristics. A replaceable three-tooth design delivers a consistent cutting structure for steering corrections and maximum drilling performance.

Lance bit — intended for use in hard-packed soils and cobble. The bit features a scoop design for better steering capabilities and enhanced operator control to limit wandering in challenging ground conditions. Carbide buttons and robotically applied hard facing help improve overall bit wear in most abrasive drilling conditions.

Maul bit — features a similar scoop design found in the Lance bit that offers improved control and performance characteristics, but is a more economical option with an enhanced carbide hardface structure, less the carbide buttons.

Standard bit — offers the flexibility to run one of many different plate bit offerings helping to limit tool wear of your other bits in certain ground conditions.

Vermeer offers a convenient and economical bit re-manufacturing program to help minimize cost per foot (meter) expenses. The Armor Drilling System is also available in 2- and 4-battery sonde lengths and is wire line compatible.

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