As the compact directional drilling market continues its resurgence, work hasalso picked up for the rigs one step above the smaller drills. The mid-sizedrills, which along with the compact drill market suffered tough times in theearly 2000s, are being rolled out by manufacturers at the 2005 tradeshows thatfeature new power and technology, with more in the works for next year to meetthe growing interest and demand.

What has jumpstarted the mid-size rigmarket? Manufacturers point to a couple of factors. First, the re-emergence ofthe fiber-optic market in recent years has generated interest to installmultiple ducts, which are typically done with the mid-size rigs. And second,municipalities are finally opening their wallets to address the growing need toupgrade and rehabilitate their aging water and sewer infrastructure. These,along with an improving economy, have mid-size rig sales on the rise afterseveral down years, say industry experts.

Some manufacturers have justre-tooled the rigs to make them better, faster and more powerful, while othershave re-entered the market with a brand new line of rigs, such as StraightLineMfg. and its SL2020, which is expected to hit the market in a few weeks. AstecUnderground introduced the first rig in its new Earth Pro series, the DD3238,with a second mid-size rig to be unveiled in 2006.

“Every HDD market isgrowing compared to the last four years,” says Richard Levings, trenchlessproduct manager at Ditch Witch, a leading manufacturer of undergroundconstruction equipment based in Perry, Okla. “It has not reached the level of1999 and 2000, but it is growing at a very accelerated rate at the presenttime.”

Others in the industry agree.

“It appears that the mid-size market is picking up and is doing so becausethere is a growing base of work for this size of work in all utilitydisciplines,” says Don Cary, president of StraightLine Mfg., a drillmanufacturer based in Newton, Kan. “The mid-size drills are taking some marketshare from the smaller drills because their increased capabilities offer thedriller greater versatility in a small package.

“The mid-size rigs arealso taking market share from the larger drill class because of the increasedcapabilities found in the new mid-size drills and the fact that they are easierto mobilize and set up in tight areas,” Cary adds.

With the introductionof its SL2020, StraightLine is re-committing itself to becoming a leading HDDrig manufacturer again after enduring several years of financial problems. Thelast new rig produced by the company was in 2000. Cary re-acquired StraightLineMfg., a company he founded in 1983, in December 2003 and said a second mid-sizerig is under development for 2006. Cary also owns Source: HDD, which sells usedHDD equipment to drillers.

Klane Kirby, director of sales at Astec Underground, a leading manufacturerof underground equipment based in Loudon, Tenn., concurs with Cary and Levingsto some degree, but is a little more cautious. “The mid-size market fell [in theearly 2000s] along with the compact market,” Kirby says. “It’s holding its ownwith the compact segment but it’s coming around.”

Astec Undergroundlaunched its new rig series, Earth Pro, at the 2005 CONEXPO-CON/AGG show — itsfirst new rig since buying out Case Corp. of its rigs and HDD equipment inOctober 2004. The two companies had formed a partnership in 2002, with Casewanting to transition out of the underground construction business. With asecond mid-size rig set to hit the market in 2006, Astec plans to introducethree compact size rigs in the Earth Pro line by the ICUEE show inSeptember.

In today’s market, with compact rigs being developed smallerand smaller with the same amount of push/pullback capabilities, the mid-sizerigs can start as low as 20,000 to 25,000 lbs of push/pullback and still performthe mid-size work. The manufacturers gauge the mid-size market between 20,000and 100,000 lbs of push/pullback ability.

“The mid-size rig shouldprobably be 25,000 to 100,000 pounds of pullback,” Levings says. “Some in theindustry classified the mid-sized market as 40,000 to 100,000 pounds 10 yearsago but since that time, 25,000-pound units have been tremendously improved,therefore giving them the ability to perform some of the work that used torequire a 40,000-pound unit to complete.”

So what kind of work is themid-size rig targeted for? The mid-size rig can be used for the gamut ofdrilling — telecom, gas, pipeline, water, sewer, fiber-optic and general boring— from 6- to 24-in. diameter product. Some can do as large as 30 to 36 in., themanufacturers say, where space is restricted and the maxi rigs cannot enter.Fiber-to-the-premises jobs are popular when a drill is needed for a largerdiameter and longer distance than a compact rig can handle.

“There isquite a market for the mid-size drill,” Kirby says, noting that, in his opinion,the bulk of it is coming from the water and sewer industry. “Fiber-optic is hotright now and it will be instrumental for the [mid-size] market because of themultiple ducts that are being installed. But where we are setting our emphasisin the water and sewer market is with our 100,000-pound rig [in 2006]. Water andsewer [lines] have long been neglected.”

Kirby explains that water andsewer lines in the United States and around the world are exceeding their 50- to100-year limit and are in dire need of attention and upgrade. “Municipalitieshave held off as long as they could and are now forced to upgrade” whethervoluntarily or by EPA mandate, he says.

When looking at mid-size rigs,stripped down from a design perspective with all the extras taken away, mostrigs are pretty much the same with regard to design, size, power, safetyfeatures, etc. It’s what the manufacturers add in other areas beyond machineoptions that make them different from each other. Those extras include:additional drill stem, tooling such as boring heads and backreamers, locatingsystems, trailers and various sizes of mud mixing systems to name a few.

But what else are potential customers looking for? That list includes ease ofservice, ease of operation and simple electronic and hydraulic systems, says EdSavage, trenchless product manager at Vermeer Mfg., a leading HDD manufacturingcompany in Pella, Iowa. Other areas include maintenance andmaneuverability.
Leving adds flexibility to the list, saying, “[Customers]want flexible units that do large and small work depending on the jobrequirements.”

Manufacturers like Ditch Witch, Astec Underground, Vermeerand StraightLine are just a few of the mid-size rig manufacturers that offerthese rigs and options for potential customers, who Kirby describes to beintelligent and shrewd when it comes to knowing what they want and need and whatis available to them. They have to be, as a mid-size rig can run anywhere from$120,000 and $400,000 — a pretty hefty price tag even before the extras arefigured in.

StraightLine’s SL2020 is 17 ft in length, 52 in. wide andstands 5 ft, 7 in. with its rod loader; it can easily fit in congestedresidential areas, Cary says. It has 20,000 lbs of pullback and 2,000 ft-lbs ofrotary torque. Other features include pilot-operated hydraulic valves, overheadrod loader, rack-and-pinion thrust drive and, according to StraightLineofficials, the only mid-size rig that has a mud-ready, triplex mudpump.

Cary says that interest in the SL2020 is high, with 20 pre-builtorders ready for delivery in just a few weeks.

Astec Undergroundintroduced the DD-3238 this year but has a total of three mid-size rigs with itsDD-6 and DD-8, both in use since the early 1990s. The DD-6 is a self-containeddrill that carries 60,000 lbs of push/pullback and, with its footprint, can beused in residential areas with pipe diameters up to 30 in. The DD-8 is alsoself-contained but has 80,000-lbs of push/pullback and can install pipediameters up to 36 in. Both of these models have the Es-lok exit side lockoutsystem
Ditch Witch has five mid-size models: JT2720 Mach 1, JT2720All-Terrain, JT4020 Mach 1, JT4020 All-Terrain and JT8020 Mach 1. These modelsrange from 27,000 to 80,000 lbs of push/pullback and are made for installations800 to 2,000 ft and hole sizes from 12 to 30 in.

Vermeer Mfg. offersthree mid-size models: D18x22, D24x40 Series II and the D36x50. These modelsrange from 22,000 to 36,000 lbs of push/pullback capability. The D18x22 is usedsimilarly to a compact drill in congested areas, while the D24x40 Series II alsoprovides many of the same features of a compact machine. The D36x50 is built toperform a wide range of medium diameter, mid-to-long distance utilityinstallations.

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