As a cold winter chill swept across Alberta, Canada, horizontal directional drilling (HDD) crews from Platinum Hydrovac & HDD wrapped up another record-breaking summer installing fiber-optic conduit across western Canada.
According to Lorne Aasen, the directional drilling manager for the Nisku, Alberta-based company, supporting their shallow utility contractor’s installation demands seems to grow every year, and they are doing everything they can to meet the needs of their customers efficiently and safely, while avoiding all the potential hazards that lay beneath the surface.
While Platinum crews work year-round, this part of Canada’s weather limits the optimum conditions for completing shallow utility work — and there is a whole lot of work to be done. “The working window for this part of the country usually runs from around May 1 to Nov. 1,” explained Aasen. “So, when the weather is right, we have to be on-point and get as much installed as we possibly can — customers are counting on us.”
During the peak months, Platinum employs a team of up to 120 highly trained individuals that help support their contractor’s installation work. The company’s most concentrated area of projects is in Edmonton, Alberta. For the last four years, more than 20 crews have been stationed around the city. “There is a lot of planning and coordinating required to get it all done, which is why we simplify and replicate processes wherever we can,” said Aasen.
Simplifying the Fleet
To get the most from its people, Platinum makes sure each crew has the right equipment to do the work as efficiently as possible. Aasen said that choosing a limited number of machine models and manufacturing brands so operators can operate from one machine to another without having to adjust to different controls is an integral part of that. “We only operate Vermeer HDDs,” he said. “This decision makes it easier to move people around as we need to. It also helps simplify maintenance and helps reduces the volume of parts and consumables we need to stock.”
Platinum’s HDD fleet ranges in size from the Vermeer D6x6 Navigator HDD to the D40x55 S3 Navigator HDD. For short drops, the crews primarily use the D6x6 and D10x15 S3 Navigator HDDs because of the compact size and lightweight footprint. Aasen explained that these machines help minimize restoration, and that means crews can get more done during the limited working window every summer.
For mainline work throughout Edmonton, Platinum is primarily using Vermeer D20x22 S3 Navigator HDD. The ground conditions in the area are ideal, made up of soft clays, and these units have proven to be efficient at installing the hundreds of thousands of meters of conduit that crews need to accomplish each year. The company’s larger drills are primarily used to do natural gas work but are available on fiber jobs when ground conditions are a challenge.
“In Edmonton, we typically have around 15 crews dedicated to mainline work and another six installing conduit for doing home drops,” Aasen says. “The mainline crews are usually installing triple 7.6-cm and 10.2-cm (3-in. and 4-in.) conduit bundles. They shoot the pilot bore, ream the hole to a 30.5-cm or 40.6-cm (12-in. or 16-in.) diameter and then pullback. It’s all pretty straight forward, and we’ve been doing it for so many years in the area, we’ve gotten pretty efficient at it.”
Even though the area’s environment has become quite familiar to the Platinum team, each crew follows a meticulous process to help reduce the risk of utility strikes. The standardized operating process works so well that Platinum’s crews safely installed 107,000 m without a contact.
To help keep crews focused, Platinum also has put in place standardization for tooling. “We believe that the fewer number of variables introduced to operations results in more efficient and focused crews, and we carry it out down to the tools we use,” said Aasen. “We get our HDD tooling from Vermeer Canada because the drill bits, drill housing and other accessories perform well and last a long time. Going through our Vermeer dealer also reduces the number of other vendors we need to work with, which simplifies things for all of us.”
In the Edmonton area, Platinum’s fiber crews are using Vermeer Firestick drill rod, premium transmitter housings, Ace steep taper bits and Mix Master reamers. Crews also carry Vermeer Armor drilling system bits that perform well in rocky ground conditions. Aasen said standardizing tooling works and helps reduce jobsite variables.
Another efficiency that Platinum subscribes to is telematics.
“From May through October, we have a lot of work to get done, so trying to maximize productivity is critical to us, which is why we have Vermeer telematics on each drill in our fleet,” Aasen explained. “From my computer, I can monitor the hours and service needs of every single drill we operate, but more importantly, Vermeer Canada is getting that information too. So, when it’s time for service to be performed or we have an issue with a drill, they can schedule preventative maintenance, or they can read fault codes and deploy a service technician to get us back up and running.”
Platinum works closely with Vermeer Canada on all of its HDD service and tooling needs, and Aasen believes it’s a relationship that is vital to the company’s operation. “During those peak working months, everyone is busy juggling a lot of jobsite responsibilities, so if we can delegate our dealer to be thinking about the health of our equipment, it certainly makes sense.”
During the busiest working times of the year, every crew member needs to be on top of their game. Through standardization, an efficient operating process and enlisting its trusted vendor partners to take care of its equipment and tooling needs, Platinum continues to excel summer after summer.