As demand surges to get gigabit internet to homes and businesses across North America, horizontal directional drilling (HDD) contractors need equipment that can keep up with those installation demands.
The contractors are asking manufacturers for new equipment that is more powerful and will allow them to be more productive in all terrains. This is a tall order considering much of the work being done is in established neighborhoods where access is limited, and these increased productivity and power demands would typically mean buying a larger drill.
Engineers at Ditch Witch heard the call and actually went back to an old HDD theme, but with a present-day spin, to create the Ditch Witch XP directional drill solution. The package includes the JT20XP HDD and the XP44 mixing system. This packaged system gives contractors a full 118-hp HDD solution — a 74.5-hp Deutz Tier 4 diesel drill and a 44-hp Yanmar Tier 4 diesel mixing system — offering increased performance in the same physical footprint as the Ditch Witch JT20 HDD.
“The fiber market is probably what 75 percent of these drills are used for,” says Jeff Davis, Ditch Witch product manager, HDD. “This drill is one of the most optimal drills used in the industry today because of its footprint and size.”
How is this accomplished?
The designers took the mud pump off of the drill rig, and added it to the mixing system. In doing so they freed up all of the rig’s 74.5 hp to be dedicated to thrust and rotation. This amounts to increases of 11 percent mud flow and 10 percent spindle torque over the unit’s predecessor, and 14 percent spindle speed over the competitive unit.
The XP44 connects to the JT20XP via a high-pressure hose and the units are able to communicate wirelessly — up to 300 ft — with equipment that was already available on the JT20 drill. The JT20XP has an identical operator station to the JT20 making the transition 100 percent seamless.
“This overall theme is something we used in the past. Most of the directional drills were powerpack-driven by offboard systems, like this, but without the technology to run wireless where it is only the drill fluid hose running [to the machine,]” says Cory Maker, Ditch Witch product manager, drill pipe, fluid systems and downhole tools. “The XP44 is a dedicated mixing system for this package that now incorporates the high-pressure mud pump into the system, taking it off the drill, and allows the power on the drill to be dedicated to thrust and rotation.”
Davis concurs, “Right now, on the market, there is not a drill in this size class that can state that all dedicated horsepower goes to drill functions only. Other drills, with onboard fluid pumps, will burn up horsepower just to run that fluid pump. It is a significant amount.”
There are many features to having that high-pressure system that close to the mixing system including having the centrifugal pump close to the mud pump which prevents cavitation. And from a maintenance and service aspect the contractor has more access to the high-pressure mud pump compared to what it would be on a standard drill. The machine is designed to work only with the proper head pressure to the pump, which helps decrease damage to the pump.
Additionally, the JT20XP package creates an all-diesel jobsite without the requirement for DEF by staying below the 75-hp threshold.
“It is something that is becoming a bigger deal. Most contractors in this class of drills want an all-diesel jobsite,” Maker says. “Almost everybody in the industry from a JT25-size drill and down generally run a gas [fluid] mixing system.” Mixing systems are generally lower horsepower because the centrifugal pump does not generate high pressure. With the addition of the mud pump, the increased horsepower of a diesel engine was a must.
“Taking that high-pressure mud pump off the drill allowed us to save that horsepower for the drill,” Maker says. “There is more power, at a lower decibel rating, with the diesel engine and the power pack compared to running a gas engine.” Decreased noise is definitely a consideration for contractors who work in residential neighborhoods when they look at new equipment.
Increased performance from the drill relates directly to increased productivity. Contractors also will see additional productivity gains in the easy transportation of the JT20XP package from jobsite to jobsite. Because the drill and the mixing system connect via a high-pressure hose, as opposed to a fire hose which is typically used, there is little to no drilling fluid cleanup other than what is in the mud pit.
Continuing on the productivity angle, Ditch Witch optimized the package to use a 500-gal fluid tank — though larger sizes are available —and it partnered with Felling Trailers to use the Felling FT-24 I trailer. This does not vary significantly to a similar JT20 setup.
“That is a big deal, being able to use that same package, and have that same smaller footprint, we didn’t have to lose any capacity to the trailer,” Maker says. “We still have several thousand pounds of additional [hauling] weight available, so the contractor can carry additional mud or drill pipe on the trailer. Our competitors cannot do that due to weight constraints unless they run a smaller fluid mixing tank.”
Though this package only recently hit the market, Maker says that customers have already inquired about similar packages in larger drill sizes as they look to improve their productivity across all jobs not just in fiber installs.
From what we have seen, and what customers are asking for, they want to do more with less,” Maker says. “They want to take the same size footprint drill they have and use it for more capabilities and that is what these options do.”