Reamer Tooling Proves to be Key to Project Success

Railhead EXTReam Reamer Technology is a wonderful thing and when that technology can improve productivity at a decreased cost it is all the better.

Such was the case for Engineers Construction (ECI), of Williston, Vt. The company was subcontracted the task of completing the horizontal directional drilling (HDD) work for the Saratoga County Sewer District. The project started in 2012 and, according to ECI foreman Marc Bonin, ECI’s end of the project should be complete by the end of March.

Kingsley Arms, of Schaghticoke, N.Y., is the general contractor for the approximately $18.5 million project, which is an upgrade and expansion of the Saratoga Sewer District’s service area in Mechanicville and around Saratoga Lake. The remainder of the project is on track for a June completion.

ECI’s portion of the project is about $3.3 million and covered approximately 30,000 ft of work, 10 to 11 ft below ground, in both project sections. Both required drilling through 18,000-psi shale. That hardness, Bonin says, is about average for the area but the work did call for some special tools.

Before the project began, ECI purchased a Ditch Witch 4020 All-Terrain drill geared to working in hard rock and difficult soil conditions. On the job, a Ditch Witch JT100 All-Terrain drill and a Ditch Witch JT100 complemented the 4020.

The real cost and time saver for ECI came with the purchase of a Railhead EXTReam Reamer to handle the pre-reaming.

Bonin says that ECI measured its time by 15-ft lengths of rod and using a 12-in. roller cone reamer through the 18,000-psi shale resulted in 30 to 35 minutes per section. That lasted for the first four months of the job.
Railhead approached ECI project manager Harold “Corky” Morse about using the EXTReam, citing the fact that it would cut the time, as well as the cost and the reamer would last longer. Morse took Railhead up on that and ECI ordered the EXTReam Reamer.

“We started using Railhead EXTReam Rock Reamer and it took us some time to adjust our pressures and our rpms,” Bonin said. With that figured out, the project time went to about 15 minutes per 15-ft rod.

“So we were pretty happy with that reamer,” Bonin added. “I was very pleased with the reamer.”

The ECI crews began in December 2012 in Mechanicville on New York routes 4 and 32 adjacent to the Hudson River. This section of the project encompassed approximately 20,000 ft and involved the installation of 4-in. and 8-in. high-density polyethylene (HPDE) pipe. 

Railhead EXTReam ReamerWorking in 750 to 800-ft sections, from manhole to manhole, ECI crews used the Ditch Witch 4020 and a 6-in. Ditch Witch roller cone bit to drill pilot holes for the 4-in. and 8-in. pipe.

After drilling the pilot holes, crews would back the steel out, connect the 4-in. pipe and pull it through, after which, the drill rig would move to the next 800-ft section.

Bringing in a Ditch Witch JT100 with the 12-in. Railhead EXTReam Reamer, the crew upsized the 6-in. pilot hole to allow for the new 8-in. pipe.

Following the completion of its Mechanicville sections, the 10-person ECI drilling crew moved to Saratoga Lake where it drilled approximately 10,000 ft to install new 16-in HPDE pipe adjacent to New York Route 9P.

Following a similar work pattern, the Ditch Witch 4020 drilled a 6-in. pilot hole, crews backed out the steel and the hole was pre-reamed with the 12-in. EXTReam Reamer. With the JT100 handling the upsizing to 24-in. using a roller cone bit before pulling through the 16-in. pipe.

In both project sections, the EXTReam Reamer was working at about 800 to 1,000 ft lbs of pressure with a rotary of 55 to 65 rpms and using 25 gpm of M-I Swaco drilling fluid.

In all of this, Bonin says the most challenging part was the two to three days it took to figure out the drilling mud mixture.

“Drilling mud, in my opinion, is probably 70 percent of success or failure in a drilling project,” the veteran foreman said. “So we take a lot of time with my crew always looking at our mud and adjusting our mud based on soil conditions.”

Engineers Construction (ECIAccompanying the drilling crews and ensuring that the crucial mud mixture was ready were two 1,000-gal Ditch Witch mixing systems, a 3,500-gal water truck to supply the mud mixer and a 4,000-gal truck to move the mud to the site.

After the mixture was determined, Bonin says things went ‘absolutely smoothly.’

That smooth progression through both project sections is a testament to ECI’s structure. With 200 employees during peak season, the company operates in four distinct sections. The HDD portion began in the late 1990s but really took off in the first decade of this century.

“What makes a HDD drilling operation like this really successful in my opinion is I spend a lot of time having a good quality crew where everybody knows their position,” Bonin said.

Constant communication with the crew from members that monitor the mud mixture to the drill operator to the locator and those who fuse the pipe, Bonin says, “everybody on this team does an awesome job and that’s what made this project so successful.”

A quality crew is also crucial to handle working in tight quarters next to the highway and near residential properties.

“We just address it by really being very diplomatic and communicating as well as possible with all of the homeowners that live on the lake and we’ve had good success there,” Bonin said.

As for working along the highway, the project hit delays when it snowed because, Bonin pointed out that the state did not want crews working when snowplows were out. The delays, however, were not enough to set the project back.

“It’s a whole package of a complete team that makes a project like this go over well,” Bonin said. “We can complete a project ahead of schedule and give a good product to our customer, in this case the Saratoga County Sewer District.”

Mike Kezdi is an assistant editor for Trenchless Technology.

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