Stitch Boring with Piercing Tools

Grayco Communications located in LaPorte, Texas, understands the importance of taking care of its customers and the clients they serve.

“Catered customer care is not just our slogan. It is also our number one goal,” says Grayco vice president of operations Butch Grambow.

Grayco currently services more than 900 customers daily and is one of the largest contractors for Comcast in the Houston Metropolitan area, providing a full range of services including: residential and commercial installation, audits/sales, collections, multi-dwelling unit service plans, equipment recovery and underground construction.

Minimizing social impact and providing fast, clean and cost-effective installation of underground utilities and services using trenchless technologies is one of the ways Grayco achieve its goals. Grayco uses “stitch boring” as the primary method for the installation of underground utilities. The stitch boring method uses pneumatic piercing tools to bore from small pits to the next followed by the new product installation. It is the preferred method of many contractors because of the low operating cost per foot of installation, reasonable equipment investment and minimal expertise required for equipment operation. In addition, due to the minimal surface disruption of the method, clean up and restoration costs are minimized.

With more than 15 years of industry experience, Grayco construction manager Trae Stavinoha knows the importance of getting the most out of his crews. Stavinoha says, “By using the stitch boring method, we average about 400 ft per day and up to 2,000 ft per week of new installation with just a three-person crew.”
Armed with shovels, two piercing tools and air compressors, Grayco’s 10 underground crews and subcontractors install more than 20,000 ft of underground fiber, coax, electrical and communications lines each week in residential and commercial areas throughout Houston.

At the jobsite, each three-person crew carefully chooses pit locations to minimize impact and maximize job production. “Most bores range from 25 to 50 ft and individual projects ranging from 100 to 2,700 ft long with
each pit being approximately 24 in. deep,” says Stavinoha.

Once pit location is determined, the pits are hand dug and the crew strings air hoses from the compressor to the easements to power the piercing tools. Once connected to the air supply, the tool is shot from one pit to the next, each pit serving as both an exit pit and entry pit for the next bore. “Piercing tools are a reliable way of installing conduits under trees, gardens, out buildings and other permanent fixtures. In addition, there is less restoration involved vs. plowing or using a trencher,” says Stavinoha.

Because the location of easements in the Houston area is usually located in the back yards of homes throughout the city, underground utility installation often becomes challenging with larger equipment. Leaving these landscaped areas the same way they were found is a must for the customers, and is a big reason underground utility contractors like Grayco choose the stitch bore method.  

“Although we work in front easements, we normally work in back yards. Most of our work is done in landscaped areas with many other underground utilities within the right of way,” says Stavinoha.
Limiting the damage to existing utilities is another great reason for contractors to use the stitch bore method. “One of the great things about piercing tools is that the force our crews to dig up and expose the other utilities that they may be crossing. By physically identifying the location of the existing utilities, we take a proactive role in damage prevention,” says Stavinoha.

“Over the years, I’ve seen damage to existing utilities that could have been avoided if only the construction company had chosen piercing tools as the method of installation. Using a piercing tool for these installations has become the norm because it allows us to provide the catered customer care we strive for while minimizing installation and restoration costs. When evaluating cost and production, it’s simple. For the work we do, the stitch boring method has a high rate of production and often the most cost effective way to install underground utilities; especially where clean up and tight utility easements are an issue.”

Grayco has learned through its experience that it benefits them to have different tools for the varying soil and ground conditions they work in. The ground conditions in the Houston area vary greatly from gumbo, sandy loamy and sugar sand. Grayco chooses piercing tools from HammerHead Trenchless Equipment because it had a wide range of tools designed to keep crews productive while minimizing maintenance costs in different soil conditions.  

“We run the 2 ½-in. to 3-in. Catamount piercing tools in tough ground conditions and when we’re in soft or sandy ground, we run 2. ½-in. and 3-in. Replaceable Head piercing tools,” says Stavinoha.

“Replaceable head, or fixed head, tools are preferred in average to soft ground conditions. They have fewer moving parts and therefore have a much lower maintenance cost.  They also maintain traction much better in softer ground making them much more productive than reciprocating head tools.” says HammerHead national sales manager Will LeBlanc.

When ground conditions get harder and production from the Replaceable Head tools begins to slow, Grayco has been using the new Catamount piercing tools from HammerHead, The Catamount piercing tool features a reciprocating head that is designed to bore through harder ground conditions.

“The new tool design brings to the industry a reciprocating head that is easy to start, regardless of air
pressure level, and the Catamount design eliminates the need for a mechanical spring, which is prone to fail over time,” says LeBlanc. “It’s completely different than any other tool design in the market as we’ve taken technology from down-hole hammers and incorporated them into this tool.”

“The ease of fixing the HammerHead is by far the quickest and easiest. It is not a matter of when a tool will need repairs — because they all will. It is a matter of how fast can I get the tool back in the field working and making the company money.”

Jason Haas is marketing manager for HammerHead Trenchless Equipment, an Earth Tool Co.

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