Mary Andringa Vermeer

Trenchless Pioneers: Mary Andringa

Trenchless Pioneers is a special monthly series sharing with readers the trailblazers who grew and expanded the trenchless industry.

The Vermeer name is synonymous with construction equipment manufacturing. In trenchless circles that legacy goes to Mary Andringa, whose leadership while at the helm of Vermeer Corp. was pivotal in launching the Pella, Iowa-based company into the fledging market of horizontal directional drilling (HDD), as well as driving new and game-changing technological advances in the HDD sector.

Vermeer Mfg. Co. was established in 1948 by Andringa’s father, Gary Vermeer and introduced its first product for the utility industry — its PTO-driven trencher — in 1951. Andringa officially joined the company in 1982, during a period of rapid growth in the trenching market.

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“My father was always passionate about innovation and had a strong interest in developing a technique for installing underground infrastructure with minimal surface disruptions in the late 1980s,” Andringa says — and that passion became her passion, as well.

Andringa stepped down as Vermeer CEO and president in 2015 (succeeded by her son Jason Andringa); she is currently chair emeritus of its board of directors.

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She says that a small group at Vermeer began work in 1990 on a horizontal directional drill and by 1991, had developed five machines ready for market testing. The enthusiastic response from dealers and customers led to numerous orders and the product was later named the Navigator (a name that is still used today).

“From that point on, Vermeer was in the trenchless industry,” she says.

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Andringa and her team focused energies on developing new technology for a constantly changing, growing and more educated market. In 1993, Vermeer developed its first self-contained HDD drill — a drill that resulted in soaring sales by the end of that decade, with HDD accounting for more than half of the company’s business. Under Andringa’s watch, Vermeer set its sights on technology beyond the HDD rigs, such as drill rod technology, including its single-piece forged steel Firestick drill rod, which helped increase successful bore completion rates. The manufacturer prioritized local in-the-field training, developed operator manuals and new safety features for its rigs.

“We were helping to develop a brand-new market, and to do that, we needed to educate and train [our] dealers and contractors around the world,” Andringa explains.

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To keep up with the growth in the trenchless industry, as well as at Vermeer, Andringa played a critical role in helping the company adopt LEAN manufacturing processes — a new way of building machinery to help deliver quality built equipment while increasing production rates. Additionally, Andringa has actively collaborated with legislators on issues that matter to advanced manufacturing, exporters and small- to medium-size businesses.

Early Years

The early years of HDD were fast-paced, with everything being new to everyone. Innovation had a virtual blank page as its canvas. The phrase “What’s next?” was a common refrain. “Back in my early days of the trenchless industry, we were all learning together, as was the rest of the industry. It was a fun experience,” she reflects. “Over the first decade, a lot of innovation was added to the drills, expanding the possibilities of horizontal directional drilling.”

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Today’s trenchless market is thriving and continues to have a promising future with innovative technology, equipment and products to make trenchless technology even stronger but, in Andringa’s view, she attributes the success of trenchless to the people behind the technology. “While companies receive a lot of attention for developing machinery and technology that power industries, the credit for the industry’s success also goes to the contractors, engineers and dealers who support them,” she says. “These are the people who do the work every day and push the boundaries of what’s possible. What has made the trenchless industry truly unique is how everyone works together to continue to grow and develop the market.”

Andringa marvels at how far the trenchless industry has evolved and continues to grow since Vermeer took those initial steps into it more than 30 years ago. She sees her legacy defined by her continued passion and commitment to Vermeer Corp. “It is amazing to see how much the industry has evolved since then,” she says. “Although small utility installation work remains an important part of the industry, trenchless methods are now being used to install a variety of large diameter infrastructure … It is exciting to think about what the future holds as the industry continues to evolve.”

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Sharon M. Bueno is the editor of Trenchless Technology.

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