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    Plan for Success, Then Work the Plan


    Many horizontal directional drilling contractors have that one success story that brings a smile to their face just thinking about it. For Erik Carlson, owner of Pinnacle Construction & Directional Boring, Inc., in Charleston, South Carolina, that story happened on the day his team completed a 285-foot (86.9 m) bore under the entrance roadways at the Charleston International Airport — hitting a 20-inch (50.8 cm) diameter exit hole in a wall directly below the airport’s baggage carousels.

    “I didn’t realize I could hold my breath for that long,” joked Carlson. “We had the airport’s director of operations, IT supervisor, IT manager and several other dignitaries waiting near the exit hole, just to see if we could do it. And, we hit it — dead center! I couldn’t have been prouder of my team and everyone else we recruited to help us with the job.”

    Starting from the beginning

    The success Pinnacle Construction experienced with the airport job can be attributed in part to proper planning; Carlson had been preparing for a project like this one for several years.

    Carlson’s journey started when he joined the United States Navy after high school. He studied submarine electronics and was responsible for analyzing threat signals when a submarine was out at sea. Using the information he gathered, Carlson helped officers and the ship’s captain make decisions as to where to go, what to do and where not to be.

    “I learned then that you don’t take a multi-billion-dollar submarine out to sea without a good plan,” Carlson explained. “We practiced every potential scenario that could happen — flooding, a hydraulic line rupture, electrical fire, loss of propulsion or any other kind of life-threatening situation. Diligent planning and training meant we were all prepared for whatever came our way.”

    When Carlson completed his service in the Navy and got into horizontal directional drilling, he developed a similar approach to his business. “I’m an analytical person, and I’m used to processing data to make decisions, troubleshoot and train,” he said. “So, when it comes to drilling, it never made much sense to me to show up on the jobsite, stick the bit in the ground and push it through until it comes out the other side..”

    Commitment to planning

    From Pinnacle Construction’s first drilling jobs to their jobsites today, Carlson has trained his team to diligently plan for every scenario before work begins. The process starts by examining the bore path, identifying any potential underground obstacles and then determining how the crew will avoid them. After the locates are called in, Pinnacle Construction crews spend time talking through what potential challenges they may face on a job, long before any machine shows up onsite.

    Planning tools

    Around the same time that Carlson started Pinnacle Construction, horizontal directional drill manufacturers began to introduce technology that could aid in planning. “We purchased the Vermeer Atlas Bore Planner® computer software long before anyone else we knew of was talking about planning,” Carlson explained. “I knew taking the time to plan jobs would make us more efficient, more professional, and would help us avoid potential utility strikes and other safety concerns.”

    Carlson upgraded Pinnacle Construction’s planning process when the Vermeer BoreAid® design tool was introduced. “BoreAid design tool gave us the ability to plan and present more three dimensional, which is extremely helpful for larger-diameter bores,” Carlson explained. “And, when I heard about Vermeer Projects productivity tools, I knew we had to give it a try.”

    Pinnacle Construction was also an early adopter of Vermeer Projects +BorePlan productivity tools. According to Carlson, the bulk of his company’s work is for electric utility companies, and Vermeer Projects has been invaluable for DOT-permitted road crossings, where they have to prove how they will drill a shot and how they plan to avoid all the utilities.

    “South Carolina’s DOT requires permits for most roadway crossings, but they are very particular about any bores that are greater than 2 inches (5.1 cm) in diameter,” Carlson said. “We used to have to take a measuring wheel out to a jobsite to plot utilities. Now with the mapping tools, we go out there with a cell phone and a 6.6-foot (2 m) stick. We usually capture three GPS positions for each utility — one to the left, one where we will intersect and one to the right. It’s much faster and more accurate than other methods.”

    Back in the office, Carlson can open and review the collected GPS data in Vermeer Projects. He likes to label each utility and specify who owns it, what size it is and pertinent elevation information. Bore details are then added, including the type and size of pipe being used, what directional drill will be performing the job and setback requirements. A report is then generated and combined with other project documents and then sent to the engineer on the job, who uploads everything for the DOT to review. If the DOT has any concerns, Carlson can make adjustments in Vermeer Projects and then resubmit it for approval.

    “Vermeer Projects makes the whole process more efficient than doing all of that work by hand or using separate programs that don’t communicate with each other,” Carlson explained. “Plus, it is professional looking, which has helped us get invited to bid on jobs that have strict requirements, like the one at the Charleston Airport.”

    Working the plan

    It was Pinnacle Construction’s thorough planning process that earned the team an invitation to bid on the recent fiberoptic relocation project at Charleston Airport. After winning the job, the team went through all of its planning steps. “We laid out the utilities, brought in a private locator to verify utilities that were not publicly operated, used GPR to confirm locations under the runways, used GPS to plot our course and then plugged it all into Vermeer Projects,” said Carlson. “Everything needed to be accurate because the whole project was going to happen during regular airport operations and an accidental utility strike could cause major issues for the airport, airlines and travelers.”

    The most challenging shot on the nearly 2,500-foot (762 m) project was the 285-foot (86.9 m) shot that started just outside of the airport and ended in the terminal’s basement — 12 feet (3.7 m) below grade through a 20-inch (50.8 cm) hole located 48 inches (120.9 cm) off the floor in the baggage handling area. From there, the crew would pull back four 4-inch (10.2 cm) conduits.

    “Given the parameters of the job, we hired a professional surveyor to stake and map the site,” Carlson said. “He provided us with typography, as well as target points. We also brought in a sweeping company to clean up for our team and a vacuum service company to run a pipeline from outside of the airport. We still had to collect our drill slurry and couldn’t pull a vacuum truck underneath of the baggage area because of the ceiling height.”

    Also, assisting on the job was a representative from Digital Control Incorporated (DCI®). “We used a DCI® SubK rebar sonde with the drill to help minimize interference as we crossed beneath 200 feet (61 m) of 12-inch (30.5 cm) thick rebar reinforced concrete,” Carlson commented. “And, DCI®, along with Vermeer, sent folks for additional support.

    “Everyone — our crew, the specialist we partnered with from our local American Subcontractor Association chapter, and the representatives from DCI® and Vermeer — all helped make this job successful,” Carlson continued. “Seeing that drill bit appear from a small hole in the wall is such a special memory for me. All of the planning we did and the team we assembled made that happen.”

    At Pinnacle Construction, Carlson and his crew plan for success and then work the plan.


    This article contains third-party observations, advice or experiences that do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Vermeer Corporation, its affiliates or its dealers. Testimonials and/or endorsements by contractors in specific circumstances may not be representative of normal circumstances experienced by all customers.

    Vermeer Corporation reserves the right to make changes in product engineering, design and specifications; add improvements; or discontinue manufacturing or distribution at any time without notice or obligation.

    Vermeer Productivity Tools assist users with planning and management functions. Information provided is reliant upon the accuracy and quality of user-provided data. Vermeer Corporation reserves the right to make changes in product engineering, design and specifications; add improvements; or discontinue manufacturing or distribution at any time without notice or obligation. Products shown are for illustrative purposes only and may display optional or global-region specific features, accessories or components. Please contact your local Vermeer dealer for more information on product specifications.

    Vermeer, the Vermeer logo, Atlas Bore Planner, and BoreAid are trademarks of Vermeer Manufacturing Company in the U.S. and/or other countries. DCI is a trademark of Digital Control Incorporated.

    © 2018 Vermeer Corporation. All Rights Reserved. 

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    Establishing a Safe HDD Jobsite


    A directional drilling jobsite isn’t a typical construction site. For instance, it is common for horizontal direction drilling (HDD) crews to be working next to roadways or near pedestrians. Also, the equipment is frequently moved throughout the day, and many sites are spread out. To keep crew members and everyone near the drilling jobsite safe, contractors should establish an operating routine that involves several steps before work begins.

    According to Dan Vroom, customer training lead at Vermeer, the first step for creating a safer jobsite starts with reading and understanding the operator’s manual of the equipment the crew will be using. “Anyone operating machinery, whether it's a horizontal directional drill, a vacuum excavation system or an excavator needs to spend some time familiarizing themselves with the machine’s operator’s manual,” he said. “It contains valuable information, including proper machine operations, personal protection equipment requirements and safety precautions that should be part of a company’s standard operating procedures.”

    Pre-bore planning

    As crews prepare for a job, it is important to make sure that all known utility lines in the work area have been marked, either by a utility locating service or by the individual utilities. When in doubt about whether a locate has been done, make a call to the specific company to be sure.

    “Contractors should also make sure they have emergency phone numbers for all the local utility companies, emergency services, the job’s foreman and co-workers before they start working,” said Vroom. “If something goes wrong on the jobsite, this will help reduce the amount of time it takes to notify the appropriate people.”


    In the United States, OSHA requires the location of underground utilities to be determined before boring begins. It is the contractor’s responsibility to expose each utility near the bore to verify the exact location of those utilities. Potholing using a vacuum excavation system or soft excavation method like a shovel, are a safe way to fully expose existing utility lines.

    For hard surfaces such as concrete, a core saw may be used to cut a small access hole through the surface.

    Setting up the jobsite

    When loading and unloading equipment onto trailers, make sure the trailer is on level ground and drive the HDD slowly off the ramps. Equipment should never be unloaded if the trailer surface is slick from mud, ice or snow, because that can cause the machine to slide off the trailer. Be sure to place traffic warning cones around the trailer and the truck. Some cities may require additional traffic warning devices for loading and unloading equipment along roadways — be sure crew members understand what those are.

    Once the directional drill is positioned on the site, crew members need to insert the voltage stake into the ground at least 6 feet (1.8 m) away from the machine and not over the drill string. “The electrical Strike Alert system on Vermeer directional drills uses two circuits: The first circuit measures current flow up the drill pipe, and the other measures differences in voltage between the drill and the earth ground,” explained Vroom.

    Next, cones should be placed on all four sides of the drill to create a barrier around the drill. Vroom also says crews should use safety signs that warn unauthorized people to stay away. “Only trained personnel wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) should be allowed inside the perimeter of the cones,” he added.

    Wearing the appropriate PPE, the operator can then sit on the drill to stake it to the ground, which will keep it from moving during the thrusting and pulling of the drilling process. No other crew members should be within the cone area during this part of the process.

    Marking holes

    All exposure pits and entry/exits pits along the bore path need to be marked and/or barricaded. Potholes also need to be covered to prevent pedestrian accidents.

    Testing Remote Lockout system

    Vermeer directional drills are equipped with a Remote Lockout system, which gives the locator or appropriate crew member the ability to disable the thrust, rotation and drilling fluid flow during operations. Once locked out, movement of the drill stem cannot be restarted until the Remote Lockout system had been disengaged.

    “Crews should test their drill’s Remote Lockout system daily," said Vroom. “The locator should have the lockout remote with them during drilling operations. Also, the machine must be locked out before working on or near an exposed drill string or tool.”

    Jobsite safety needs to be a priority before work begins to establish a safe jobsite. Make sure no crew members are taking shortcuts or unnecessary risks that could lead to an accident.