Welcome to the new Navigator Nation! Stay tuned for new features and announcements.

On the job Archives

  • « Back

    Efficient Operations: Horne Brothers Construction Growth Spurred by Solar Power


    The last three years have been pivotal for the solar industry as new solar energy facilities are being constructed across the United States. Public utilities and commercial solar companies are leading the charge, expanding the solar industry as the construction of new solar farms increases significantly. The need for speed is essential in today’s energy market due to the Solar Investment Tax Credits (ITC) being reduced after 2020 and new concerns over tariffs impacting the cost of solar modules and steel.

    The solar division of Horne Brothers Construction, Inc. is thriving in today’s hot market. Based in Fayetteville, North Carolina, the division has expanded from around 30 employees to over 400 in just three years. The highly specialized company handles everything from driving piles and installing racking and modules to land clearing and erosion control.

    According to Horne Brothers Executive Vice President of Solar, Tom Kosto, being attentive to the needs of their customers is what has driven their growth. “Many of the companies we work for started in the solar industry around the same time we did, and as their needs expanded, so did our services,” he explained. “They’re working on multiple projects all over the country and by virtue, so are we.”

    Keeping busy in Texas

    While Horne Brothers have projects happening all over the country, Texas has been the hotbed of activity for the company over the last two years. Kosto said last summer his team was working near Sherman, Texas, constructing five new solar farms that produce approximately 75 megawatts (75,000 kW) of electricity. This year, Horne Brothers is working around Sherman, Greenville, Waco, Wallace, Warren and Beasley. “We’re working our way toward Houston, and when we wrap up the last one, we’ll have completed 100 megawatts (100,000 kW) this year in Texas alone,” Kosto added.

    The majority of the work is being done for the same customer; Cypress Creek Renewables. As one of the nation’s leading utility and community-scale solar companies, Cypress Creek Renewables has worked on more than 250 projects and has 2.3 gigawatts (2300 mW) of solar facilities currently deployed across the United States. The company is responsible for developing, financing, constructing and operating each of the facilities.

    The relationship Horne Brothers has formed with Cypress Creek Renewables has proven to be advantageous for both companies as well as the communities where each project is being located. “Cypress Creek Renewables continues to grow, just like we do, but the number of jobs created doesn’t stop there,” Kosto said. “Each project has a need for local labor during construction, and sustainable new revenue streams are created in every community. Solar is a huge win for everyone involved.”

    Efficient process

    Texas isn’t the only place that Horne Brothers has crews working. The company’s workforce is spread out across the nation, working at 30 different solar farm sites. “In 2017, we installed 800 megawatts (800,000 kW) across 5,600 acres (2,266.2 ha), and we’re on track to do more this year,” Kosto explained.

    To get all of the work done, Horne Brothers rely on specialized teams to perform different phases of the job. A land-clearing crew is usually the first team in on most new jobs. They are responsible for clearing brush and trees. After the perimeter is cleared, the next team comes in with dozers and graders to verify the site has proper drainage and controlled erosion. Once that phase is complete, construction of the module racking can begin.

    “The first phase of installing racking is driving the piles that will support all of the necessary racking components,” Kosto said. “It can be a pretty involved process. For example, on the average 14-megawatt (14,000 kW) site, we’ll have to drive approximately 4,500 piles into the ground, and the spacing between each one has to be exact. Our team has it down to a science. In fact, it’s one of the fastest phases of any job.”

    The Horne Brothers solar division operates more than 35 pile drivers with the Vermeer® PD10 pile driver representing the majority of its fleet. “To be efficient at this phase of the project, we prefer to have between two and six units on any given job,” Kosto commented. “The Vermeer PD10’s compact design allows us to get multiple units on a trailer, which helps cut our transportation costs and saves time.”

    On the jobsite, Kost sees the Vermeer pile driver’s operator controls, auto plumb and GPS integration essential to his pile driving team’s efficiency. “These features make it much easier for our people to get on and off a job faster and with precision accuracy when it comes to spacing the racking,” he added. “In turn, that makes our racking crew’s job go more smoothly. They don’t have to worry about pile spacings being off.”

    Horne Brothers’ racking team moves in after the pile driving crew moves out. They lay out and construct the racking. Another team then comes in, mounts the solar modules, and then the electrical work is done by another contractor. Afterward, Horne Brothers sends in a crew to seed the site and make sure everything is ready to go. From there, the sun is ready to do its job.

    Picking up extra work

    The efficiencies of Horne Brothers’ pile driving team and equipment has allowed them to pick up extra jobs in the areas where they already have crews working. “We tend to do everything on a project, except for electrical work,” Kosto explained. “But there are also a lot of solar companies that hire out different contractors to perform each part on a job. We keep the Vermeer PD10 pile drivers working on those types of projects as well. We put a lot of hours on them, and they stand up well. They are also compact and lightweight compared to other pile drivers on the market, which makes a difference when transporting them and helps to minimize ground disruption on the job.”

    Importance of equipment and partnerships

    Breaking each solar project into phases and using separate crews to complete the work has helped Horne Brothers work efficiently. “It’s important for each team to understand every step of building a solar farm, but each crew member doesn’t need to know how to do all of the tasks involved on a project,” Kosto said. “Using multiple crews on a job allows our people to be more focused which has helped ensure we’re delivering a quality end product for customers, cost-efficiently and as quickly as possible. This approach is a big reason why we do so much repeat business with our public utility and commercial solar customers.”

    Another contributing consideration for Horne Brothers overall efficiency is the equipment manufacturers that they choose to do business with. According to Kosto, these manufacturers’ dealer networks are a primary factor in those decisions.

    “While solar is going strong right now in Texas, North Carolina and South Carolina, there are many other states that we have crews working in, which is why it’s so important to choose equipment that has support, wherever we go,” said Kosto. “Also, since many solar farms are installed in rural areas, we need equipment partners that can support us even in more remote parts of a state. We get that from Vermeer and its dealer network. No matter where our crews are working, we know we’ll receive a high level of service and parts support.”

    Predicting the future

    While the present marketplace for solar energy is bright, tariffs and the phasing out of tax credits is a significant concern for the people that make their living in solar. Kosto explained Horne Brothers has experienced 40 to 50 percent growth year-after-year for the last three years but is concerned that market uncertainties may impact projects in the future.

    “Many of the solar farms we’re constructing today have been in the works for a year or two,” Kosto said. “For the industry to continue to grow, there needs to be stability in its future, and that means being able to keep costs in check. Our process and the equipment we use has helped us operate lean and efficiently, but material pricing could impact solar energy production costs soon, which could reduce solar energy as being as successful as it is today for energy companies.”

    Kosto, along with the other 250,000+* individuals who work in the solar industry, hopes that trade agreements get settled, and they can continue to develop clean, renewable jobs for Americans.


    *According to the Solar Foundation’s 2017 Solar Job Census Report

    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. Equipment shown is for illustrative purposes only and may display optional accessories or components specific to their global region.Please contact your local Vermeer dealer for more information on machine specifications.Vermeer and the Vermeer logo are trademarks of Vermeer Manufacturing Company in the U.S. and/or other countries.

    © 2018 Vermeer Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

  • « Back

    Microtrenching keeps islands connected


    In August 2015, a typhoon hit Guam and other nearby islands, devastating the U.S. territory based in the Western Pacific Ocean. One island that was hit particularly hard, Saipan, is using the destruction as an opportunity to upgrade an outdated communication infrastructure.

    More than a cleanup

    Around 87 communications poles were destroyed on the island of Saipan — roughly 130 miles (209.2 km) north of Guam — during the 2015 typhoon. The poles provided cable, internet and phone service to residents. Some people were without electricity for four to six months and without telephone service for even longer.

    Docomo Pacific, the primary telecommunications provider in the area, is helping restore and enhance Saipan’s underground infrastructure. Leo Magussen, project manager at Docomo Pacific, says in addition to addressing the aftermath of the typhoon, the company’s 400 employees are working to keep up with the demand for high-speed, consistent internet access.

    “We’re still working on rebuilding Saipan,” says Magussen. “That’s mostly because we’re upgrading them to a new underground system versus the old pole system.”

    Jaynard White, a technical operations manager at Docomo Pacific, knows firsthand how the repercussions of a typhoon can upset the modern conveniences most people take for granted. His apartment was leveled by a powerful storm that hit the Mariana Islands in August 2015. White was forced to live in a hotel for over four months.

    White also knows how the tropical storms can do significant damage to the communications infrastructure of Guam’s most tourist-centric cities.

    Wired for travelers

    The Mariana Islands are comprised of the island territory of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The area’s primary industry is tourism — the Guam Visitors Bureau reported that roughly 1.3 million people visited Guam in 2014. Since tourism is such an important part of the Guam economy, the territory is dedicated to investing in resources that will attract new visitors and encourage previous visitors to return.

    As with any destination in the 21st century, people who visit Guam expect to have access to
    Wi-Fi and reliable cellular service. Often, people don’t realize just how closely tied wireless internet is to the underground infrastructure. Magussen, however, recognizes the demand for a high-speed connection is directly linked to the boom in the utility business.

    “Wi-Fi is everywhere,” says Magussen. “We’re putting hotspots in high-traffic tourist destinations so they can stay connected while they’re here.”

    Alternative trenching

    As an answer to that devastating typhoon and in an effort to minimize damage done during future storms, Docomo Pacific crews began building an underground infrastructure that offers better protection against the elements using the microtrenching method.

    “We are currently using the Vermeer RTX550 ride-on tractor with a rockwheel attachment to bring internet service to both Saipan and Guam,” says White. “The infrastructure will serve hotels, businesses, schools and cellular providers.”

    Microtrenching is an installation method in which a narrow and relatively shallow trench is cut. While the trench is being cut, a vacuum system connected to the cutter wheel attachment cleanly diverts and transports the dry and dusty spoil away from the worksite. Once the utility is laid, the trench is backfilled with a grout compound. Compared to traditional trenching methods, microtrenching is often quicker, cleaner and more cost-effective on jobsites with small footprints.

    Docomo Pacific opted for the microtrenching method for a variety of reasons. Minimal cutting width boosts installation production and reduces the amount of backfill grout needed. The vacuum spoil removal makes for a cleaner jobsite and positions microtrenching as a viable option for urban fiber projects.

    “With microtrenching, the line was connected directly to the machine. As you trench, you just drop it in,” says Magussen. “It’s a lot smaller and quicker to use. It definitely cut down the amount of manpower we needed for the job compared to traditional trenching.”

    Protecting existing utilities

    Microtrenching offers the additional advantage of shallow depth placement, which helps contractors avoid existing utilities — an important benefit in Guam according to Magussen.

    “Microtrenching is a more secure method for the utilities because we’re able to encase it in concrete and help ensure the lines don’t get hit by other contractors,” he explains. “In Guam there are a lot of utilities, and other contractors don’t always take the time to accurately locate, so they end up hitting our lines.”

    Preparing for the inevitable

    Docomo Pacific, its employees and the residents of the islands they serve are anticipating two facts as they look to the future: the first being that tourists will continue to visit the striking landscape of the territories and will expect all the digital comforts of home, and the second being that eventually another typhoon will strike.

    With the help of microtrenching, Guam is developing its underground utility infrastructure and ensuring its water, electrical and communications lines are better protected and positioned to serve its residents and tourists alike.

  • « Back

    Arkansas contractor takes on collapsed sewer job in industrial park


    Take an industrial park with a 60-year-old clay pipe sewer line buried 10 feet below ground, add a road nearby that is highly traveled, and throw in a line break that has created a sinkhole big enough to hide a small car. The result? A real problem.

    That was the situation facing Pete Charlton, Vice President and General Manager of Gastony Directional Boring, Inc., in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Charlton founded the company in 1999 and has done many jobs in “pipe rehabilitation”—boring for sewer, gas, water, and electric lines primarily from Fort Smith north to the Missouri/Arkansas border. He and his eight employees were in the process of completing a project for the city of Fort Smith to replace many of that city’s older sewer lines when an emergency situation popped up in neighboring Van Buren, Arkansas.

    Van Buren, a city of about 20,000 on Arkansas west-central border, is nestled at the foot of the Ozark Mountains. Van Buren features an industrial park that houses, among other companies, Simmons Foods, a poultry processing plant that releases about 200,000 gallons of wastewater each day in the industrial park’s sewer main. About 60 feet of an old clay sewer line had collapsed beneath the industrial park and formed a huge hole at the intersection of Co-op Drive and 28th Street, a roadway that carries significant truck traffic every day. Another factor in this problem is that the Arkansas River is nearby and tends to flood the area.

    Plans were already in the works to spend $1 million to $2 million to raise the road, but no work had yet been accomplished. City officials knew if the river spilled over into this area now, they would have a giant mess.

    “We were asked by the city engineers to bring in our camera truck to provide video of the collapsed pipe in order to determine the exact location and extent of the collapse,” says Charlton. “We went through from both sides of the collapse, and determined that somewhere between 60 and 80 feet of the pipe was simply gone.”

    He speculates the missing pipe collapsed and was washed away by the 200,000 gallons of scalding water that rushes through the pipes each day from the poultry plant. Heavy truck traffic and the old age of the pipe also contributed significantly to the development of the sinkhole.

    In order to position the camera into the pipe, the crew used nearby manholes to get under the street and reach the collapsed area. Upon review of the videotape, the Van Buren Utilities Commission Board did not waste any time.

    “This was an emergency. We got the job because we have done a lot of work rehabilitating pipe in Van Buren,” Charlton notes. “There are a lot of large companies in that industrial park. If that sewer went out or the street caved in it would have created several major problems. We submitted a price to do the work and the Board and engineers then said, ‘Get it done.’”

    In all, about 400 feet of pipe needed to be replaced. Getting the new HDPE SDR 20-inch pipe in was the next challenge. The new 20-inch pipe came in 40-foot lengths. Charlton rented a fusing machine from ISCO, fusing the pipe above ground as it was pulled through the 400-foot bore.

    Preparation was the key to getting this job done quickly and efficiently. In order to complete the project, Simmons Foods agreed to a 24-hour plant shutdown beginning on a Saturday morning. Charlton, Jeromy Dutra (his supervisor of ten years), and the Gastony crew spent two days prior to the shutdown prepping the job site. This included excavating the entry and exit pits, setting up 6-inch bypass pumps, positioning traffic control signs, and excavating a pit along the road by the manhole. Simmons Foods and several smaller companies agreed to shut off their water supply and not discharge water once the project began. Charlton and his crew had the next 24 hours to complete the job.

    Charlton decided to burst the old clay pipe using a HammerHead® impactor, a Vermeer® NAVIGATOR® D36x50 Series II horizontal directional drill, which he had purchased about six months before this job, and a 24-inch reamer to break up the clay pipe and collapsed material that was left.

    “We bored through 60 - 80 feet that were simply gone — the pipe was full of dirt,” Charlton says.

    “The impactor was an important part of the process,” he says. “That old 18-inch pipe was so thick that it had to be dealt with and removed. We used a bio-degradable bore gel to slurry up the water and make sure the pipe pulled through smoothly,” Charlton says.

    Charlton and his crew also had to negotiate the new line through an existing manhole. Since the city didn’t want the street dug, Gastony reamed out the manhole and made it big enough to pull in the 20-inch pipe. Once the pipe was in place they grouted the area around the pipe.

    “Using HDPE pipe was an important consideration for this project,” Charlton says. “We often install HDPE around processing plants, because the caustic acid that comes from the plants doesn’t affect the HDPE pipe at all.”

    The expected life of the new HDPE system in simulated tests is more than 100 years. According to Charlton, older cast iron pipes develop calcium deposits, significantly reducing pipe capacity. “Nothing clings to HDPE pipe,” he says.

    The city’s main objective was to replace the old 18” clay pipe with 20” HDPE pipe with minimal interruption to the traffic. “They didn’t want traffic stopped, and it didn’t,” Charlton says. The poultry plant was able to find a silver lining to the downtime, using it to update and maintain some of its manufacturing technology.

    The entire project — which cost $68,000 — took just over ten hours. Charlton says he had estimated that it could be completed in six hours. Why the time difference? “Everything worked as we expected, but it was just slower going,” he says. “It went inch by inch, slow but smooth. It just took a little longer to pull in the larger pipe.” Compared to past jobs, Charlton says he would rate it as “up there” among some of the toughest.

    “Gastony has had jobs boring under rivers and swimming pools, but the pipe sizes on those jobs were all between 4- to 24-inch,” he says.

    Charlton’s advice to other contractors who might be considering a similar job is simple: know the costs of running your boring machine. “There are boring contractors who do not take into consideration what all the expenses are to just to turning the boring machine on,” he says. “In addition to diesel fuel, labor, trucks, insurance, and cost of materials, there are many other expenses to consider. Other expenses might include site restoration, depth of pipe, size of pipe, and the cost of excavating to tie in laterals and mains to the manholes.”

    In the end, the customer—the city of Van Buren and its residents—got what they wanted: the integrity of the road was maintained, traffic was not stopped at a busy intersection, and the dangerous problem was fixed. And the Gastony Directional Boring team has a job that will go down in its books as one of its toughest.

    Gastony D.B.I. is one of several companies owned by Forsgren, Inc., a fourth-generation heavy civil contractor, located in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Forsgren, Inc. was started in 1936 by three brothers. 

    Vermeer, the Vermeer logo and Navigator are trademarks of Vermeer Manufacturing Company in the U.S. and/or other countries.

    © 2016 Vermeer Corporation

    All Rights Reserved

  • « Back

    Wiring Vermeer Wisconsin for success


    HDD customer brings fiberoptic technology to Vermeer dealer using Vermeer equipment

    After nearly two decades in the utility industry, Cal Demic knows that being flexible and dealing with uncertainty is just part of going underground. As underground utility foreman at TM Becker Corp., that unpredictability is what makes Demic’s job both challenging and exciting.

    “I appreciate variety,” he says. “I like that I’m on a different jobsite frequently. There’s a freedom in my job.”

    Full circle

    Demic says he’s been a Vermeer customer since he started working in the HDD industry 19 years ago. So, when he had the chance to use his Vermeer equipment to bring fiberoptic cable service to a Vermeer Wisconsin dealership, he jumped at the opportunity.

    “It’s a neat project,” says Demic. “It’s like everything’s coming full circle.”

    The job involved connecting a 2-inch (5.1 cm) fiber line from across the street to the Vermeer Wisconsin dealership. The crew had to complete a 500-foot (152.4 m) bore, which required multiple shots, the longest of which was 340 feet (103.6 m). The bore path ran beneath the dealership’s parking lot and the crew had to maintain 3 feet (91.4 cm) of ground cover.  

    Wiring Vermeer Wisconsin for success with a horizontal directional drill

    Expecting the unexpected

    “We anticipated problems under the parking lot,” says Demic. “But we took it one step at a time and adjusted accordingly from there.”

    He was right to anticipate some issues. On this job, the crew discovered the parking lot was built up at one time with concrete fill materials. This meant the ground conditions shifted between normal concrete and the less dense concrete fill making for unpredictable drilling conditions. Demic had a plan for that challenge, though — the Vermeer D20x22 S3 Navigator® horizontal directional drill with standard swivel tooling.

    “The D20x22 S3 has a great size-to-power ratio,” says Demic. “It can get into tight spaces, and it still gave us the power that we needed to get through the ground conditions in the area.”

    With limited area to set up the drill, the crew completed the job in four bore shots over the course of two days.

    Returning the favor

    Demic says he’s always had a good experience with Vermeer. This job was an opportunity to provide a service to the dealership that will, in turn, help Vermeer provide the best service to its customers — including Demic and TM Becker Corp.

    “The salespeople, the rental department, the service guys are all great,” says Demic. “They know what they’re talking about, and they’re willing to help us work through any problems.”

    For more information on Vermeer horizontal directional drills (HDDs), visit Vermeer.com or contact your local dealer.

    Vermeer, the Vermeer logo, Equipped to Do More and Navigator are trademarks of Vermeer Manufacturing Company in the U.S. and/or other countries.

    © 2016 Vermeer Corporation. All Rights Reserved.