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    Extending Natural Gas System to Fenelon Falls


    In 2018, Enbridge Gas Distribution Inc. kicked off the lofty project of expanding its natural gas system to the Kawartha Lakes, Ontario villages of Fenelon Falls, Cameron and Cambray. The $47 million projects called for 46 kilometers (28 mi) of new pipeline to be laid over the next two years. However, before homeowners and businesses in the area can start using natural gas for heat, Aecon Utilities Inc. must first navigate the area’s challenging ground conditions and work around all the nearby lakes and waterways.

    Aecon Utilities, Ontario’s largest utility contractor, is who Enbridge Gas Distribution called when they first began to plan for this natural gas system expansion. Aecon has an impeccable reputation for their quality of work and on-time performance. On this project, the team would have to use a combination of open-cut and trenchless installation methods to install the new lines. The scenic lakes and varying soil conditions are what dictated which methods the team used on the pipeline’s larger mainlines. In the villages, Aecon would predominantly use horizontal directional drilling (HDD) methods.

    Fleet of drills

    Heading up all of Aecon’s directional drilling projects throughout Canada is Curt Falls, general manager of directional drills and hydrovacs. He started working in the field for Aecon Utilities in 2000 and has helped the organization grow and expand its HDD capabilities during his 18 years of service with the company. Currently, Falls has 33 HDD crews in the field operating drills ranging in size from 4,082.3 to 45,359.2 kilograms (9,000 to 100,000 lb), but the gas pipeline work happening around Fenelon Falls is one of the more challenging projects they are currently working on.

    “A large part of that job is being drilled, and the ground conditions are pretty challenging because one minute we’re in solid rock, then shale or clay,” Falls explained. “Those varying conditions make it hard to decide which drills we should be using. In the past, we typically would use our 45,359.2 kilograms (100,000 lb) drill with a mud motor to drill through the rock. However, it is a lot of muscle for gas lines that are 15 centimeters (6 inches) in diameter or smaller, but the ground conditions have always dictated what size machine a driller needs to use.”

    Discovering a new option

    Around the time that Aecon began planning for this gas pipeline project, Falls was talking to his local Vermeer Canada sales representative, Jeremy Snow, about the ground conditions on the project and a few other upcoming jobs that involved drilling in rocky conditions. During the conversation, Snow suggested that Aecon should consider using a dual rod drill and invited a few members of their team to visit a contractor in Kentucky using the new Vermeer D40x55DR S3 Navigator® horizontal directional drill.

    Using dual rods, the Vermeer D40x55DR S3 can work in a broad range of ground conditions, including rock, clay and loamy/dirt. The unit’s inner rod provides torque to the drill bit, while the outer rod offers steering capability and rotation torque for reaming. This setup delivers powerful downhole cutting action and can give contractors greater tooling flexibility than a drill equipped with a mud motor.

    “We were impressed when we saw the drill in action,” Falls explained. “It has the same size footprint as our Vermeer D40x55 S3 Navigator HDD, but can perform as well as larger drills in rocky conditions. I liked the idea of being able to use a smaller machine in rock because we can transfer everything we need on one trailer. We don’t get that option with larger HDD machines.”

    On the job

    When the members of the Aecon team returned home, they decided to invest in a Vermeer D40x55DR S3 dual rod drill and put it to work

    on the Fenelon Falls gas pipeline project. They purchased a Vermeer RH15 rock drill head to go along with it. Developed in conjunction with the dual rod drill, the RH15 drill head can handle 2033.7 Nm (1500 ft-lb) of inner rod torque for pilot bores without sacrificing steering ability — a combination not often found when using a mud motor.

    Aecon put their new dual rod drill to work this past summer and have been happy with its performance. “It is getting the job done no matter what ground conditions we’re in,” said Falls. Their drill crews are currently working on extending the main gas pipeline and will conquer the job of installing lines to homes and businesses in the three villages after that. Falls said they have planned to keep most of the drill shots to around 240 meters (787.4 feet) long. “After we complete the pilot bore, we’re making one or two passes with hole openers to stretch the hole to 30.5 centimeters (12 inches). Because there is such a variance in ground conditions, every bore is a little different. Sometimes, we can use a 30.5 centimeter (12 inch) hole opener and in some of the rocky grounds, we’re starting with a 25.4 centimeter (10 inch) hole opener and then making another pass with the larger model.”

    Crews are primarily using the RH15 rock drill head in rocky conditions and then swapping it out for a more traditional head in softer soils.

    Stepping it up

    After working their Vermeer D40x55DR S3 for a few months, Falls and his team determined on-the-job production rates of the rig warranted adding a second unit. “We had the opportunity to pick up a second dual rod drill and given the efficiency we saw with the first one, it just made sense. Given the terrain we work in, there aren’t too many projects that we don’t need to drill in rocky soil conditions.”

    Aecon’s second dual rod drill was also put to work on the Fenelon Falls gas expansion project. Falls said having the second basket of dual rods has also come in handy. “We ordered 228.6 meters (750 feet) of rod for each machine and depending on where we’re drilling, that’s usually enough for each bore,” he said. “However, we did wind up having to do one bore that was 400 meters (1,312.3 feet) long. The crew was going under a waterway and to put the tie-in in a good location, we needed to go a bit longer than normal. Drilling it was efficient since we could borrow a few rods from the other machine. Our guys did a great job on that one.”

    Making progress

    After the main gas distribution line reaches the villages of Fenelon Falls, Cameron and Cambray, Aecon will begin the work of installing service lines to homes and businesses in those communities. This is the final step of the Enbridge project. Falls is pleased with the work his team has been able to accomplish in the first year of the project and is looking forward to the next phase.


    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 engineering, design and specifications; add improvements; or discontinue manufacturing 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, the Vermeer logo and Navigator are trademarks of Vermeer Manufacturing Company in the U.S. and/or other countries.

    © 2019 Vermeer Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

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    Rent, Lease or Buy: Which is Right for You?


    Factors to consider the next time you need HDD equipment

    Having the right equipment makes a difference in managing a successful, productive horizontal directional drilling (HDD) jobsite. How you secure and retain that equipment itself — from tooling to the largest HDD machines — can be key to completing a job.

    Job size, duration of use and overall cost are all variables that can contribute to which procurement strategy is most effective. Time is a huge factor; in general, the length of time over which you’re financially responsible for a piece of equipment and how long you’ll be using it on the jobsite help determine which strategy is best, according to Vermeer Sales Manager for Utility Infrastructure Commercialization Lee Schroeder. In other words, identify what you need and how long you need it.

    “The nice thing about purchasing equipment today is you have so many options with financing rates, rental terms and purchase options. We work hard to consider how our customers want to do business, how they manage cash flow and how tolerant they are for risk. Consider these variables when making a purchase decision,” Schroeder said. “This is becoming more important as more contractors start to think in terms of specific operating costs on the jobsite. It should be a high priority today to take machinery costs into account, and we’re seeing more contractors make purchase decisions based on what they need to do to remain successful.”

    In general, the more a contractor commits to ownership of a specific piece of equipment, the lower the overall cost. Outright purchases typically spread the machine’s cost over a longer duration, but it’s a long-term financial commitment. On the other end of the spectrum, a short-term rental agreement may carry a much higher cost, but the contractor may only need that piece of equipment for a much shorter duration, thereby justifying that higher price. Here is an overview of each of the three purchase options — rent, lease and buy — and what circumstances can make each the right choice.


    If you have a specific job that requires a little extra horsepower or a specific piece of equipment that you normally don’t use, renting is likely the best option for you. You may pay considerably more but renting helps prevent a long-term financial commitment. You probably still have the flexibility to purchase outright later on, but you’re not bound to a specific long-term time period like when financing or leasing.

    “A rental agreement is a short-term play. You may pay a lot more to rent than you would if you were leasing or buying, but you have a specific goal in mind, you know specifically how you’ll use that equipment and will just pay your tab and be done,” Schroeder said. “You may also be able to sign a rental purchase option (RPO) agreement so you can buy later, with your rental payments going toward the cost of the machine. Many renters wind up moving forward with a purchase.”


    When leasing a piece of equipment, a contractor retains the ability to purchase it outright at the maturation of the lease. Prices are usually not as high as when renting, but the financial obligation is often longer in duration. A lease provides the contractor the flexibility to purchase the equipment outright at the completion of the deal, or he or she can return it if it’s no longer needed.

    “If I know I’m going to have work that will require a piece of equipment for the next two years, I can lease it and I’m not necessarily tied to it, but I can buy out the lease if I want,” Schroeder said. “A lease is almost always on a new piece of equipment, whereas an rental purchase option (RPO) might be on a slightly used machine.”


    If you have a consistent daily need for a specific machine and have the cashflow necessary to cover initial ownership costs, outright purchases are typically the lowest-cost option for the contractor who’s planning more for the long term. While leases sometimes have restrictions on things like hours of use, outright ownership is free of those variables. But, along with ownership comes the sole responsibility for maintenance, while many leases have specific maintenance schedules to which the lessee must abide.

    “More contractors are thinking in terms of total cost of ownership, accounting for operating costs and residual values,” Schroeder said. “Sometimes an outright purchase is the best option, but they should think in these more specific terms to determine what will make it most beneficial for them.”

    Consider maintenance

    How do you maintain your HDD equipment? Answering that question can also help determine whether you should rent, lease or buy your next piece of equipment. Leases are typically accompanied by a maintenance and service schedule. If overall maintenance and service are high priorities to the equipment you operate, leasing and outright ownership are more viable options than higher-cost rental agreements.

    “The nice thing about a lease is you’re getting a maintenance plan with it. It has more of a service record that shows all of the planned maintenance that has been and will be conducted,” Schroeder said. “And it keeps the machine in optimal operating condition because it’s maintained by the dealership.”

    Think long-term

    When identifying the right procurement option — whether rent, lease or buy — it can be helpful to think in longer terms, as well as what types of jobs you anticipate working on in the time you expect to use a specific piece of equipment. Having the right equipment for the job is absolutely important, but how you retain that equipment can have a major influence on your business’ success.

    “Some contractors will talk about how much they spend per foot to operate on an HDD jobsite, and that is increasingly vital to success,” Schroeder said. “You want to truly know and understand your inputs and outputs on your balance sheet. What is a specific piece of equipment going to cost you? What kind of revenue will it generate for you? You want to make sure you choose the right equipment and secure it in a way that works best for your operation financially.”

    Are you interested in exploring your HDD equipment purchase options? Start by contacting your local Vermeer dealer.


    Vermeer Corporation reserves the right to make changes in engineering, design and specifications; add improvements; or discontinue manufacturing 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.

    © 2019 Vermeer Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

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    HDD Circuit® Training Program Teaches More Than Just The Basics


    Students learn skills to apply on the jobsite

    Horizontal directional drilling (HDD) is both an art and a science. The right training, education and experience is a critical combination in knowing the right balance between the two.

    An efficient, productive and safe jobsite takes a well-trained workforce with the know-how to operate the specific machines for which each individual on a crew is responsible. Simple training is not enough; it needs to be the right training, according to Vermeer Industrial Equipment and Crew Skills Training Manager Dan Vroom. Knowing what the right training is starts with an honest assessment of existing industry knowledge and experience.

    “Someone might have years of experience in the industry, but it may not be years of good experience,” said Vroom, who manages the Vermeer HDD Circuit program, with events at the Vermeer campus in Pella, Iowa, as well as supporting HDD Fundamentals at dealerships around the nation. “A big part of the process is asking a lot of questions and focusing on the fundamentals.”

    Building deeper understanding

    Vroom considers HDD training an important investment in personnel, and he and other instructors emphasize more than just the operational basics for individual machines. On many jobsites, operators may know the basics of how to operate a specific machine, but they may lack the deeper understanding of the machine’s technology. Many know the “how,” but lack a full understanding of the “why.”

    “We focus on specific operations and their implications. It’s sometimes difficult because drilling team members may be told, ‘This is your job today, and this is how much you need to get done,’” Vroom said. “Miscommunication, unrealistic expectations and/or lack of knowledge/experience can lead to much bigger issues if an operator isn’t doing something right.”

    Cause-and-effect training

    Beyond building a stronger general understanding of the work itself, this type of cause-and-effect training has long-term benefits for both equipment operators and the contractors on whose jobsites they’re working.

    “Once we can target a specific action that’s being done incorrectly, we talk about both how it’s going to affect you in the short term as well as maybe a year down the road. You may have drill rods breaking downhole due to oversteering or have to hammer rod joints apart because of inadequate makeup torque to the joint,” Vroom said. “It’s important to provide hands-on opportunities so these ideas are more than just concepts and become engrained in operators’ minds so when they get to the jobsite, they have the fundamentals down and don’t try to take shortcuts that may not pan out later.”

    Hands-on training

    The HDD Circuit program courses Vermeer offers are designed for operators with or without previous experience. Though industry experience is typically a positive, many who go through the training are relatively new to the field. That’s not always a drawback; however, the comprehensive HDD training provides the type of hands-on experience similar to on-the-job HDD experience, Vroom said.

    “After going through our circuit training, it’s no longer on-the-job training. They leave with experience and tools to go out and start applying what they learned to the jobsite,” Vroom said. “Training is a great value for operators, locators, foremen and managers, because they get hands-on experience with a personal instructor close by to answer questions and give constructive feedback to the student.”

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    First impressions: Brandon Bird Utilities Construction Sees Value in New D8x12 Navigator® Horizontal Directional Drill


    Growing up on a ranch just outside of Post, Texas, Brandon Bird discovered his passion for pipelining while working with his dad in junior high and high school. When Bird graduated from Texas Tech a few years later, he knew exactly what he wanted to do — start his very own pipeline company. Now, with 23 years under his belt, his company, Brandon Bird Utilities Construction, is responsible for installing and rehabbing gas lines throughout the Lubbock, Texas, area. Bird employs more than 50 highly trained individuals and owns a fleet of equipment that includes excavators, several Vermeer trenchers and one Vermeer D8x12 Navigator® horizontal directional drill (HDD).

    “With the size of the installs we normally do and the location, open-cut installation methods usually make the most sense for the majority of our jobs,” Bird explained. “However, there are still times where we need to bore gas service lines, which is why we added the compact Vermeer D8x12 HDD unit in the spring of 2018.”

    Horizontal directional drilling isn’t new to Brandon Bird Utilities Construction. At one point the company owned and operated several drills, but Bird determined several years back that at the time it was more economical to enlist HDD subcontractors to do the trenchless work when needed. However, as infrastructure work around the area has increased in recent years, those subcontractors are busy with other jobs, and Bird doesn’t have the time to wait. So, he decided it was good timing to get back into the HDD business.

    Finding the right size rig

    The gas service installs that Brandon Bird Utilities Construction usually performs does not warrant the need for a large HDD since most of these projects are smaller-diameter short bores. “The bores we were outsourcing were usually located in tight urban areas,” Bird explained. “So, we didn’t want to get anything too big because it may be hard to maneuver in alleys or around buildings. We also wanted a machine that was convenient to use and priced right.”

    Bird communicated that information to his local Vermeer Texas-Louisiana dealer sales representative, Mitch McCalib, who introduced him to the new D8x12. Sized for working in tight spaces, this compact HDD features straightforward controls and delivers quiet operations.

    “Horizontal directional drilling rigs have come a long way since we worked on that side of the business, and I’m sure all of the technology in today’s machines make a huge difference for contractors specializing in that line of work,” Bird added. “However, we wanted a more basic machine, something like we used to run — that’s what we got with the Vermeer D8x12 rig. It still has a lot of great features to help our guys get work done quickly and safely, and it’s priced to be a real value. It’s the exact machine for our needs.”

    Getting the team up to speed

    McCalib, with the support of the rest of the team at the Vermeer dealership, made sure everyone on the new HDD crew for Brandon Bird Utilities Construction had what they needed to start drilling. “Mitch (McCalib) told us what locating system we should be using and what tooling we should have for the type of installs we do,” explained Bird.

    Chris Altman and Richard Serenil, two seasoned equipment operators for Brandon Bird Utilities Construction, became the proud new operators of the Vermeer D8x12 HDD. “The guys from Vermeer brought the drill out, and they spent a lot of time with us going through the controls and helping us learn how to operate it,” Altman said. “By the end, I had already completed my first successful bore. They did a great job of making sure we were up to speed, and Mitch has also been extremely responsive to any questions we’ve had since then.”

    Altman went on to say how impressed he was with the controls on the D8x12. “It was real quick to sit down and feel comfortable with how everything worked. And with the locator we’re using (the DCI® DigiTrak® Falcon F5® location system), I can see where I’m at on a bore from the seat of the rig. It does all of the hard work.”

    On the job performance

    The Brandon Bird Utilities Construction HDD crew has been impressed with the productivity of the D8x12 since putting it to work. Bird and Altman both agree that it has plenty of power to do the 200-400’ (61-121.9 m) small-diameter shots they need it to go under roadways and in areas where trenching is not an option.

    “We’re primarily using the drill to install 2” (5.1 cm) poly pipe in urban areas,” Altman said. “Some shots are more challenging than others, like a recent 275’ (83.8 m) bore we did down an alleyway near an apartment building. We couldn’t restrict access to the apartments, so our equipment had to be strategically placed. We also had to do a lot of potholing to make sure we knew exactly where other utilities were located. Once all of that was done, we got to work, and honestly it didn’t take us long to complete. There were no complaints from people living in the apartments — that’s sometimes one of the best compliments a crew can get.”

    With a narrow footprint of just 35.5” (90.2 cm), the D8x12 is suited well for jobs like this. It also has an onboard 25 gal (94.6 L) fluid tank, which helps on short bores when it's not possible to get additional equipment near the drill. On most projects, the Brandon Bird Utilities Construction team connects the drill’s pump to a 300 gallon (1135.6 L) tank they carry on the back of one of their trucks.

    Saving time and reducing expenses

    According to Bird, adding the Vermeer D8x12 HDD has helped his crews better meet their customers’ timelines and reduced the company’s expenses. “Waiting on subcontractors was really starting to become a challenge. Waiting meant we couldn’t wrap projects up as quickly as we wanted to. On top of that, the costs to hire subcontractors was steadily increasing. With the Vermeer D8x12 HDD, we are no longer waiting on someone else, and we’ve been able to do a better job of managing our expenses. We’re really glad we made the investment,” he concluded.

    For more information about the compact and productive Vermeer D8x12 Navigator horizontal directional drill, contact your local Vermeer dealer or visit Vermeer.com.


    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 and Navigator are trademarks of Vermeer Manufacturing Company in the U.S. and/or other countries. DCI, DigiTrak and Falcon F5 are trademarks of Digital Control Incorporated.

    © 2019 Vermeer Corporation. All Rights Reserved.