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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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    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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    The Right Tooling Makes a Difference on the HDD Jobsite


    Match bits and power to drilling conditions to help maximize jobsite effectiveness

    Getting the job done right can depend on having the right tools, especially in rock drilling.

    The structural integrity of a bore and the productivity and efficiency of rock drilling operations therein can depend on knowing your conditions and pairing the right machine and tooling to those conditions. Different projects are made up of different materials that can challenge both the effectiveness and steerability of a bore.

    Variability challenges

    The soil, sand and rock formations of projects that a drill operator will encounter can be highly variable. These different formations call for different tooling: a bit designed for compacted soil may not perform as well in cobbled or solid rock formations, and bits made for hard rock may not handle soil very well.

    Conditions can change quickly, so it is important to be attentive to the conditions in which you’re drilling, and to apply the right amount of power to the right material with the right tooling and the right fluids for the job, according to Vermeer Product Specialist Joshua Spray.

    “A big challenge can be transitioning out of dirt into rock, then back into dirt,” Spray said. “Once you put certain rock tooling, like an air hammer, into dirt, you may have a difficult time because an air hammer is not meant to drill through that kind of soil. It’s like pushing a telephone pole through the dirt.”

    Planning your bore

    To better understand the specific characteristics of the downhole material of a project — whether that’s rock, clay, sand or a combination — it can be helpful to have core samples tested by a laboratory in which the material’s composition and abrasivity can be tested, helping you to select the right tooling. Past experience with a specific region’s subsoil conditions and composition is also important to account for in selecting the right tooling.

    “Knowledge of the conditions based off of past work done in an area can also be helpful in finding the right tooling for a job,” said Vermeer Lifecycle Product Manager Jason Zylstra. “Sometimes, you can get an idea of what your job will involve by understanding the conditions and area where a drilling has been done before. Local Vermeer representatives have a lot of knowledge about specific drilling conditions as well.”

    Different tooling options

    Boring through soil and sand, as well as rock — whether solid or cobbled — requires different tooling, which also can dictate the required pressure and cutting force of the selected bit. Some rock formations, like sandstone, are softer but have higher abrasivity, while others are harder but have lower abrasivity.

    With rock up to 10,000 psi (13,558.2 Nm), a conventional drill combined with different tooling options can offer flexibility. The Armor® drilling system from Vermeer includes different bit options that are specifically designed for a range of common conditions an operator may encounter. The Lance™ bit features a scoop design but has carbide buttons and hardfacing that helps enable it to perform in both hard soils and cobble. On the other end of the spectrum is the Gauntlet™ bit. With carbide hardfacing and buttons to help minimize wear resistance and replaceable carbide-tipped teeth for cutting, the Gauntlet bit is more suited to drilling in medium rock, shale or caliche ground conditions.

    Medium and harder rock formations, 10,000 psi (13,558.2 Nm) and up, may require one of several options beyond conventional drills and tooling. Air hammer, mud motor and dual rod (DR) machines like the Vermeer D40x55DR S3 Navigator® horizontal directional drill offer high pressure capacity and tooling that can handle both hard formations and those with high abrasivity.

    Tricone bits can be well-suited for fractured rock and function well in a wide variety of conditions in a mud motor or dual rod system. Polycrystalline diamond compact (PDC) bits use synthetic diamonds on the cutting edge that make them well-suited to hard, solid rock but may not work as well in fractured conditions.

    Matching the right bit type to your material and conditions is important, but so too is operating with the right speed and pressure to enable the selected bit to function optimally. “Regardless of the bit type you choose to operate, it is very important to know how to manage rotation speed and torque, as well as thrust, to help maximize your productivity on the jobsite,” Spray said.

    Learn more about your options and find the right tooling for your next HDD job at borestore.com.


    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, the Vermeer logo, Armor, Lance, Gauntlet 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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    Choosing the right installation method for underground utilities


    Trenching versus plowing and what is microtrenching?

    Whether an underground crew is installing fiberoptic, conduit, cable, electrical, gas or water lines, choosing the right installation method is imperative to helping maximize productivity. While estimating a project, contractors should ask themselves, “what’s the right installation method for this project?”

    According to Ed Savage, product manager at Vermeer Corporation, there has been a significant shift toward horizontal directional drilling in the utility industry, but there are still many instances where open-cut methods including trenching, plowing and microtrenching, are a more cost-effective and efficient method. “For many contractors, the installation method they utilize is driven by the equipment in their fleet,” Savage explained. “While specializing is good for contractors, adding additional installation services can help grow their business.”

    Savage goes on to say while many contractors consider the various open-cut methods to be very similar, several factors should be considered before choosing one way over another. Those considerations include:

    • Ground/Soil conditions
    • Installation depth
    • Size and type of utility
    • Existing infrastructure

    Pros and cons of plowing

    “For direct bury or small poly conduit in soft/loamy soil conditions, a vibratory plow is typically the fastest installation up to around 42 inches (106.6 centimeters) in depth,” Savage explained. “The product is usually installed in a single pass, and there is a lot less restoration work required afterward.”

    However, there are limits to just how much a vibratory plow can do. Savage says there are some plows that can go deeper than 42 inches (106.6 centimeters), [up to 48 inches (121.9 centimeters)], but the soil conditions have to be ideal and the size of the tractor required to pull that deep may make it a less-efficient option at that point. Plows also have a more limited trench width than trenchers.

    Pros and cons of trenching

    Trenchers come in a broader range of sizes, adapt better to various applications, can dig deeper and handle a wider range of soil types than vibratory plows. “While trenching will work in a greater range of environments and project types, the overall process takes longer than plowing,” Savage said. “Trenching jobs require more restoration work after the product is in the ground and contractors may need to bring in additional equipment to complete that portion of the job.”

    Savage added that trenching is an excellent option for utilities that need to be set on-grade and have a large diameter.

    What about micro or nano trenching?

    These methods work well on fiberoptic or small conduit jobs because they are often more cost-effective and can take less time than other installation methods. A micro or nano trencher is used to open a narrow and shallow trench in an asphalt roadway, usually in the seam between the asphalt road and concrete curb/apron.

    “In many cities, the underground right-of-way is becoming crowded,” Savage said. “Micro or nano trenching allows contractors to avoid other utilities, and future repairs to damaged lines can be easier to access.”

    Making the right choice

    Some jobs utilize only one installation method, but ground conditions can fluctuate, and installation depths can vary. For projects like these, Savage said contractors shouldn’t limit themselves to just one method. “The right method is the one, or sometimes two methods, that allows a crew to maximize productivity while still maintaining the highest safety standards,” he added. “That may mean a crew uses a vibratory plow for the majority of a project, but uses a trencher in more challenging soil types or a horizontal directional drill to go under roadways.”

    When choosing between trenching, plowing, micro/nano trenching or drilling, understanding the installation options available can help lead to better decisions and a more successfully completed job. To learn more about your options, reach out to your local Vermeer dealer, or visit Vermeer.com.


    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, Armor, Maul, Lance, Gauntlet and Navigator are trademarks of Vermeer Manufacturing Company in the U.S. and/or other countries.

    © 2019 Vermeer Corporation. All Rights Reserved.