What is holding back open excavation contractors from purchasing HDD machines and doing more of their projects trenchless?

– Owner, trenchless contractor

Questions answered by Charles Stockton, Stockton Drilling Services.

This is a good question and historically a number of large international contractors have attempted this arrangement, some with limited success. The pipeline contractors acquired or developed drilling divisions but later discovered horizontal directional drilling (HDD) requires specialist personnel and specialist equipment with different skill sets, and often mindsets, from those used with open excavation. These drilling divisions then perform work for the parent company but find it difficult to win subcontract works in their own right.

It then becomes challenging to maintain work for the specialist personnel and equipment and make a regular and reliable return on the investment. For this arrangement to work it becomes important that personnel are utilised in other business units in between drilling works.

Generally I feel growth in the HDD industry, both for independent companies and larger organisations, is being hindered due to a shortage in experienced personnel. It takes a considerable number of years to gain experience in such a diverse and changing industry, and often the next generation of workers are tempted into other more lucrative industries before gaining enough experience. The more experienced personnel often work freelance, moving from project to project, preferring to work on day rates rather than staying with one contractor on salary. I feel it would benefit our industry if we had a recognised training scheme that allowed personnel to attain certification progressively as they gained experience and work their way up through the ranks.

Also we need to keep our minds open to new technologies and possible hybrid solutions between open and trenchless construction, such as ploughing and direct lay. Our industries currently coexist, but may well merge further in the future as new methodologies and possibilities develop.

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