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How Horizontal Directional Drilling Helps Contractors Rebuild Vital Infrastructure

How Horizontal Directional Drilling Helps Contractors Rebuild Vital Infrastructure

29 Nov 2022 Read time: 5 min

Natural disasters are often seen as providing a chance to rebuild. In recent years, events such as 2018’s Camp Fire have increased demand for expert excavators to remove and re-install utilities. In mid-November, northern California communities and contractors marked four years since the state’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire. Since that devastating event, the region has done its best to build itself back up and create a more resilient infrastructure.  

Dudley’s Excavating Inc. was an essential part of that rebuild. A third-generation contractor serving California for over 35 years, Dudley’s specializes in vital earthwork projects like fiber optics installation and more. 

“We’ve been working up here in Paradise for the last three years doing fire restoration, putting new fiber optic lines for AT&T,” said Glen Gipper, Dudley’s Excavating, Inc.’s Project Manager. “The Camp Fire completely decimated the entire town, wiped out all the existing infrastructure, burned down all the poles, burned up all the copper.” 

Glen explained this vital project would take six years to complete a 40-mile fiber optic underground installation to restore critical communication services. Beyond the sheer length of the project, the region has some unique geological challenges. In northern California, the soil is a mixture of red and hard clay and, depending on what time of year, can include rock cobbles or some granite. So, besides debris removal, efficiently installing fiber optics in the ground and avoiding existing underground infrastructure can be highly challenging.  

This project in Butte County was an area Glen and his team wasn’t familiar with since they are based out of Gerber, about an hour northwest of Paradise. To learn more about the underground conditions, the Dudley team started by digging pits to test the soil.  

“Then I called Craig at RDO to discuss,” Glen said.  

Craig Sobrero, Vermeer Product Specialist at RDO Equipment Co., worked with Dudley’s Excavating team to develop an equipment solution for this job site’s needs. For a project like this one, Craig and Glen knew that, with the right tools, contractors could use a steerable, trenchless method of installing underground pipe, conduit, or cable in a shallow arc along a prescribed bore path by using a surface-launched drilling rig, with minimal impact on the surrounding area. And Craig knew what parts and services Dudely’s Excavating would need to keep them up and running.  

Vermeer is a leader in Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD) Vermeer and other equipment for underground utility installation. Working together, Glen and Craig outlined the parameters for the project. They needed to preserve the environment and existing underground infrastructure as much as possible. As with any project, they also wanted to ensure that the optic placement was as accurate as possible to reduce the risk of rework.  

“Before this project, we were working with other companies, but we decided to switch to Vermeer equipment because of this environment’s challenges,” Glen said. Vermeer’s HDD allows operators to maneuver around infrastructure through real-time monitoring and control. HDD can also reduce excavation and improve the accuracy of optic placement to complete jobs efficiently. 

Craig spoke with Glen and other Dudley team members to explain the HDD process and what parts and services they would need to complete the job.

HDD has three primary stages: 

  1. Pilot drilling
  2. Expanding the drilling hole 
  3. Pulling the production pipe 

First, an operator uses a directional driller to drill a pilot hole and then uses a drill and pipe to create a small-diameter hole for the optic cable to be installed. Drilling fluid helps the drill bit to cut through soil and cools the drill bit while carrying the cuttings back to the surface. Although, the amount of fluid to be used or the drill bit lifespan depends on the location’s soil type.

“They (Dudley’s) looked to us to provide them with tooling, specifically the ACE bits and the armor system with the gauntlet bit, so they can install more conduit and put in more footage throughout the day,” Craig said.

On the job site in Paradise, Glen said operators used a 2330 drill. Once RDO team members could regularly supply drill bits and fluid to keep the operators up and running despite its challenging environment, fiber optic cables were re-installed within the city limits without disrupting other underground utilities.  

“To cut back on our job time saves us money,” Glen said. “Even if it’s just a couple of hours a day throughout the year. It adds up to make a big difference.” 

Besides parts, Craig ensured field technicians were dispatched when their equipment needed to be serviced.  

“I would recommend RDO to someone who hasn’t worked with them,” Glen said. “I’ve been through many other companies. RDO is always there.”  

And because of our changing environment, contractors, small and large, are looking for ways to improve efficiency and build long-lasting infrastructure that can withstand possible natural disasters. Through the HDD method and a trustworthy parts and service partner, contractors can restore communication services – even after a “once in a lifetime” fire.  


Check out Vermeer parts and equipment or read more stories from contractors who choose Vermeer to build and grow their businesses. 

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