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Lineworkers of the Lake: More Connectivity Through Service and Support

Lineworkers of the Lake: More Connectivity Through Service and Support

25 Mar 2024 Author: Eric Punt Read time: 4 min

More than a decade ago, Mike Millner, a Line Superintendent at a Northern Minnesota electric cooperative, saw an opportunity where others did not. Instead of contracting horizontal directional drilling (HDD), he turned to equipment experts at RDO Equipment Co. to learn about Vermeer’s drills and the HDD process to decrease installation time through this type of drilling.

HDD is a trenchless drilling method to install underground utilities and cables with minimal surface disruption. HDD operators drill a borehole at an angle from the surface and then steer it horizontally to the desired endpoint. HDD operators use their experiential knowledge to drill in different soil types and avoid underground obstacles effectively. HDD requires specialized equipment to control the direction and depth of drilling, making it a preferred method for laying underground infrastructure. With the right equipment, HDD operators can dramatically reduce utility installation time.

“When I took over as Line Superintendent with nearly 25 years of linework experience, I knew we had to purchase a directional drill," he said.

Millner and his fellow Roseau Electric Cooperative (REC) team members have delivered reliable energy using technology and innovative services to meet the needs of agricultural, commercial and residential customers for more than 80 years. Milner emphasizes that this cooperative serves more than 6,650 rural customers in Northern Minnesota. 

Millner said after they purchased their first Vermeer D20x22 drill, an HDD operator from RDO provided a weeklong training. The training and drill improved their ability to install electric and fiber optic cables in rural areas.

“After owning our first drill, we started drilling more power and fiber optics cables because our job site clean-up took less time," he said.

Other regional businesses and homeowners started contacting their HDD team to complete projects, including drilling in waterlines, sewer lines and secondary powerlines, Millner explained. The REC team grew these additional revenue streams and reinvested into their team to purchase another D20x22 S3 drill. Milner said they needed another drill to keep up with additional demand, just a few years after purchasing their first drill. 

Watch Millner and the REC team partner with RDO experts to learn horizontal directional drilling with Vermeer equipment.

The self-sufficiency offered by owning their HDDs and becoming experts in the process is a key benefit for Millner and team.  

"The support of RDO allows us to develop our HDD knowledge further, so installing power or fiber optics is consistent and efficient," he said.  

Millner estimates the installation time for a typical underground line job has been cut nearly in half since they started, allowing them to take on more complex projects, like underwater installation in the Northwest Angle. Located on the northern side of Lake of the Woods (when viewing a map, the Northwest Angle is the “chimney” of Minnesota), the Northwest Angle includes a peninsula and various islands where many people enjoy holidays either camping or at one of the destination’s resorts. Before the REC team installed utilities, many people accessed essential services using diesel-powered generators. To connect the northernmost community of the continental U.S., the REC team had to figure out if they could complete the complicated underwater installation.  

"By far, the most challenging part of this project was ensuring we could transport all the equipment and parts and keep the drill up and running," Millner said. 

During this 10-year installation project, the REC team relied on RDO technicians and the Connected Support team to help troubleshoot drills at any time if there was an issue. The REC team transported necessary drills, cables and parts by water barge. RDO's consistent service and parts delivery allowed their team to complete the job during the fall of 2023. Millner said this job taught their team persistence and increased their HDD operators' confidence.  

“RDO's team has been excellent," Millner said. "They are 'Johnny on the spot' and it's so easy to receive the parts and service when your team needs it." 

Eric Punt

For nearly 20 years, Eric Punt has followed his passion for Vermeer equipment. He started as a diesel mechanic, grew into a Field Service Technician and then led technical communications for Vermeer’s support line. Punt was the first to earn his Vermeer’s Master Certified Technician in all its construction equipment lines. Now working as an RDO Account Manager, he partners with team members across RDO to deliver Vermeer equipment and technology solutions to customers.

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