Editor's Log: Mainstream

By Robert Carpenter, Editor | June 2010 Vol. 65 No. 6

It’s really only been a little over 20 years since horizontal directional drilling effectively became mainstream for all rig sizes. In that time, the technology has progressed from a unique method for installing large diameter steel pipes under streams and rivers, to a procedure that can now shoot a tiny conduit from street curb to home.

Of course, big is still good. Everyone was amazed when large HDD installations crossed the Mississippi at its deepest and widest points. But that benchmark has long since fallen and today drills regularly exceed 6,000 feet and intersect boring reaches out much further.

Underground Construction’s 12th Annual HDD Survey is a snapshot into the current state of this amazing technology. Each year we conduct the survey it becomes even more apparent how HDD continues to relentlessly permeate every aspect of underground utility installations. For most market niches, HDD is no longer an afterthought; it is weighed and considered as an equal with other construction methods.

In the early years of the survey, telecom installation dominated the market for HDD market applications. As the technology has been refined and as equipment/supply costs fell more in line with other construction methods, HDD gained market share in virtually all segments of the underground industry. There is no longer one niche that dominates; rather, HDD has a strong presence in all markets.

Municipalities are among the last hold-outs for wide-scale acceptance of HDD, though that mindset is fast eroding. HDD is too fast, too efficient, tremendously less invasive and increasingly cost-effective in urban areas. But for the huge gravity sewer market, line and grade installation continues to be the Holy Grail quest for the HDD industry. HDD’s ability to change path or deflect upon hitting barriers pose significant issues for sewer installation.