Good Vibrations: HDD Industry Riding Out Recession Better Than Other Market Niches

12th Annual HDD Survey
By Robert Carpenter, Editor | June 2010 Vol. 65 No. 6

Consulting engineers and municipalities, while vastly improving their HDD knowledge the past two years, are still woefully lacking in detailed knowledge of the technology. Their inability to effectively inspect HDD leads to a lack of confidence in the technology and, in turn, often unnecessarily inhibits contractor management of projects by making invalid and extraneous demands. “Our jobs are hard enough without engineers expecting us to give them on-the-job training about what they should look for on a drill,” complained a Southeast respondent. “Educating public officials is a major challenge for the HDD industry,” emphasized a Northeastern contractor.

Mid-sized trend
The trend to mid-size rigs continued in 2009 and demand is projected to grow even more in 2010. For the first time in the 12-year history of the survey, more contractors are interested in buying new rigs of 40,000 pounds/pullback force through 150,000 pounds as they are for smaller rigs under 40,000. When asked what rig size would be their next purchase, 40 percent of the survey respondents indicated a mid-size rig compared to 39 percent for a small rig. Also impressive was that 21 percent of respondents are seriously considering a large rig for their next purchase. Due to the traditionally small number of contractors operating in the “big rig” world, clearly the large rig market is viewed as expanding with potential market opportunities.

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Apparently, slowing telecom, electric and gas distribution work has sent HDD contractors scrambling to expand their capabilities with larger rigs, capable of drilling water and sewer lines as well as tackling longer bores for telecom and electric. Plus, there continues to be strong demand for HDD work in the oil and gas transmission markets that frequently mid-sized rigs are capable of handling. Reported this East Coast contractor: “The market is changing to bigger product and deeper and longer bores.”

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Traditionally, HDD has been considered a perfect technology for telecom, gas distribution and electric installations, but guidance and precise control quirks – which generally is irrelevant for those market niches – can be a detriment for sewer and water.