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Case Study: Pre-Bore Planning Is Becoming an Important Step in HDD Workflow

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Larger-diameter utility projects now often require contractors to submit detailed plans to help ensure adequate bend radius of the product being installed, account for other buried utilities and create an as-built bore profile after a job is complete. Faced with these new requirements, many contractors are left scrambling because creating a pre-bore plan manually can be an extremely time-consuming exercise.

However, for the contractors who are committed to staying ahead of their customers’ needs and embracing new technology for the horizontal directional drilling (HDD) industry, adding bore planning tools can help streamline the process and provide a competitive advantage.

Arizona-based R Directional Drilling & Underground Technology Inc. performs utility installation work throughout the Southwest United States and has been using some form of bore planning software since opening its doors in 2006. According to Ever Ruiz, estimator and project manager for R Directional Drilling, the company originally used Atlas Bore Planner computer software, and transitioned to the Vermeer BoreAid design tool when it was introduced to the market. The company has now converted most of their bore preplanning work to the Vermeer Projects software suite.

Right Tool for the Job

“Bore planning software and tools have come a long way in the last decade,” Ruiz says. “BoreAid has been a great tool for us when we are asked to help design a bore. The program helps remind us to take into account soil conditions, product type, bend radius and the HDD rig that will be used on a job. After inputting the information, BoreAid design tool constructs a detailed proposed design that we can submit to our clients for approval. The reports are much more professional than what we could do on our own.”

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The BoreAid design tool has long been a staple in R Directional Drilling’s process, but now the company has found a way to create pre-bore plans on projects where they are required to show customers a bore profile before drilling has started.

Different Tool for a Different Job

“There are different requirements for creating a pre-bore plan and creating a design,” Ruiz says. “The bore path needs to be walked, existing utilities need to be identified with exact location and depths, and any other potential obstacles have to be accounted for. We used to collect all that information in the field and then come back to the office and add it into BoreAid design tool, but around a year ago we were introduced to another Vermeer productivity tool that has been designed specifically for this type of preplanning.”

The tool R Directional Drilling & Underground Technology Inc. is using today to perform pre-bore profiles is Vermeer Projects +BorePlan. Ruiz says it’s more efficient than other methods they’ve tested to create a pre-bore plan.

“Using an Apple iPad with Vermeer Projects loaded on it and a Trimble R1 GNSS receiver to provide accurate GPS coordinates, we can map the bore path and mark the location and depth of any other utilities or obstacles,” he says. “The Vermeer Projects tool gives us the ability to do almost everything in the field, but we can still make adjustments from a computer if needed.”

The data collected in the field is then integrated with a Google Maps image of the jobsite and shared with utility customers. The pre-bore plan includes the intended bore path whiteline, potholing locations and marked utilities. The plan presented also includes specific HDD information, including bend radius and rod-by-rod details.

“By presenting this level of detail, our customers can see that we’ve thought through all the necessary aspects of a bore,” Ruiz adds. “Sometimes, we’ll be asked to change a plan because of information we didn’t know ahead of time, which is easy to do in Vermeer Projects. We can quickly make adjustments and resubmit a plan for approval.”

Once a pre-bore plan is approved, the R Directional Drilling & Underground Technology HDD operator and locator work the plan using either a printout of rod-by-rod data or the Log-While-Drilling (LWD) feature on their DCI DigiTrak Aurora display.

“Right now, most of our crew is working from a printout, but we’re working our way toward using the LWD feature in the future,” Ruiz says.

Once the bore is complete, if there are no significant deviations from the plan, R Directional Drilling will submit the preplan as the as-built bore profile. If there are changes, Ruiz will make changes to the plan within Vermeer Projects and resubmit the updated information.

R Directional Drilling & Underground Technology Inc.

The tool R Directional Drilling & Underground Technology Inc. is using for pre-bore profiles, Vermeer Projects +BorePlan, allows the company to collect GPS coordinates so the company can map the bore path and mark the location and depth of any other utilities or obstacles.

Preplanning Requirements

For the team at R Directional Drilling & Underground Technology, developing a preplanned bore path was not required by any of their customers until a few years ago.

“The local gas company we do a lot of work with started to ask for it as part of the project scope,” Ruiz says. “Now, they require it for all their steel pipeline work, ranging in size from 8 in. (20.3 cm) and up. There are also times when we are required to do preplanning on some plastic and PVC pipes, but usually there is some kind of special circumstance for those requests.”

One of the special circumstances occurred earlier this year on a waterline job that R Directional Drilling worked on near Phoenix. The team was tasked with installing 12-in. (30.5 cm) fusible PVC and had to cross under some canals. There was limited space in those areas, and the team had concerns about the allowable bend radius. So, they sent a few members of their team out with an iPad loaded with Vermeer Projects and a GPS antenna to measure the area and plot a bore path that would keep everything within an acceptable range.

“While preplanning wasn’t necessarily customer mandated, we created a pre-bore profile anyway, because it would help our team be more efficient on the project and help us complete the job right the first time,” Ruiz says. “In some cases, customers tell us preplanning needs to be done, while for others, it’s just a good idea for our own peace of mind.”

Raising the Bar

The team at R Directional Drilling & Underground Technology has an investment and commitment to preplanning, helping them secure work for years to come. The team is just starting a new 6,000-ft (1,828.8 m) gas line project for a local utility company, and Ruiz says tools like Vermeer Projects and BoreAid design tool have provided them with a real competitive advantage.

“These bore planning tools have helped us reduce the amount of time it would typically take to do the preplanning work, and we’re able to provide customers with professional reporting,” he says. “Those two things alone help set us apart from competitors bidding on the same job. Of course, these tools are just a part of the process; we’ve always been an organization committed to doing things the right way, which means we’re always looking to improve.”

R Directional Drilling’s commitment to constant improvement has helped set the course for a bright future. The company continues to grow in size, and the scale of the projects they perform continue to expand.

Kayla Breja is senior product marketing specialist for utility and productivity tools at Vermeer Corp, based in Pella, Iowa.

Vermeer, the Vermeer logo, Atlas BorePlanner and BoreAid are trademarks of Vermeer Manufacturing Co. in the United States and/or other countries. DCI, DigiTrack, Aurora and LWD are trademarks of Digital Control Inc. Trimble is a trademark of Trimble Inc. Google is a trademark of Alphabet, Inc. iPad is a trademark of Apple Inc.

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