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Tomorrow's world

We asked three leading directional drilling manufacturers to outline the main achievements in directional drilling during the past 10 years and to identify the challenges still to be overcome Technical achievement Vermeer: Horizontal directional drilling has changed the way cities and utility companies around the world install and replace underground pipe or cable. As one of many trenchless methods, directional drilling has avoided the costly and irritating disruption that traditional open cutting brings in highly congested urban areas.

Directional drilling has become the preferred method for installation of utilities in established neighbourhoods where trenching would rip up the landscape and present costly restoration problems.

The self-contained rig concept was introduced in the early 1990s and has become the standard, forever changing the face of the industry. Vermeer later introduced mechanical, operator-friendly breakout vices to the small horizontal directional drilling market.These have increased efficiency, reduced damage to drill stem threads and improved operator safety.

Innovations in support systems, such as improved tooling, electronics, and drilling fluids have also had a major impact on ease of operation, performance in difficult ground conditions, and the ability to complete a high percentage of attempted bores.

Steve Vick: The single most important development was the introduction of the dry directional drilling system using a pneumatic hammer to drill rather than water and bentonite.

Other significant achievements have been the development of the small, pit-launched rigs to enable underground installations in locations where access is severely limited; improvements to guidance and detection systems allowing ever more accurate and deeper directional drilling, and the recent moves to combine a small directional drilling rig with a mini excavator.

Tracto-Technik: Ground radar has been refined significantly over the past few years and several companies have quite sophisticated integrated detection and mapping systems for detecting unknown obstacles (cables/pipes etc).

Percussive hammers mean directional drilling rigs can operate in a much wider range of soil conditions than just a few scans.

Challenges Vermeer: As horizontal directional drilling continues to become more mainstream, electronic innovations will continue to simplify operations.There is a heightened awareness of utility locating and avoidance. Improved technologies for locating utilities in increasingly congested areas will continue to pose challenges for the industry.

Horizontal directional drills are becoming more efficient and more reliable, but tooling developments will continue to enhance the capabilities of the equipment.

Steve Vick: Two key areas are improving detection of existing underground plant and services, and increasing the forward range and depth of drill head detection systems.

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