Once considered a dead segment of the directional
drilling industry, the demand for compact drills has been booming of
late as more and more fiber-optic (specifically fiber-to-the-premises)
work has HDD contractors back in business — making the sting that
contractors and manufacturers suffered five years ago a little easier
As more municipalities and utility companies return their focus and
financial efforts to improving utility infrastructure, the compact
drilling market has become the beneficiary of such moves. Many cities
and towns are turning to HDD as they begin to upgrade their underground
infrastructure systems, making such improvements a priority.
Compact rig sales are up over the last few years and show little sign
of stalling in the near future — a welcome sight for rig manufacturers
across North America after several years of dormant sales and even less
The sales of compact rigs has been on the rise the last two years, and
the credit, according manufacturers CE spoke with, clearly goes to the
resurgence of the fiber-to-the-premises market (short fiber-optic
installations from the street into a home, commercial building or other
The compact rig market in North America is dominated by a handful of
manufacturers: Ditch Witch, Vermeer Mfg., Astec Underground, as well as
Barbco Inc. and TT Technologies — all players that have been in the HDD
business for years and that have ridden out the good, bad and the ugly
times of the market. Each of these companies has a few generations of
their rigs under their belts, with each new line making them more
competitive in the marketplace and offering something different for
“The compact HDD market today is strong and it doesn’t look to be
slowing down anytime in the near future,” says Allen Odgers, president
of Astec Underground, which is based in Loudon, Tenn. “Industry-wide,
the volume of machines at the halfway point for 2005 matches the volume
levels for the entire year of 2004.”
The push for even smaller, yet powerful, rigs, such as those with 9,000
to 20,000 lbs of push/pullback, is even greater as the fiber-optic work
centers on the congested and heavily traversed residential areas and
business districts of municipalities. Manufacturers that CE spoke with
concur with the positive assessment of the compact market today and for
“2005 has been a very good year and stronger than 2004,” says Richard
Levings, product manager with Ditch Witch, which is based in Perry,
Okla. “The market is fiber driven. All [utility] segments are using the
drills but right now, the race for the consumer is the bundle service
of Internet service, phone and video… The bundling of those services
is driving the fiber-to-the-home [market]. It is this race that is
driving the small, compact directional drill market at this time.”
“2005 has been a good year and it’s just the beginning,” says Dave
Barbera, vice president of sales and support at Barbco Inc.
Sharon M. Bueno is a contributing staff editor to Compact Equipment.
Three Compact Drills From
One of the Industry’s HDD Pioneers
In the late 1940s, Charlie Malzahn’s son, Ed, a college graduate with a
degree in engineering, had the idea to build a small compact trenching
machine that could replace the “pick and shovel” work involved with
installing residential utility services. By 1949, Ed Malzahn had
succeeded in producing a workable compact trencher. Charlie’s Machine
Shop was renamed The Charles Machine Works Inc. and the first seeds of
the worldwide Ditch Witch organization were planted.
Witch started manufacturing horizontal directional drills in 1989 and
began shipping them in 1990, just as the HDD method began to take off —
making the company one of the pioneering HDD manufacturers. Company
officials say that Ditch Witch was the first OEM to begin commercially
offering HDD drills to the marketplace, with the first being the
JetTrac, later renamed the JT440 (a machine capable of drilling 400 ft
with 5,000 lbs of push/pullback capability). Since that first drill
rolled off the assembly line, Ditch Witch has developed three
additional compact drills: JT520, JT921 and the JT1220. Company
headquarters is home to more than 1,200 employees.
In 2005, Ditch Witch offers three compact drill models: the JT520,
JT921 and the JT1220. A common feature in all the Ditch Witch compact
drills, according to Levings, is the carriage travel speed, allowing
operators to install the product pipe faster. All units have tracker
control, which allows the locator to shut down the rotation and thrust
on the drill from where ever he or she is, and have an electrical
strike notification system that is audible and visible.
The Ditch Witch JT520 is popular mainly due to its size. First built in
1999, the unit has been modified over the years but has not undergone
any major changes.
The JT520, which is powered with a Kubota engine, is designed to do
work from the curb to the house and street crossings that are 50 ft
long. It will get into really tight spaces and allows you not to block
traffic if you are in a residential area or sitting out in the street
on the curb.
The JT520 is 35 1/2 in. wide, 117 in. long and weighs 3,000 lbs; it has
5,000 lbs of push/pullback and 500 ft-lbs of torque. This rig typically
handles bores of 150 ft or less.
The JT921 is the third generation of its class and was released in
October 2004. The unit was first developed in 1994 and was called the
JT820. The JT921, which is powered by a Caterpillar engine, is used for
the same type of jobs as the JT520 or oftentimes if the driller has to
go a little farther or pull back bigger product in tough ground
conditions. The JT921 is 47 in. wide, 193 in. long and weighs 6,670
lbs; it has 9,000 lbs of push/pullback capability and 1,100 ft-lbs of
torque. The power and the enhanced hydraulic systems of the unit
enables it to drill faster than any other HDD machine in its class,
according to Levings. One pump is dedicated to drill pipe rotation,
another to pullback and thrust and a third to drilling fluid — which
adds up to optimal hydraulic flow at all times, Levings says, noting
that this unit is ideal for fiber-to-the-home work.
JT1220 is one of the newest of the smaller units in the industry,
introduced in October 2003. Levings says it is probably the most
popular of the Ditch Witch compact line.
“The 1220 is the new bar in the industry in regard to operator comfort
and visibility,” Levings says. “We spent a lot of time researching what
a directional drill station needed to be. We feel like we hit our
target with the 1220.”
The unit, which uses a Cummins engine, offers cruise control and
operates with a single lever to free up the operator’s left hand. It’s
designed to do extended jobs up to 400 ft and pull back larger product.
It’s short enough and compact enough that it can get into backyards, do
a half or full block and do curb to the house. The unit is 50 in. wide
and 188 in. in length, with an overall operating weight of 9,700 lbs.
It has 10,000 lbs of push and 12,000 lbs of pullback with a torque of
Advice to Buyers:
“Buy where you can get support. That’s very generic but you’ve got to
have parts and service availability to help with training and with
difficult situations. Buy the drill that’s going to make the best
return on your investment,” says Levings.
The Charles Machine Works Inc./Ditch Witch
P.O. Box 66, Perry, OK 73077
Ph: (800) 654-6481 or (580) 336-440; Fax: (580) 572-3523
Web site: www.ditchwitch.com
A Set of Four Small Rigs from the Agricultural and Utility Equipment Manufacturer
One of the first inventions by Vermeer founder Gary Vermeer was a
modified farm wagon with a mechanical hoist. By 1948, demand for the
machine led to the founding of Vermeer Mfg. Co. in Pella, Iowa. Now,
almost six decades later, Vermeer has grown from a one-person Iowa
operation to an international organization that manufactures
agricultural, construction, environmental and industrial equipment —
enabling people on jobsites around the world to work more efficiently.
The company has also become one of the leading suppliers of horizontal
directional equipment and trenchers in the United States.
Many firsts have been developed at Vermeer, including the world’s first
large, round hay baler introduced in 1961. Vermeer began manufacturing
compact horizontal directional drills in 1993, following the release of
its first Navigator horizontal directional drilling unit in 1991.
“Its compact line has been instrumental in installing fiber optics for
the world’s information superhighway. As a leading trencher equipment
manufacturer, Vermeer trenching equipment has been utilized on road
construction and mining projects, within the equipment rental industry
and on various other job applications.
Vermeer, with corporate offices and manufacturing facilities located in
Pella, Iowa, currently employs more than 2,000 workers, with more than
160 independent, authorized HDD dealers worldwide.
Today, Vermeer is manufacturing its second generation of compact
directional drills and they include improved features such as remote
lockout systems with two-way communication, rack-and-pinion carriage
drives, easier machine service access and dual joystick handles with
integrated functions for convenient operator control.
Its line of compact drills includes the D7x11A, D7x11 Series II,
D16x20A with rod loader and D18x22. The target market for compact
drills is municipalities, general
contractors, service drop contractors and fiber-to-the-
Vermeer’s most popular rig model is its D7x11 Series II unit, first
introduced to customers in October 2004. Ed Savage, underground segment
manager with Vermeer, cites the unit’s power-dense package that offers
the most power-to-size ration within its horizontal directional drill
class. The D7x11 Series II is a drill that has an overall width of 35
1/2 in. and a length of 158 in. — all the while being a self-contained
unit, which means that it has the drill rod, power plant, operator
station, water pump and water tank all on board. The pullback was
increased from 7,800 to 9,000 lbs and the rotational torque was
increased from 1,100 to 1,300 ft-lbs. Vermeer also increased the
carriage speed (how fast you can run the drill rod up and down the
rack) from 75 to 105 ft per minute.
Standard features for Vermeer compact units include: onboard water
pump; onboard rod-carrying capability; patented remote lockout system
with two-way communication; dual stakedowns; rack-and-pinion carriage
drive, which isn’t offered on all manufacturers’ compact units; and
dual joysticks for thrust and rotation with integral controls for other
research initiates product development at Vermeer,” Savage says.
“Vermeer product innovations and solutions begin in the customers’
All Vermeer compact
units are powered by diesel engines. The D7x11 models are powered with
Kubota engines, the D16x22 are powered with Cummins engines and the
18×22 models are powered with Caterpillar engines. With regard to
serviceability, Vermeer units have larger side doors that open for
easier access to machine parts and the rack-and-pinion carriage drive
eliminates maintenance of chains. Rubber or steel tracks are optional
on all units. The dual joystick controls allow for more individual
controllability over thrust and rotation. Vermeer also has reduced the
noise at its operator’s station, which provides a more comfortable work
environment for the operator.
Advice to Buyer:
“When purchasing a compact horizontal directional drill, choose a drill
with the most rotational torque in its class, the most push/pullback in
its class, water capabilities in a small footprint, including flow and
pressure specifications, drill stem length of 6 ft vs. 5 ft — the
longer the drill stem, the less often a new connection will be made — a
remote lockout system with two-way communication and a forged, one
piece drill stem,” says Savage.
Vermeer Mfg. Co.
1210 Vermeer Rd. East, Pella, IA 50219
Ph: (888)-VERMEER or (641) 621-3141; Fax: (641)-621-7734
Web site: www.vermeer.com
A Pair of Compact Directional Drills
from the Underground Innovator
Barbco Inc. is a manufacturer of horizontal earth boring machines,
directional drills, tunneling machines, augers and other related
products for use in underground applications. The company was founded
by James S. Barbera in August 1989. Barbera had many years of
experience in the auger boring industry, having been a utility
contractor and having built and sold auger-boring equipment. The
company’s first shop was located in Twinsburg, Ohio, but that location
was quickly outgrown.
The company then moved to near Massillon, Ohio. In 1992, the company
moved to Canton, Ohio, and refurbished an abandoned steel plant. At
this location Barbco expanded its product line to include boring
machine tunnel attachments (BMTAs) and directional drills. In December
2002, Barbco moved to its present
location in East Canton, Ohio. The new 8-acre facility
provides Barbco with ample existing manufacturing space and the ability to expand as the need arises.
Since its founding, Barbco has brought many innovations to the auger boring industry that include:
• Controlled Boring System (CBS): enables a boring machine to hold to
line and grade by use of a 360-degree articulating head and on-surface
• Rapid Travel System (RTS): provides a faster method of retracting the
boring machine in order to add additional auger and casing
• Dual sized machines: providing better return on investment to the contractor
• Pressure compensated load sensing hydraulic systems
• Load-sensing hydraulic valves
• Hydraulic push bars
In 1995, Barbco introduced its line of directional drills, which range
in size from the 25,000-lb Tru-Grade unit to the 110,000-lb BD-110 SC,
which is a self-contained directional drill. Barbco is currently
producing the second generation of the Tru-Grade line, called the
Tru-Grade MK II, which was released in 2004. Also, Barbco recently
announced custom design and fabrication to all lines of its equipment.
Barbco offers two compact models to its customers — its original
Tru-Grade (1996) and Tru-Grade MK II (2004). The Tru-Grade MK II
provides 15,000 lbs of thrust, 24,000 lbs of pullback and 1,500 ft-lbs
of rotational torque. Designed for compact applications (either
surface- or pit-launched), the Tru-Grade II uses 2-, 4-, 6- or 8-ft rod
lengths and has an outside dimension that is 60 in. long and 50 in.
wide. In its surface-launched mode, it is only 72 in. in length and 40
in. wide (these dimensions can be customized to meet the special needs
of a particular contractor, according to Barbco officials).
The original Tru-Grade provides 18,000 lbs of thrust, 24,000 lbs of
pullback and 560 ft-lbs of rotational torque.
“The Tru-Grade MK II is a very powerful machine for its compact size,”
says Dave Barbera, vice president of sales and support at Barbco. “It
provides the contractor with more applications for the equipment,
therefore providing a better return on investment… There are
customers who swear by it because of the amount of power it has.”
The thrust for Barbco units is generated from a single cylinder using a
Rineer Rotation motor with a through shaft and a built-in thrust
bearing, which makes for a simple design and an efficient drill. Safety
features include E-stops, rotation limiters and Zap Alert mats — all of
which are built into the units. The engine for the Tru-Grade MK II
model is a four-cylinder, turbo diesel Deutz with 75 hp at 2,800 rpm.
Optional equipment on the directional drills includes: auger stake
downs; automatic rod loaders; track blocks; and heated and air
Advice to Buyers:
“Ask your supplier about the horsepower requirements of each function,
then add them up to see if the unit’s engine produces at least the
sum,” says Barbera.
315 Pekin Ave. SE, P.O. Box 30189, East Canton, OH 44730
Ph: (800) 448-8934 or (330) 488-9400; Fax: (330) 488-2022
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Web site: www.barbco.com
Trencor, Case, American Augers and
Astec Combine Experience to Produce
Four Compact Drill Rigs
In 1970, American Augers began manufacturing in a small, rented garage
outside of Wooster, Ohio, with the singular commitment to manufacture
and distribute trenchless technology equipment. Its first product was
an auger boring machine and by 1987, the company’s product offering
expanded into directional drills and related mud/fluid systems. Today,
American Augers is the largest manufacturer of auger boring machines
and mid-size and maxi-rig directional drills in the world, as well as a
significant player in the smaller rig market through its sister
company, Astec Underground.
American Augers, a part of Astec Underground, leveraged its expertise
in manufacturing large drills to design and produce unique, innovative
small drills. The company began manufacturing horizontal compact drills
in 1988. The first compact drill, the DD-1, was manufactured around
1998. Astec Underground’s current line of compact directional drills is
the result of its innovative efforts to combine the best elements of
American Augers’ compact drills with the best features of the former
Case compact directional drill line. What company officials say they
have found is that the new drills are more than just the sum of their
In 2002, Astec
Industries Inc. combined its expertise from American Augers and Trencor
with the quality products of the former Case-branded trenchers and
directional drills to jointly produce a line of utility drills and
trenchers. The company name was Astec Underground. In establishing this
new company and facility, Astec Underground was able to acquire the
finest from engineering, manufacturing, sales and service, company
officials say. They acquired a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility
in Loudon, Tenn., that they purchased from John Deere to produce Astec-
and Trencor-branded trenchers. The manufacturing plant is located on
108 acres; it has 48 dock doors to allow for easy flow of materials in
and out. Astec Underground authorized dealers are located all over the
world, with more than 90 locations.
Astec Underground launched its new rig series, Earth Pro, in January —
its first new rig since completing the purchase of the Case HDD product
line from CNH in October 2004. The two companies had formed a
partnership in 2002, with Case wanting to transition out of the
underground construction business. Astec Underground plans to introduce
additional compact rigs at the ICUEE show held Sept. 27-29.
Currently, Astec Underground offers four machines in its compact drill
line: The DD-65 Mini, DD-1215, DD-2024 and DD-3238. The newest models
(the DD-65 Mini, DD-1215 and DD-2024) were officially released this
September and no information was available on those drills at press
“Our most popular
model currently is the DD-3238 but our new DD-1215 is generating a lot
of interest among customers looking for a small rig that has the feel
of a much larger machine,” says Klane Kirby, vice president of sales
and marketing at Astec Underground. “The 12,000-lb machine class is
typically the machine choice for those contractors involved in the
fiber-to-the-premises work that is becoming more and more common as
telecommunications companies are trying to create new revenue
opportunities by offering additional services to their customers.”
The DD-3238 offers 32,000 lbs of thrust/pullback force, with the
capability of up to 3,800 ft-lbs of rotary torque. The maximum rotary
speed can reach up to 225 rpm. The drill weighs an estimated 20,000 lbs
and is approximately 247 in. long by 89 in. wide. It also has an
onboard FMC mud pump that can pump up to 47 gpm at up to 1,500 psi.
This new drill also has the field-proven dual rack-and-pinion carriage
drive that made American Augers’ maxi-rig drills the market leaders.
The floating carriage is capable of two speeds, including a 120 ft/min.
fast mode for adding and removing rods. The DD-3238 uses a 10-ft drill
stem and can carry up to 500 ft of pipe in its rod baskets. The powered
pipe greaser and state-of-the-art rod loader are standard, as are the
floating open-top vise wrenches.
Astec Underground has several safety features it describes as unique
and innovative that are standard on all of its drills. The DD-3238
offers independent rear stabilizers and a single drive stake down
system that can put down up to four stakes if necessary and offers
optional rock augers, if necessary. It has a tethered travel control
unit to help operator visibility during tramming and transport and the
improved front drive track system offers traction and
The patented Es!Lok system is integrated into the drill controls and
there is an additional strike alert system with a voltage sensor for
All Astec compact drills are powered by John Deere Tier II-approved
engines. The multi-function single joystick controls all drill
functions and the adjustable seat helps combat operator fatigue and
discomfort. Cruise control is also featured, allowing the operator to
set the various drill features where they are most productive and the
microprocessor-driven controls can automatically return to that set
point, which means the operator doesn’t have to continually hold the
controls in position while drilling.
Advice to Buyers:
“There are a number of factors to consider when purchasing a compact
directional drill. The availability and quantity of work that requires
directional drilling, the environment in which the contractor will be
working, the ground conditions in those areas and the availability of
repair and service support are all factors that should be considered in
selecting a directional drill rig for purchase,” says Kirby.
9600 Corporate Park Dr., Loudon, TN 37774
Ph: (800) 527-6020 or (865) 408-2100
Fax: (865) 458-8575
Web: www.astecunderground.comTags: Caterpillar, Trenchers