Contractors say they want machines that can handle more types of projects proficiently and -- equally important --dependably.

Versatility and efficiency are indispensable traits for successful drilling contractors, and those qualities are reflected in their horizontal directional drilling (HDD) rig preferences. Contractors need machines that can handle more types of projects proficiently and -- equally important --dependably.

Asked what drilling contractors are looking for in an HDD rig, Ed Savage, product support manager for Vermeer Manufacturing Co., says succinctly, "Efficiency and up time are everything." In addition to increasing rig reliability, manufacturers are upgrading creature comforts as technology allows. Examples include joysticks with integrated controls, and tilting operator stations designed to reduce fatigue.

Another target for an efficiency boost is prep time; set-up and tear-down time is rightly viewed as a necessary evil that needs to be kept to a minimum. Savage concurs, saying, "Contractors want rigs that can be set up and disassembled quickly at job sites. The less time they spend setting up and tearing down, the more pipe they can get into the ground."

Also stressing the importance of reliability is Richard Levings, product manager at Charles Machine Works Inc. "Most people want a system that will go to work and work continuously all day with the power to accomplish what they set out to do," he says. "One thing contractors are demanding is the ability to take some of the labor intensity out of the job. They also like on-board anchoring and automatic pipe-loading, and they want control levers and switches laid out to be easily accessible." The amenities being introduced are terrific and indeed most welcomed by contractors. But at the end of the day, what contractors want more than anything else is comfort in the knowledge that the rig is going to perform dependably day-in and day-out.

Mirroring growth in the number of HDD rig models available is the increase in use of HDD, and its use in varying types of projects. Notes Savage: "I think we will continue to see growth, maybe not as much as we've seen in the past few years, but I think we'll see more water and sewer work, and soil remediation being done with HDD. We don't anticipate fiber optic work dying off in the near future either."

Levings also is a believer in the potential of fiber optics. He expects that longline fiber optic network projects will continue to provide projects requiring rigs in the 40,000 to 80,000 pound class, and more 30,000 pound rigs will be involved in projects requiring shorter distances with smaller products.

Gary Stewart, merchandising manager for American Augers, predicts that the next big market for HDD will be the installation of communications and other infrastructure equipment in residential areas. "We anticipate that market will be the next big flash for directional drilling," he says. "There is a great deal of fiber optics now in place in larger cities, and there is going to be a demand now to get it from house to house in smaller towns, and that's where a compact drill can come into play."

We look forward to bringing you all the latest developments.