This month's installment examines direct-push and probe units.

A direct-push rig equipped for versatility can enable multiple projects, such as both environmental and geotechnical work.
With increasing emphasis on environmental and geotechnical projects, direct-push rigs and smaller units with probe capabilities are more in demand than ever before. Equipped to handle complex terrains and other tough drilling conditions, these drill rigs enable project completion in areas where before it was difficult, if not impossible. Keeping this in mind, we spoke to some manufacturers of probe and direct-push rigs to hear what they had to say about their niche market. Much like their counterparts, these rigs, we discovered, are sought out for versatility — to be adaptable to more than one kind of project. We also learned that, as with many other industries across the country, the economy is having an impact.

AMS Inc.’s PowerProbe 9630 PRO PTO is used to accomplish direct-push sampling for environmental and geotechnical projects.
Desia Anderson from AMS Inc. explains what contractors currently look for when shopping for rigs and shares how AMS is responding to its customers’ needs. “Most of them, we have found, are looking more for more versatile rigs that can do multiple jobs whether it be large, open areas or small, tight spaces, but basically without losing any power,” Anderson states.

As a result, “we are customizing,” she reveals. ”‘What you see is what you get’ is what they’re not looking for anymore because what they’re trying to do is get the biggest bang for their buck. They want to be able to buy one unit that does everything,” she continues. “We have always custom-built, and we’re mainly known for that. We build to our customers’ specifications, not ours. We give them the equipment they’re looking for, the options they’re looking for, and we combine all this into one rig.”

Agreeing with Anderson’s assertion that contractors seek the biggest bang for their buck, Bill Acker of Acker Drill reveals that customers are looking for “big discounts.” He goes on to say, “But right now, they aren’t buying. Between the war and the economy, everybody’s sitting on their hands, I think. Business is lousy. We had a good fall and winter, and early 2003 was good,” he recalls, but indicates that with the spring of the year, things shifted.

The Acker Soil-X drill rig is designed for easy access in restricted spaces to enable soil investigation, ground water monitoring or core drilling.
As Acker so aptly puts it, the current economic and political climate in the U.S. has affected business for many manufacturers. Yet Acker also has witnessed the ironic quirks that businesses often see. “If anything, rigs were way down,” he relays, “and they’ve picked up again. And that’s the opposite of what you’d expect in a lousy economy.” He attributes his increased rig sales to need-based purchases. “I think some guys have just been holding out, and they finally said ‘I can’t wait any longer.’ I think a lot of it is replacement as opposed to new customers. It’s a new rig, but it’s a replacement rig.” However, the same increase can’t be said for accessories. According to Acker, “Those are the bread and butter lines — the accessories. That’s what pays the rent, you know, and that’s been lousy. The worst problem right now is that the states are way off. The states are hurting for money. That gets us on accessories and machinery, both.”

Despite the troubled economy, very little by way of rigs and accessories in the realm of smaller direct-push rigs and probes have fallen out of favor. “I haven’t seen a lot of change there,” Acker replies, when asked which rigs and equipment lost popularity. There have been some developments in what has gained popularity, but nothing has been pushed to the wayside. “Of course, we have items that don’t sell as well as others,” Anderson states, “but the ones that do sell well have always sold well. They have not dropped.”

The bigger hammers for the bigger jobs are more popular now than they were a few years ago, Anderson tells us, and more down force and pull-up force. “Most of the options for rig mounts are still in demand, and we have seen the addition of auto-drop hammer for geotechnical needs,” Anderson explains. She continues, describing how AMS’ policy of customization enables the company to meet customers’ needs when trends shift. “We have built and designed our own auto-drop hammer to be mounted to rigs, so they can have their environmental consulting work plus their geotechnical work.”

Geotechnical drilling is gaining ground. Photo courtesy of the California Department of Transportation.
Both Anderson and Acker acknowledge the growth potential for drilling in the future. “I see the majority of them being environmental consulting jobs, however, I see the geotechnical work,” Anderson asserts. “Geotechnical work has always been out there, but you’ve always needed the extremely huge rigs to do this. We are now finding that with some customization, with some additional options, they are able to meet geotechnical needs on a smaller rig and continue to have the direct push technology as well.” Anderson believes the interest in customization and versatility will continue. Looking ahead, she foretells, “I actually predict companies looking for items such as direct-push units with several working options — a versatile rig — so they can pick up other jobs, so they’re not limiting what they can do.”

Acker also recognizes geotechnical projects as an area with increasing possibilities. When considering where he sees the industry headed, though, his focus shifts more to what impacts growth. In light of the current climate in the U.S., Acker captures very well the sentiments of many with regard to the economy and the drilling industry: “It’s tricky. You’ve got to sit and watch what you’re doing today.” All is not without hope, however. “If this war gets over,” Acker anticipates, “I think we’d be looking at growth and new building — highways, bridges, runways, that stuff.