An American Augers T1360 in use on a pipelaying project in Australia.

An American Augers T1360 in use on a pipelaying project in Australia.

Construction may sometimes seem a conservative industry, but the utilities sector is one area where new technology and techniques are having an impact on the way work is done.

Among the biggest developments in the sector was the emergence of trenchless systems in the 1980s, which meant pipes and other underground services could be installed without the disruption of digging a trench. This remains an area of technological development, with plenty of new products coming onto the market.

For example, Ditch Witch has released the JT60 and the JT60 All Terrain. Both offer 60,000 lbs (27,215 kg) of thrust and pullback, and are powered by either a 190 hp (142 kW) or 200 hp (149 kW) engine. The All Terrain model has a two-pipe drilling system which Ditch Witch says delivers class-leading power to the bit, increasing productivity.

The company has also released its MR90 mud recycler, which is a self-contained unit capable of mixing and recycling drilling fluid, in addition to handling spoils. Ditch Witch says reclaiming, recycling and reusing drilling fluids makes for savings on disposal and transportation costs.

Toro has released its new DD4045 horizontal directional drill model. This has 40,000 lbs (18,134 kg) of thrust and pullback, and features a 160 hp (119 kW), Cummins QSB4.5 diesel engine. The multi-function colour LCD display provides a view of the drill’s performance and functions.

For hard rock drilling conditions, an air hammer can be integrated and controlled from the DD4045 display. Also, an optional enclosed cab keeps operators comfortable.

Vermeer has also released a new direction drill, the D100x140 S3 Navigator, which has a 275 hp (205kW) Tier 4 Final/EU Stage IV engine. One of its key features is an InSite management system, which actively monitors real-time data of machine performance to help improve overall site productivity.

Aside from horizontal directional drilling, other new technology has also been developed to boost productivity in the trenchless sector.
Sacpro, for instance, is a producer of tools and materials for lining sewer systems without requiring open cut construction. The company’s new three-phase, 6 kW steam generator is designed to streamline the curing process when lining underground pipes, together with a new gauge to allow temperatures to be monitored during curing.

CEO Jan-Erik Svedlund said “The approach that has dominated the market in recent years is to spray line with polyester plastics. But we see that lining with flexible liners is increasing and gaining ground against the various spray methods. So much so that even the leading spray companies are now starting their own departments that only work with lining.”


In the trenching sector, American Augers offers machines under the Trencor brand. The range includes the T1060 powered by a 350 hp (261 kW) engine with a maximum chain pull of
63,405 lbs (28. 7 tonne), and T1360 (pictured operating in Australia) featuring a 440 hp (328 kW) engine and chain pull of 53,332 lbs (24.6 tonne), through to its T1760. This has a 950 hp
(708 kW) engine and chain pull capacity of 103,205 lbs (46. 8 tonnes).

The company, which has been building large trenchers since the 1940s, said its series’ mechanical drive system had been developed to reduce tooth wear. Low maintenance costs and improved fuel-efficiency are also among the key features.

But notwithstanding the development of specialised machines and technologies, traditional utilities construction techniques remain in use in many parts of the world. But there is also development here.

The US-based National Trench Safety specialist rental company said trench shields were evolving, as contractors moved increasingly towards using lightweight excavation machinery to dig trenches.

Joe Turner, director of engineering, said, “The change in excavation technology is strongly related to the advancement of smaller, lightweight equipment for excavations in mid depth utility work.

“Large, heavy down and deep excavators tear up streets, require a larger footprint on the street, generate more noise, burn more fuel, have higher transportation, storage and maintenance costs, and leave a much larger carbon footprint, among many other factors. These factors have driven the development of powerful, quiet, mid-size excavation equipment.”

Mr Turner said part of the past problem with lighter excavation equipment in mid-depth utility work was that the machines couldn’t handle heavy steel trench boxes - shoring systems to support trench walls - that were developed for use with large excavators.

Steel trench boxes, he said, weighed about three times as muchas aluminium boxes.

The use of lightweight aluminium shields in place of steel boxes has increased dramatically over the last few years,” he said. “With aluminium, the contractor gains a much lighter box that is far better matched to the excavators he is using.”

Mr Turner added that the company forecast widespread growth in demand for aluminium trench shielding over the next five years in North America.

Computer applications

One company that has been proactive in developing contractor-friendly computer applications is North American-based McElroy – which has released its new DataLogger 5.

The company’s latest device offers site operators working on pipe-fusing jobs the ability to upload data from a job to a free online space, where it can be reviewed and analysed in real-time.

The data recorded can be accessed over the Internet, potentially providing time saving on project analysis.
Other capabilities of the logger include GPS stamping, barcode scanning and a 5 megapixel camera. Its online system, known as

The Vault, can be accessed by anyone who rents, owns or uses a DataLogger. It allows users to view and analyse joint data from almost any device and is sorted by site, device serial number, operator’s identity or machine model.

Chip McElroy, CEO, said, “Data logging is being required on more and more jobsites to verify pipeline integrity. We are happy to offer tools that allow fusion operators to do this as easily and efficiently as possible.”


In addition to computer software, there have also been advancements in the excavator field including the use of custom-made cameras and attachments used on machines to improve operational efficiency and accuracy.

Joep van den Maagdenberg, product specialist at Hitachi Construction Machinery Europe, explained the company had worked hard with customers to develop equipment which was both fuel-efficient and improving its environmental emission performance.

“What we have seen over the past year or two has been a general increase in rental equipment rather than end user sales,” said Mr van den Maagdenberg.

“Companies are making investment in machines that are used for utility work on job sites, including mini-excavators and small excavators up to six tonnes in size. These are being used with several buckets and are now available in a number of equipment options and attachments.

“Since the Lehman Bros. crash in 2008, many companies have been cautious, which has led to companies researching more about the equipment and calculating what their best solutions are.

“This has seen contractors choosing rental – for the UK around 90% of the market is for rental equipment, with many plant hire companies available within mainland Europe covering local level, and at regional and pan-regional level.”

He added that while rental of equipment had become popular as a result of market conditions, he said there were countries such as Norway, where logistics issues meant that contractors still preferred to own their equipment.

He explained there had been considerable research and development into the full range of Hitachi excavators, with the advanced technology featuring in some of its larger range between 17 and 40 tonnes filtering through into its smaller models.

“Contractors are choosing machines that allow them to switch between attachments easily, and we are seeing features such as grapples and hydraulic hammers being used for utility work,” said Mr van den Maagdenberg.

“They are looking for versatility with their machines – for example companies that once worked largely within landscaping are now taking on a wider range of jobs including demolition.”

Hitachi said its 21 tonne, the ZX210LC-5, has successfully completed an earthmoving and drainage pipe laying project in Copenhagen.

Following major flooding in the city two years ago, one of its main roads in Østerbro had been left with sewers overflowing following heavy rain.

Contractor Græsted Entreprenør Service used the Hitachi machine to lay two new pipes to a total of 330 m – one for rainwater and another for sewer water – then fill in the new trenches.

Meanwhile Italian contractor SALP has led a project laying a natural gas pipeline south of Verona, Italy, using a fleet of Doosan construction equipment.

Based in Bagnaria Arsa, Udine, the company operates internationally and specialises in building large pipeline networks.

The route of its project south of Verona, runs east to west, covering 46 km and crossing 11 municipalities. The scheme set out to expand the SNAM natural gas transmission network in an east-west direction in the Po valley, as part of a wider plan for major gas network improvements in Italy.

Known as the Zimella-Cervignano d’Adda natural gas pipeline project, it consists of excavation work to lay range of pipes, backfilling and restoring farmland.

SALP pipeline construction manager Giancarlo Fiore explained the project had used a fleet of 300 machines, including 42 Doosan excavators.

He said, “Every excavator performs a different job on the various sections of the construction project. Broadly speaking, the DX225NLC and DX235NLC models are used for general excavation and for strengthening the embankments and coverings. The larger models are also used on the embankments, for screening material using special buckets and for lifting system equipment.”

Expanded range

Other manufacturers, including Volvo, have introduced an expanded series of equipment to meet demands in the sector.
Its D-series of compact excavators, which can be fitted with low-noise breakers, have been devised with efficiency and productivity in mind.

Meanwhile the company’s latest PL3005D-Series rotating pipelayer is working on construction of a new 1,200 m water pipeline in Stockholm.

At Huddinge, 7 miles (11.3 km) south of the country’s capital, the Stockholm Water Company is building a new water pipeline. For this latest project, the utility provider has contracted Stuttgart based Ed. Züblin to handle and lay the pipeline.

To assist with heavy lifting, Züblin rented one of Volvo’s new pipelayers – the first one to be used in Sweden. Its 51 tonne tipping capacity enables it to handle the 16 m long pipes with reported ease.

Each concrete coated steel pipe weighs 11 tonnes, and a total of 75 pipes will be required to complete the project.

Elsewhere, AFT has released its HW60 hydraulic wheel trencher. Based in Sudbury, UK, the company has manufactured machines for a wide variety of utilities installation projects and cabling contractors.

Its latest compact trencher was developed for mounting onto skid steer loaders with a high flow option.
The company said the combination of heavy-duty trencher and

oader offered an ideal solution for fast and accurate trenching in difficult conditions where access was limited.
It is said to cut the narrowest of trenches even when trenching in

concrete and compacted aggregate. The advantages are in increased productivity and reduced costs of backfill materials and labour.

AFT Trenchers has also signed a partnership with a major communications company in India, resulting in its machines being seen across the country – working in temperatures of up to 45°C as well as heavy monsoon rain.

Another of the company’s successes has been in optimising its MH100 to be a powerful hydraulic chain trencher mounted onto the arm of an excavator using an adjustable 360° turntable.

By placing the excavator in an offset position, the trencher can be used in canals, down embankments, in roads and road verges, and over traffic safety barriers.

AFT has also won contracts in emerging countries such as Turkmenistan and Algeria, which the company said was due to the versatility of its MH100 equipment.

Employing such a diverse range of equipment and solutions such as trenchers and digitally-controlled applications has ensured that contractors have a wide range of options at their disposal for utilities sites.