From the latest keyhole innovations in horizontal directional drills (HDD) to ground-breaking in-situ trench mixing processes and specialist pipe fusion machines, manufacturers are improving both the efficiency and environmental performance of machines in the utilities sector.
And while general methods, including digging trenches with excavators, are still wide-spread, demand for specialist equipment that makes utility installation quicker and less labour-intensive is increasing, according to manufacturers.
Tracto-Technik reports increasing demand for directional drilling in utility applications, for instance. The manufacturer said that its new, keyhole technology was a particularly hot topic in the US, Europe and Australia at the moment.
“The idea is to install gas, water and glass-fibre house connections from the main line to the road out of the smallest possible bore hole, directly up to the house,” the company said.
Tracto-Technik has developed the steerable Grundopit K machine for these types of tasks, which it is currently testing on sites in Germany and internationally. The machine can be dry run or supported with drilling fluid, and has an average propulsion of 16
The company said the idea came from Gas de France, which was searching for an economical method for house connections. The keyhole is circular and not larger than 650mm. First, a concrete or asphalt core is bored out of the ground with core bore unit above the main service line, then the suction excavator is applied, which sucks the keyhole free up to the main line, avoiding any damage.
The Grundopit K can then be set up inside the keyhole and the real bore process can begin. The operation is carried out above ground. The bore head and drill rods are transported to the installation depth and aligned to the direction of the bore, and then each single drill rod is driven up to the building, just like any normal HDD bore.
Tracto-Technik said usual bore lengths are approximately 20m, and in the target area – the connection room of the building – the tool is then exchanged to allow piping to be pulled through the keyhole. “After a couple of hours nobody would notice that anything has happened”, the company claimed.
Ditch Witch has also introduced new HDD equipment in the form of the JT30 Mach 1 and JT30 All Terrain. It said both drills incorporate extensive customer feedback from years of experience in all types of job conditions, resulting in drills with greater power to all drill functions, more stability, simplicity of operation, and greater overall efficiency.
Each drill is equipped with a 119kW, Tier 4 Interim-compliant engine, and the All Terrain model boasts an advanced inner rod design that enables it to drill in a wide range of ground conditions, from mixed hard soil to solid rock.
Ditch Witch also paid a lot of attention to the environmental impact of the new HDDs, particularly noise. It claims the new machines are the quietest drills in their class, with a maximum 85dBA operator sound pressure. This allows them to be operated in urban areas with minimal disruption.
Meanwhile, the manufacturer has also introduced a new trenching machine, which opens up the ground to allow utilities to be laid, in contrast to the HDD method. The Ditch Witch RT80 Quad heavy-duty ride-on trencher and vibratory plow has been designed to be rugged and durable and provide traction on rough and uneven terrain.
The 62kW RT80 Quad features a three-speed, shift-on-the-fly ground drive and can carry vibratory plow, traversing trencher, saw, or backhoe attachments. Ditch Witch’s described the machine as “ideal for installing utilities in some of the toughest jobsite conditions”.
The machine’s track frames pivot about the centerline of the axle, a design that is said to provide exceptional machine stability especially in muddy conditions or when applying very high torque to pull through hard ground. And the chevron-pattern design of the RT80 Quad’s track system is also said to help reduce mud build-up, resulting in improved traction in wet conditions and on slopes.
The attachments are also designed to be rugged – Ditch Witch said its H832 plough outperformed competitor models in field tests, which the H810 centerline trencher is capable of trenching up to 610mm wide. The RT80 Quad’s backfill blade arm, also said to be much heavier than that of the competition, helps provide maximum lift and features a heavy-duty design.
Other standard features of the RT80 Quad include rear steering, which helps improve manoeuvrability on tight jobsites, and cruise control, which enables the operator to maintain optimal digging performance regardless of ground conditions.
Fred Clarke, technical sales engineer at Mastenbroek, meanwhile, reported increasing demand for the company’s innovative new Trenchmix machines – specialist trenchers which mix native soil in-situ with a cement binder in the trench as the machine advances. This can be used for ground improvement, constructing a reinforced trench, or even building an impermeable cut-off wall.
Mr Clarke said, “We’re quietly optimistic – the contractors are getting the work and there are some hot spots for business emerging, including the renewable markets, cable laying, etc, as well as gas transmission in Europe.
“Trenchmix is unique to Mastenbroek, and its great advantage is its efficiency. Actually, the whole job can be cheaper with Trenchmix, particularly when considering things like logistics – contractors don’t need to haul out any material, for instance. The product is gaining accreditation and acceptance in the market and demand is good in the Middle East and France, where we have recently supplied machines,” Mr Clarke said.
As well as trenchers and HDD technology, other specialist equipment often used for utilities installations include vacuum lifting technology for handling heavy piping, and there have also been recent developments in this field.
Vacuworx International has developed a new Vacuworx RC line of vacuum-lifting machines – the RC10, RC12, RC16 and RC20 models. Capable of lifting capacities ranging from 10 to 20 tonnes, the machines use vacuum pads to lift and transport all diameters of coated and non-coated pipe as well as steel piling, concrete slabs, cast iron, glass and a range of other materials.
Only the vacuum pad must be changed to accommodate different pipe diameters or other materials, and the RC machines attach easily to multiple carriers, including excavators, cranes, wheeled loaders and track loaders.
Vacuum excavation is another specialist field. This technique involves removing earth from a hole using a powerful vacuum pipe, and is used to locate underground utilities. Using the vacuum method reduces the chance of striking a utility, which would be a risk if using an excavator, for instance.
McLaughlin Group has introduced a new heavy-duty steel arm to help carry the weight of its vacuum excavation hose and the debris being transported, reducing operator fatigue. The Strong Arm is a tank-mounted attachment which provides 200o of rotation and extends 1.8m from the tank. The attachment is currently available on all McLaughlin 1,893- to 3,028-litre vacuum excavation machines.
New equipment has also been launched this year targeting the pipelaying sector. McElroy, for instance, unveiled a new pipe fusion machine – the TracStar 500 – representing the third generation of the machine in 15 years, and a major upgrade, according to the manufacturer.
The process of pipe fusion or plastic pipe joining is a process that joins two pieces of thermoplastic pipe together with heat and pressure to create a continuous, sealed pipeline.
The TracStar 500 Series 3 is a self-contained, self-propelled, all-terrain fusion machine that boasts new technology including an indexer-mounted heater and facer, an economy engine throttle setting and hydraulic clamping.
The TracStar 500 Series 3 is capable of fusing thermoplastic pipes with outer diameters from 180mm to 500mm. The machine’s fusion carriage can also be removed and lowered into a ditch for applications where fusions must take place in tight spaces.
Meanwhile, Volvo has introduced a new pipelayer, the PL3005D, which complies with US Tier 4 Interim emissions legislation and can also swap booms to convert to standard excavator.
Powered by a 151kW Volvo D8H engine, the 35 tonne tracked machine has a 50 tonne lifting capacity. Its superstructure can swing 360o, allowing it to lift pipes and place them anywhere around the machine – a significant departure from traditional side boom pipelayer designs.
And Volvo has also launched a new wheeled excavator range – the D-Series machines, which are said to be well-suited to general utility construction tasks. Powered by Stage IIIB/Tier 4 Interim engines, the EW140D, EW160D, EW180D and EW210D machines range in weight from 14 tonnes to 21 tonnes and are designed for trench digging, concrete breaking, grading, craning and hole-boring.
The machines’ wheeled base means they have the benefit being able to move independently between job sites at speeds of up to 35km/hr. The new engines also offer fuel efficiency improvements – an Eco mode has also been introduced, for instance, while engines are also fitted with a fuel
saving automatic idling and shut
A rear-view camera is also fitted as standard on the D-Series, and images are displayed on a colour monitor in the cab. An optional side view camera is also available for additional safety and visibility.
Backhoe loaders are also adaptable, workhorse machines for the utilities sector – offering loading, digging and grading in just one machine. JCB has introduced a new model, the 1CX backhoe, which is powered by a 37kW engine, has an operating weight of 2.8 tonnes and boasts 100mm longer loader arms, an extending dipper option, servo controls and a new power management system.
The optional loader arms offer a load over height of 2.6m, which JCB claimed provides easier loading of road tippers and site dump trucks. At the rear, an extending dipper option adds up to 500mm to the digging envelope, taking maximum dig depth to 3.05m and maximum reach to 3.9m. This is also said to allow easier load over of trucks, with the backhoe easily able to reach the centre of a tipper body.
For its part, the power management system is said to improve performance by reducing engine lug down as the machine starts to dig, and increasing power when driving into a pile with the front shovel.
Optional Servo controls for the backhoe are also said to provide the operator with greater control and less effort, and no need to lean forward when working the rear excavator. The Servo system also renders the control lever post redundant, creating more space for the operator, particularly around the feet.
Attachments are another area of development for the utilities sector, with manufacturers concentrating on increasing the power and flexibility of new products. Bobcat, for instance, has introduced the WS32 wheel saw attachment – the largest model it has ever offered – for its new generation Bobcat S850 skid-steer and T870 compact tracked loaders equipped with the high-flow option.
Designed to cut efficiently through asphalt, rock, concrete, frozen ground and wire mesh, the 1.440 tonne WS32 wheel saw has a fixed trenching width of 250mm while the depth can range from 450 to 800mm.
The WS32 is always operated in reverse drive, with the trench spoil being evacuated through four side gates with spoil deflectors fitted as standard to push the milled material away from the trench.
Depth control as well as side-shift functions are hydraulically controlled from the comfort of the operator’s seat in the cab, from where they have a good view of the depth gauge on the wheel saw.
Applications include fixed width trenching for the utilities covering water, gas, power, telecommunications and fibre optic networks.
It is clear that equipment aimed at the utilities market is becoming more and more refined, with efficiency savings and safety at the forefront of developments. Demand for water pipes, fibre optic cables and gas pipes set to continue growing throughout Europe, while the potential for new utility installations relating to the renewable energy industry is another potential source of growth. As such, demand for specialist equipment that has been tailored to a specific task in this sector looks likely to continue to see growth as well.