Two Different Types of Pipe Bursting Machines Bring Plenty of Options

Function and size are top considerations when contractors need to choose a machine that works best for their job sites.
Two Different Types of Pipe Bursting Machines Bring Plenty of Options
A contractor uses a Pow-r Mole PD-4 on a job site. The PD-4 can operate in a pit only 50 inches long or bigger and has a thrust force of 37,714 pounds at 3,000 psi and a maximum push rate of 9 feet per minute.

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When it comes to replacing underground pipelines, contractors turn to pipe bursting machines to tackle the project without a massive excavation. Choosing the right machine can make the difference between a successful project and one that drags on too long and goes over budget, according to industry experts.

“You have to think carefully about the work you’re doing and what kind of work it is,” says Kent Westendorf of HammerHead Trenchless Equipment. “You also need to think about what kind of work you expect to do in the future.”

There are two main types of pipe bursting machines — static and pneumatic. Pneumatic machines use a hammer in conjunction with a constant tension winch, while static machines use high-tonnage static pull.


Static machines can be used for all types of jobs while pneumatic machines work more quickly, but cannot be used in potable water systems since the hammer exhausts liquefied petroleum products into the pipe being installed and would find its way into the water system, Westendorf says.

Pneumatic systems also have a footprint 50 percent smaller than a static system, which means crews need to do less excavation — a plus for many contractors, he adds.

“You need to decide between the two which one will work better for your project,” Westendorf says. “A lot of contractors like the advantages of the pneumatic machines, but then find out it might not work the best for every job they have.”


Brian Kelly, president of Pow-r Mole Sales in Lancaster, New York, says the pipe bursting machine’s durability should play a vital role during the selection process. “You can search for information and talk to other people in the industry to get feedback on the equipment,” he says, adding that size is an important aspect to keep in mind.

“Size is related to power and choosing the right power is related to the pipe size,” Kelly continues. “The physical footprint can be especially important on certain jobs, especially if the site is crowded. You need to have enough room for the selected machine.”

Westendorf says the type of pipe and length of the burst should also be considered. For example, static systems have the ability to be fitted with tooling that replaces ductile pipe or installs PVC.  

Static and pneumatic pipe bursting machines come in a variety of sizes and can handle pipes ranging in size from 4 and 6 inches all the way up to 24 inches, Westendorf says.

The equipment should always be sized to install a pipe of the same size or one size larger, he says. “If the pipe needs to be increased even more than that, a larger hammer or a more powerful static machine will be needed,” Westendorf says.

But if contractors go larger than necessary, there will be extra expenses for support equipment and workers, he added.

Contractors also need to look at the ground conditions. Pneumatic systems work better in harder soils since they use more force that can punch open the ground, while static systems work better in clay or sticky soils since they have a better chance of overcoming the friction caused by the soil moving in on the newly installed pipe as the burst progresses.


Kelly says contractors also need to think past the initial sale. “Look for someone with good customer service and support that can help if a problem comes up,” he says. “Remember, time is money and you want someone who is reactive to what you need. If a job is taking longer, that means higher labor costs or more time that a utility line is down.”

Productivity is another important concern for contractors since they want to get through a job as quickly as possible, Kelly says. The machine will say right on it how much pipe it can burst, he adds.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the machine and also take into account how much industry knowledge the people you are working with have,” Kelly says.


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