Why It’s Smart to Seek Out Hands-on Horizontal Directional Drilling Training

Simulated, fundamentals-focused instruction helps horizontal directional drilling operators work safely and effectively

Why It’s Smart to Seek Out Hands-on Horizontal Directional Drilling Training

Vermeer officials conduct training on horizontal directional drilling operations, including the use of freshwater tanks.

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The evolution of horizontal directional drilling can be traced back to the early 1970s when 600 feet of steel pipe was installed under the Pajaro River in California. A lot has changed since then.

Continuous advancements in technology like GPS tracking and magnetic steering has taken the art of directional drilling to new levels. With a maze of underground utilities and other hazards to deal with, a lot can go wrong on the job site when a project is not conducted properly. And, of course, you want to minimize downtime for that expensive equipment. But as is the case with every piece of equipment, the drills are only as effective as the people operating them.

Ensuring that you and your team are keeping up with the advancements and changes can seem daunting, but there are companies offering specialized HDD training.

Professional equipment training from manufacturers and dealers isn’t a new concept, so developing standardized HDD training was not overlooked.

“As the size of the market continued to grow and the different types of uses for this equipment continued to grow, we quickly saw we needed to have a higher level of training for our HDD products,” says Greg Wolfe, director of customer care for Ditch Witch.

According to Wolfe, HDD operations require different training because the unique machines require operators to think differently than when using equipment they are more familiar with.

“It’s not like jumping on an excavator or trencher; it’s a little bit different. One of the hardest things you have to teach is to think three-dimensional,” Wolfe says. “Most of us see two dimensions; we don’t always see what’s beneath the ground.”

Dan Vroom, sales and industrial training manager for Vermeer, also believes that the more frequent personnel changes in today’s industry are another reason that having standardized training is so important.

“As quick turnarounds happen and people are leaving, coming in and swapping positions, we’re finding that the guy who was the locator is now on the drill,” Vroom says. “Now people are hitting more utilities because they are making the decisions from the drill instead of the locator.”

TRAINING OPTIONS

Whether you are a first-time driller or seasoned veteran looking to brush up on changes in regulations and equipment, using a professional HDD training platform can help equip you with the knowledge to perform on the job site.

“We offer multiple certified training modules online, and they are all free,” Wolfe says. “They all start with best practices, and that covers job site safety.”

The next Ditch Witch training module, called operational overview, covers the basic operational functions and terminology for HDD equipment operation. This section is great for beginners who have yet to sit on and operate a drill. “The next four modules — drilling fluids, HDD guidance, drill pipe and HDD tooling — make up how successful an operator or, more important, a drill on a job site is going to be,” Wolfe says.

Ditch Witch offers these training modules online, but it also takes training a step further at a regional level using members of their dealer program. “You can go to Minnesota, or California, or Florida, and you’re going to experience different soil conditions,” Wolfe says. “By putting this program together, we are able to deliver consistency of training. We truly believe in training at point of purchase in the region of use.”

By educating users in a local environment, not only are they getting trained in relatable ground conditions, but they are also involved with the local support staff they can use moving forward.

After the classroom portion, they go into a hands-on, simulation atmosphere. All of the Ditch Witch dealers in North America have virtual reality simulators that allow the operator to experience a variety of different digging sites and applications.

“The beautiful thing with the VR simulator is that if they make a mistake — let’s say they hit a utility — in the real world that shuts down a lot of things. With the VR simulator, we can hit reset and send them back to the beginning and start all over,” Wolfe says.

This platform provides a safe way for trainees to get a sort of hands-on experience without jeopardizing real equipment, utilities and the safety of other people. Vermeer also saw the benefits of VR simulation training and will be adding that to their existing training program in the near future.

“We have two courses here at Vermeer that are certified,” Vroom says. “One is a one-week course (HDD Circuit I) where you send two people. One person is focused on locating and planning, and the other partner focuses on the drilling, mud mixing, that sort of stuff.”

They also offer a course called HDD Circuit II where a single attendee spends two weeks learning all the roles of drilling instead of splitting the hours with a team member.

Both courses begin in the classroom before spending several days doing hands-on training as a driller and locator. A range of topics are covered including drill site safety, soils, drilling fluids, setback calculations, bore planning, rod bend capabilities, calibration and steering commands. The final day of each course gives attendees a chance to test out and prove what they have learned.

Vroom also mentions the importance of safety training throughout operational training. “We like to start out talking about job site accident stories so when they go out for the first time, they have a little bit of reserve and respect.”

Another Vermeer offering, the HDD Fundamentals Program, allows dealers to deliver the same content and training at a regional level, limiting travel for attendees and allowing operators to learn in their local ground conditions.

“The content we have created shouldn’t be a secret,” Vroom says, “so we’re making that available to our dealer networks as well. We have the ground; we have the equipment to do hands-on training at the factories; and we have the trainers.” He also pointed out that the training truly does focus on the fundamentals, and by doing so, the content learned can be applied no matter what equipment brand the operator is using.

END GOALS

Though parts of these training options may follow different platforms, the end goals are universal: prepare people to safely and effectively execute HDD drilling jobs, no matter where they are and what they are operating.

According to Wolfe, one of the most important things to remember from training is safety. “Safety comes first. Job site safety is No. 1. When you forget, that’s when you get in trouble.”

For Vroom, it’s confidence: “Confidence in the fundamentals. When they’re not second-guessing themselves and they’re not listening to someone else who doesn’t know the training they’ve been through, that’s the key.” 



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