Experienced Employees Enable Firm To Tackle Challenging Projects

A tricky HDD job shows how Georgia’s Underground Systems has excelled by taking on difficult work that many companies would avoid

Experienced Employees Enable Firm To Tackle Challenging Projects

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Many of the HDD jobs that Underground Systems LLC takes on are fairly routine, straight-line bores for telecommunications companies — bread-and-butter work that keeps cash flow humming and employees working.

But what really excites employees are the more unusual and challenging jobs, says Paul Heine, president of field operations for the company, based in Buford, Georgia.

“What we enjoy the most are the jobs that a lot of other companies don’t want to do,” he says.

As an example, Heine points to the time the company drilled two parallel bores under a 3-million-gallon metal tank — filled with gasoline — to install a cathodic-protection system (used to detect tank corrosion). The bores ran up to 10 feet below ground and were about 150 feet long and roughly 20 feet apart. (The tank could not be emptied because the company that owns it did not have any place to temporarily store the fuel.)

It wasn’t the length of the bores that made the job difficult. The two bores were well short of the longest one — 1,500 feet — that the company has ever performed. Rather, the real challenge was effectively drilling the middle of the bores without the use of a locator, which is somewhat akin to driving a car while wearing a blindfold.

“Because we were drilling under a tank, no one could use a locator as a guide,” Heine says. “So we had to use the ‘drill-to’ mode, in which we set up a locator next to the tank, then ‘drill-to’ that box, starting from about 25 feet away.”

The locators only transmit about 40 or 50 feet, so at a certain point under the 100-foot-diameter tank, the signal was lost.

“From there, you don’t know your pitch, depth or direction,” Heine says.

Once that occurred, the operator stopped drilling until the locator was moved to the opposite side of the tank. Then the operator resumed drilling until he picked up the locator signal again. After that, drilling paused again while the operator calculated if the drilling head was at the correct depth to get to the designated exit point.

It took about eight hours to complete the job because the crew went slower than usual, preferring to err on the side of caution with millions of gallons of fuel in the tank.

“I lost some sleep the night before that job,” Heine says.

The job underscores not only the importance of properly training employees, but treating them well so they stick around long enough to develop the depth of experience required to handle challenging bores.

“You can get basic working knowledge of how to run a drill in about three months,” Heine says. “But you need a couple of years in the seat before you’re a good drill operator. It’s like getting a driver’s license and becoming a good driver — it takes time.”

Read more about Underground Systems in the August 2018 issue of Dig Different magazine.


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