Difficult Utility Drilling Project Tests Company’s Capabilities

Canada's Axis Vac & HDD does not shy away from challenging and risky jobs, instead seeing them as a good opportunity to secure work without facing a lot of competition

Difficult Utility Drilling Project Tests Company’s Capabilities

Mitch Willie, owner of Axis Vac & HDD in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

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As a self-admitted risk-taker, Mitch Willie — the owner of Axis Vac & HDD in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan — relishes a good challenge. And that’s exactly what he and his employees faced in fall 2020 when they tackled a complex job with an extremely tight deadline: Drilling an 18-inch diameter, roughly 1,300-foot-long bore for a local power utility.

The approximately 10-foot-deep bore, which traveled under residential backyards in a Saskatoon neighborhood, was needed to host five runs of high-density polyethylene conduit. The government-owned utility used the conduits to install replacement power lines: two-5-inch-diameter conduits, one 4-inch conduit and two 2-inch conduits, he says.

“It was an ultra-complicated and risky job because we had to contend with 66 utility crossings [gas, electric and phone lines] within that 1,400-foot span,” Willie says. “Plus we promised the client we’d do it in one day. It was pretty insane, especially since you know things can go wrong in a heartbeat.

“It was the kind of job that should take a week. But it’s a very busy area, so we were trying to avoid long road closings. You basically just make it happen. It was nonstop crunch time.”

To complete the job, the company stationed two D40x55 S3 Vermeer directional-drilling rigs — one owned by Axis and the other by a sub-contractor — at each end of the easement. Both machines started drilling until the bores met in the middle.

The Vermeer machines generate 40,000 pounds of thrust/pullback force and 5,500 ft-lbs of rotational torque and boasts a carriage speed of 188 feet per minute for increased productivity.  They can bore up to 24-inch diameter holes as long as 1,300 feet, Willie says.

Prior to the drilling, employees used both Foremost hydrovac machines to expose the crossing utility lines. “The hydrovacs were key to doing this job safely,” he says.

After the drilling was completed, Axis workers used the Vermeer drills to pull the five conduit lines through the bore. The conduit comes in rolls on large reels carried by a 14-foot flatbed truck, which created a state of organized chaos when combined with all the other machines, trucks and trailers.

“It was crazy — a lot of stress,” Willie says. “It takes what seems like an army of machines and men to do these jobs.”

After the conduit pulls were completed, utility employees pulled the replacement transmission lines through the conduits and performed the tie-ins to the homes, he says.

Read more about Axis Vac & HDD in the September/October 2021 issue of Dig Different magazine.



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