The fiber optic market really started to pick up steam again over the last year and a half. This resurgence of activity has generated a lot of excitement in the trenchless construction industry. Last mile fiber-to-the-home projects are popping up all over the country, in big cities and rural communities. While some of the work occurs as new construction, a majority is occurring in established neighborhoods.
Verizon is one of the world’s leading providers of high-growth communications services. Verizon companies combined are the largest providers of wire line and wireless communications in the United States, operating in one of the most challenging and competitive markets. Verizon has committed itself to providing its customers with advanced, integrated network solutions that will help meet their current and future network needs on a global basis. To accomplish that goal, they are pushing fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) services. The company began implementing its FTTP program in early 2002. Since then the program continues to expand and now includes projects in most Verizon service areas including a large-scale program in Southern California. The project consists of two types of installations greenfield and overlay. Greenfield installations occur with new construction, installing fiber optic cable from the start. Overlay installations occur in established neighborhoods.
Henkels and McCoy, (H&M) Blue Bell, PA was contracted to tackle the conduit installation work for the Verizon FTTP program in Southern California. With restoration costs accounting for a large portion of each project Henkels & McCoy crews are utilizing trenchless technology as often as possible. For many of the installations, H&M crews and sub contractors are using Grundodrill 4X compact directional drills from trenchless equipment manufacturer TT Technologies, Aurora, Ill.
Henkels & McCoy, founded in 1923 by John B. Henkels, Jr., started with tree trimming, landscaping. The Great Depression nearly drove the company to ruin, but a hurricane in New England in 1938 proved to be the turning point in the company’s history. While the storm was still blowing its way through the Northeast, Henkels & McCoy rallied, recruiting teams of linemen to send to the area. Just hours after the winds subsided, Henkels & McCoy crews arrived to restore utility services.
Today, Henkels & McCoy is one of the largest privately held engineering, network development and construction firms serving the communications, information technology and utility industries in the United States. They offer one of the largest networks of qualified individuals available in the industry through over 80 permanent offices and operation facilities strategically located across the nation and selected international markets.
H&M director of underground construction & telecom services DeRoy “Butch” Silveous detailed the company’s ties to the telecommunications industry. He said, “Over the years, we have established ourselves as a trusted resource for operating telephone companies. We serve this market through the design, engineering and installation of local loop infrastructure and equipment. At present, we work for the ten largest operating telephone companies in the United States as well as many of the smaller, leading independents. We are specialists in the route design and placement of long-haul fiber optic cable, having installed thousands of miles for long-distance, interexchange, and carriers’ carriers.
Henkels & McCoy offers total engineering, design, layout, installation, service, and maintenance of fiber optic cable and support devices. Our capabilities include inside and outside plant construction for multi-mode LAN fiber systems as well as long-haul single mode systems and optical ground wire.
We have successfully built fiber optic backbone supporting multiple communication services under one sheath. Working with telecommunications companies, we have installed thousands of miles of fiber optic cable.”
With that level of experience in utility construction comes a keen insight into what construction techniques work and which ones don’t for specific applications. In the case of the conduit installation in California, it is compact directional drilling that receives a great deal of emphasis.
Directional Drilling Capabilities
According to TT Technologies Directional Drilling Specialist Paul Rogers, the development of smaller drills has been going on for several years. He said, “I think some of people in the industry saw this coming or at least hoped it would come eventually. Those equipment manufacturers that anticipated it really got a head start on everyone and the equipment shows it. It is easier to use, more capable and more reliable.
With some compact drills offering as much as 9,800 lbs. of thrust and pullback, the machines are able to accomplish a wide range of installation tasks. Henkels and McCoy crews are using the Grundodrill 4X to install 1 1/4-inch to 2-inch diameter polyethylene conduit for underground fiber optic cable installations at lengths up to 500 feet. ”
According to Silveous, the compact directional drill is actually part of a logical progression in terms of the equipment they have used in the past. He said, “Using compact directional drilling applications to install conduits and cabling is a more logical and cost effective method of installation. It is less intrusive in terms of the environment you are working in and is small enough to use where larger
units are not an option. It is quicker then conventional open trench methods, faster then using pneumatic piercing tools and requires less clean up. It is an essential piece of equipment and is used everyday”.
Rogers said, “These mini-drills work well in residential or commercial areas. They’re lightweight. They can be transported on a trailer pulled by a Cone-ton truck and require minimal crews to operate. The 4X’s special steel track with bonded rubber pads offers excellent traction and durability while minimizing potential damage to concrete and turf, which is important in residential settings.
Plus the units are very easy to operate. The computerized Smart Vice system simplifies the drilling process by automating the drills vice cycling operations. The operator has single push button control of the function. That helps improve efficiency and speeds up drill times. The vice is also self-centering, reducing wear and tear. The operator can return to manual control with the flip of a switch. The whole system is very user friendly.”
For the Verizon project in Southern California, Henkels & McCoy crews are installing 1 1/4-inch and 2-inch diameter conduit to house fiber optic cable. According to Silveous, a typical project includes thousands of feet of conduit installation. He said, “The projects are let in various sizes with 20,000 feet of conduit installation being a typical project. Of that about 16,000 feet is easement with another 4,000 feet of street crossings. The allotted time on a project like this is about 6 to 8 weeks so we really need to keep things moving. Which includes placing the fiber, splicing and testing the fiber after the conduit is installed.”
In addition to the amount of duct that needs to be installed, H&M crews are also faced with approximately 30,000 to 40,000 square feet of concrete removal and replacement, as well as 4,500 square feet of asphalt removal and replacement per project. To mitigate for impact of restoration, H&M crews utilize trenchless technology as much as possible.
Rogers said, “This is a perfect arena to highlight the capabilities of the compact directional drill. The unit was specifically designed for this type of work. And the Henkels & McCoy crews are really getting a lot out of their drills. The drills are being used everyday and have successfully installed tens of thousands of feet of conduit to date.”
According to Silveous, the trenchless aspect cannot be overlooked. He said, “If you can imagine a manicured, gated ‘Home Owners Association,’ where the customer has designed a new fiber conduit system behind the curb, under sidewalks, driveways, through landscaped front lawns, under trees and bushes, with home owners demanding their lawns be left immaculate; add a customer who wanted the work done yesterday…you will soon learn the benefits of trenchless technology.”
Last Mile, 2006