Technology has a funny way of pushing us ahead of ourselves. The fiber optic boom that started in the 1980s, gained steam in the early 1990s, peaked in the late 90s and ultimately fizzled at the turn of the century left everyone dizzy and confused. It seems as though the market got ahead of itself back then and needed some time for the average person to catch up. Slowly but surely it appears as though the fiber market is getting ready to start up again. And in some areas in addition to fiber, it’s upgrading service through coaxial cable. This resurgence of activity is beginning to generate a lot of excitement in the underground construction industry. And projects that were once described in terms of how many times the cable or fiber would circle the earth are now being described with the terms curb-to-the-premises and fiber-to-the-home.
Horry County, SC is one area where curb-to-the-home installations, including both fiber optic and coaxial cable, are an increasingly common occurrence. Horry Telephone Cooperative (HTC) is working hard to enhance service to its members along the Carolina coast and bring the power of fiber optics to schools throughout Horry County. That work includes installing thousands of feet of facilities at one of South Carolina’s most well-known resort communities, Barefoot Resort. It also includes installing conduit under playgrounds and parking lots in order to accommodate a new fiber optic network for over 20 Horry County elementary, middle and high schools.
Underground contractor Orangeburg Cable, St. Matthews, SC, is feeling the push of HTC’s curb-to-the-home installation movement. Involved in several high profile fiber and coax installations projects over the last several years, Orangeburg President Ernie Floyd has incorporated compact directional drilling to satisfy the requirements of minimal surface disruption for most of his projects. According to Floyd, compact directional drilling has proven to be a reliable and effective means for fiber to the home projects and it often exceeds the expectations of home and business owners.
He said, “For a lot of these projects, people are very concerned. They’re expecting you to tear up their yards and expensive landscaping. I talk with the customer before we go through the yard and give them my card and tell them if after the project, the yard is not right give me a call. But I also tell them, if it is right, call the project owner and let them know. When we utilize the small directional drill, they’re all pleasantly surprised.”
Orangeburg Cable has been around for over 15 years, specializing in a range of underground work that includes installing everything from mainline cables to service wires. For curb-to-the-home installations in Horry County, Floyd utilizes a Grundodrill 4X compact directional drill from PCCA associate member TT Technologies, Aurora, Ill.
Directional Drilling Capabilities
According to TT Technologies Directional Drilling Specialist Brian Hunter, the development of smaller drills is something that has occurred gradually over the last several years. He said, “With a lot of the long range, medium diameter drill work dissipating, it seemed natural for the industry to shift toward shorter, smaller diameter installations. The technology put into today’s smaller drills has given them greater capability and made them easier to use.”
With some “mini” drills offering as much as 9,800 lbs. of thrust and pullback, the machines are able to accomplish a wide range of installation tasks. At Orangeburg Cable the Grundodrill 4X is being used to install 2-inch and 1 1/4-inch diameter conduit for underground fiber optic and coaxial cable installations at lengths up to 500 feet.
According to Floyd, the compact directional drill is actually part of a logical progression in terms of the equipment he used in the past. He said, “We’ve gone through a series of larger directional drills over the last 12 years. During that time a majority of our work was installing mainline cable conduit. But as we’ve shifted now to a lot more curb-to-the-house work, we added the Grundodrill 4X. With that machine, you can get it through a 3-foot gate. It has such a small footprint. It’s ideal for this kind of work. We’re even doing mainline conduit and fiber installation with it. And the nice thing about this machine is you can do the mainline work and then turn around and go straight to the house.”
Hunter said, “These mini-drills work well in residential or commercial areas. They’re lightweight. They can be transported on a trailer pulled by a pick-up 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 drill’s 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.”
The South Carolina coast is home to some of the most beautiful and renowned golf courses and resorts in the United States. Barefoot Resort on North Myrtle Beach is a prime example. The resort boasts four championship golf courses designed by some of the most famous golfers and course designers around: Greg Norman, Davis Love III, Tom Fazio and Pete Dye. The grounds and amenities at the resort are first class and attract visitors from around the world. Installing underground conduit in an area like this would unnerve even the steeliest professional golfer. But that is just the challenge that Floyd and Orangeburg Cable face on a daily basis.
Floyd said, “The main concern for work at Barefoot Resort is make it look like you weren’t there.”
Installations at Barefoot Resort are both residential and commercial. The luxurious resort offers a wide variety of villas, condos and single-family homes for sale, as well as rental and vacation properties. In addition to the facilities of the resort itself, the properties that make up the resort community are being upgraded. HTC Plant Engineering Supervisor David Cannon said, “In order to provide the residents of Barefoot Resort with services like video on demand and High Definition TV, we needed to upgrade our existing lines. The conduits that Ernie and his crews have installed for us are big enough to accommodate our fiber optic cable.”
Floyd’s compact directional work is not limited to the Barefoot Resort. An extensive amount of drilling is being done for fiber-to-the-school projects, which are also very challenging. Floyd explained, “Horry Telephone is also supplying fiber to all the are schools. For those installations, we’re using the compact drilling unit to pull in inch and a quarter duct. After the duct is in place, we pull in the fiber optic cable in place by hand. Most of the schools have existing duct work in the building that we’ll pull into. At that point HTC comes in and takes care of splicing and tying into the school’s system.” In total 28 area schools will be receiving fiber optic cable over the next few months. Ultimately, Floyd’s objective at area schools is the same— get the cable in place and keep disruption to a minimum.
Keeping disruption down when boring 300, 400 and 500 feet takes skill and planning and Floyd makes sure both are being used on each bore. Floyd said, “Well on this most recent 500-foot bore for example, we go and do a thorough site examination. Then we locate existing utilities, gas, telephone, and sewer. And we physically touch the utilities. We hand dig with posthole diggers and shovels and expose them. Then we set the machine up and
And we drill slowly. When you’re drilling slowly you can go farther. What we try to do is get to that target depth and maintain steady drilling at that zero pitch. And that’s been working out great for us.”
Floyd said that 36 inches is the typical depth requirement for most of their conduit installation projects. But that depth can be deceiving. For example on a road crossing, the DOT requires that an installation be 36 inches below the road, but as Floyd points out, on a road with ditches, the installation needs to be 36 inches below the ditch. So when dealing with an 8-ft ditch, the installation ends up 11 feet below the road.
To help with difficult soils and difficult installations, the Orangeburg crews will utilize drilling fluids. He said, “Drilling times all depend on the type of soil you run into. Sometimes you get into what we call gumbo down here that is pretty good for drilling. But sometimes it’s sand and sand can be a bear. So we use Bentonite and bore gel to help out the drilling process.”
According to Floyd, a majority of installations in good soil condition don’t require backreaming. He said the crews are using a 3-inch “duckbill” for drilling. After the pilot bore is complete, the conduit is attached to the drill string with a directional drilling swivel and pulled into place. In areas that require backreaming, a small 4-inch backreamer is used.
Minimal disruption is one of the benefits of this trenchless method. According to Floyd, in more situations than not, the trenchless applications is preferable. He said, “Some companies I know if they’re not getting ‘x’ amount of dollars for directional drilling, they dig a trench. Now on a 1,000-foot project, you’ve got a minimum of several days with open trenching. Then as we call it, you own the yard. Then six months from now the customer calls you after the sod that you laid dies after they didn’t water it. I avoid those situations. I use the directional drill on every project I can. It’s more cost effective and efficient, but not everyone has figured that out yet.”
PCAA, Summer 2005