Horizontal directional drilling started in the 1960s as a new method used to drill gas installations underneath small road crossings. It was not until 1971 when HDD was used to install pipes crossing a 500-foot river that the industry started to flourish. Needless to say, the humble beginnings of drill rigs have evolved into a sophisticated technology used in underground construction for utility conduit installation, maintenance, and repairs.
The current state of the HDD market
For many decades, directional drilling companies enjoyed steady success stemming from the demand to build underground infrastructure in urban locations. In addition to this, rural areas also benefit from HDD due to the need to preserve the environment. Underground pipelines are invisible, which also contributes to the improved appearance of countryside landscapes.
In recent years, the telecommunications industry has been bringing new opportunities for HDD contractors. Service providers are keen to increase the bandwidth and to do so, new lines for fibre optics need to be installed underground. Manufacturers are also introducing new drill rig models; hence, equipping contractors with the capacity to increase productivity, enhance results, and overcome challenges in directional drilling.
The variety of drilling equipment available today also contributes to the industry’s growth. Drill rigs come in different sizes, making it easier for contractors to meet the unique requirements of each project.
Contributors to the evolution of the HDD market
Apart from the steady demand coming from the utility industry, HDD is becoming more desirable as customers look for a way to increase productivity and reduce construction costs. HDD contractors now can achieve a smaller footprint using sophisticated drill rigs. Another factor contributing to the evolution of the HDD market is the eagerness of manufacturers to continue and innovate on the existing technology to not only improve efficiency but also ensure the safety and comfort of operators.
Challenges that the HDD market needs to overcome
One of the critical problems in the industry is to ensure that contractors can hire skilled and knowledgeable HDD operators. But since the market is showing no signs of slowing down, there is a chance for new operators to learn and get up to speed as soon as possible. Fortunately, new training methods are available to cater to the changing needs of the HDD workforce.
For example, an operator can get a feel for real-life drilling through simulated courses and online modules. Using virtual technology to train new operators is not only safer but also a more cost-effective method of exposing the trainee to a variety of scenarios ranging from rural to urban drill settings.
Another challenge impacting the industry is environmental concerns related to the disposal and handling of mud and drilling fluid as by-products of directional drilling. Contractors can now take advantage of advanced technology in recycling and disposing of drilling fluid to minimise the effect on the environment. Stricter environmental regulations are also helping contractors adhere to specific procedures and standards that will ensure drilling causes minimal impact on the natural environment.