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HDD drilling technology turns 53 this year

Fifty three years ago, on April 22, the field of horizontal directional drilling (HDD) was born, marking a significant event in the industry. Martin Cherrington, using a homemade HDD drilling rig, crossed the Pajaro River in northern California in 1971, unaware that he was on the cusp of inventing a new industry. Recalling the event, he reflects on how swiftly time has passed. In a historic photograph, trenchless technology publisher Bernie Krzys is seen alongside Martin Cherrington and Grady Bell.

Surprisingly, in the 1980s, HDD drilling was met with skepticism, with many doubting its potential for success. Fast forward to today, it has evolved into a multi-billion dollar global industry that continues to expand annually. HDD drilling (horizontal directional drilling) now encompasses not only underground infrastructure but also manufacturing, contracting, engineering, and education sectors. It is widely used for installing natural gas, water, wastewater, electrical, telecommunications, and fiber optic lines worldwide.

Richard Levings, an industry professional and product manager at Ditch Witch and American Augers, emphasizes the widespread adoption of HDD horizontal drilling across various industries, highlighting its use for applications that were unimaginable at the outset. Globally, HDD Trenchless technology has become a multi-billion dollar industry, not only in rig sales but also in the substantial cost savings it offers owners during network installations.

HDD drilling technology gained significant popularity and demand in the mid-1990s, with new technologies rapidly emerging. Leading construction brands such as Vermeer, Ditch Witch, and American Augers, XCMG spearheaded the development of HDD directional drilling rigs, with many others subsequently introducing updates and enhancements.

The field of horizontal drilling has expanded at the university level, with student trenchless chapters now present throughout North America, introducing new generations to the industry and integrating HDD coursework into engineering and construction programs. Engineering students who studied a decade or more ago are now leading the way and are considered HDD machine veterans.

zlconn 60ton HDD machine working in india
zlconn 60ton HDD machine working in india

The industry, which initially started with short lengths and small diameters, now sees HDD drilling punctures reaching up to five kilometers and exceeding 1.20 meters in diameter. Technological advancements have been substantial, with drilling rigs transitioning from umbilicals to self-contained rack-and-pinion carriages. The introduction of the electronic steering system in the late 1970s represented a major breakthrough, providing drillers with precise real-time location of the drill head, a stark contrast to the slow and laborious manual process previously employed.

Today, HDD directional drilling rigs and drill bits are more aggressive and powerful, while locating systems have become more accurate and user-friendly. The growth of HDD drilling technology is evident worldwide, with countries such as China, India, and Australia witnessing continued installations, while Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand are emerging as hotspots for HDD machine use.

38TON HDD drilling machine in turkey
38TON HDD drilling machine in turkey

All of this progress began with a single 500-foot crossing in 1971. Martin Cherrington himself could not have foreseen the widespread popularity that HDD technology has achieved over the past 53 years.

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