Drilling in the city

Harsh ground conditions and busy city traffic prove to be no match for an experienced horizontal directional drilling contractor using Vermeer equipment.
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Drilling under busy roads is one of many challenges faced by the HDD contractor Lusalco S.A. when working in Uruguay

Duncan Moore


Duncan Moore

Rocky ground conditions, crowded underground utility rights-of-way and busy city sidewalks and streets. These are the everyday working conditions for regionally based Latin American horizontal drilling contractor Lusalco S.A., whose crews work in Uruguay and Argentina. Currently, Lusalco's five crews are working in Montevideo and Durazno in Uruguay, as well as Buenos Aires and Córdoba in Argentina. For many contractors, any one of those job site obstacles would be challenging, but after working in these urban environments for more than 10 years, itis just a case of business as usual for Jorge Bunge, Lusalco's owner, and his crews.

Experience and the desire to continuously improve and grow are the two things that Bunge attributes to his company's success. "Every day, we face rock, sand, clay and drastic changes in ground elevation in two of the most populated cities in the region — that environment has made us experts," he says. "Making the investment in the latest advances in horizontal directional drilling equipment and tooling is what keeps us productive."

Lusalco's crews are split between Uruguay and Argentina. Bunge spends his time going between operations to ensure his crews have what they need and lending a hand on the really challenging projects. The summer has kept him going back and forth as crews in both countries wrap up major projects.

Working in Montevideo

To keep the Montevideo crew busy, Lusalco is willing to take on about any type of boring job. Currently, the crew has been installing a lot of fibre optic and water lines. Using the company's new Vermeer D23X30 S3 Navigator horizontal directional drill, the Montevideo crew installed 140m (460ft) of HDPE pipe in the heart of the city.

Montevideo has more than 1.3 million residents living in just 201km2 (78 square miles). The city is situated on the North shore of the Río de la Plata river basin, and its southern coastline border is interspersed with rocky protrusions and sandy beaches. On this job, Lusalco S.A.'s crew had to drill through rock while contending with narrow streets and sidewalks.

The crew used the Vermeer Armor drilling system to conquer the rocky soil conditions on this bore. "We started using the Armor drilling system on our Vermeer D24x40 Series II Navigator horizontal directional drill a few years ago," explains Bunge. "The interchangeable bits included with the system made it easy to swap bits out depending on the soil conditions, which has saved us a lot of time and reduced the amount of tooling we have to bring to the job."

On this job, the D23x30 S3 drill used the Lance bit to bore through the hard-packed and rocky ground.

Bunge says the D23x30 S3 drill was the perfect drill for the job. It is compact but still has all the power needed to bore through the rocky soil conditions. "Also, it's the quietest machine we've ever owned," he adds. "That's a big deal to the drill operator, and I'm sure the people living in that neighbourhood appreciated us being able to keep noise levels down."

The compact footprint of the Vermeer D23x30 S3 drill has also reduced the amount of time it takes for the crew to set up a bore. Bunge says the crew used to operate a larger drill within the city; it required a large truck to transport the mud mixer while towing an additional trailer with the drill on it. "The city's narrow streets and tight turns made even getting to the job a challenge," he explains, "Also, there were a lot of jobs where the extra weight of the machine prevented us simply walking the machine to the next drill shot out of concerns for damaging the surface."

Lusalco can transport its new D23x30 S3 on the same trailer as its mud mixing system. Also, the drill's compact size and lighter weight have helped reduce the risk of damaging surfaces while manoeuvring it between bores. Bunge says even these simple logistical changes have helped with overall productivity.

Working in Córdoba

The company's D24x40 Series II primarily operates in Córdoba since adding the new drill. Bunge says the crew there needs the extra power it delivers. "We've been busy this summer installing 10inh (254mm), 12in (304.8mm) and 18in (457.2mm) gas pipes," he says. "In a normal week, we will drill and pullback around 250m (492ft). We will often use a Vermeer 20in (508mm) fluted reamer to open the hole a bit more before pulling back. We've found it helps reduce the amount of bentonite we need to use."

The crew in Córdoba also finds itself working both residential and downtown parts of the city. The company also has two Vermeer D16x20 Series II Navigator horizontal directional drills for job sites that are too confined for the bigger drill.

 he usalco drilling crew often uses a ermeer fluted reamer to open a hole a bit more before pulling back The Lusalco drilling crew often uses a Vermeer fluted reamer to open a hole a bit more before pulling back


"The D16x20 Series II has been a great machine for us," says Bunge. "The work we've done with that machine has propelled our growth. After running that machine for around a year, we added our first Armor drilling system. That drilling combination has gotten a lot of bores done for us."

Avoiding buried utilities

Working in two of the largest cities in Latin America, crowded underground rights-of-way is a common challenge for Lusalco crews. To steer around all those obstacles, Lusalco uses the DigiTrack Falcon F5 locating system because of its accuracy and its large number of channel frequencies, making the challenge one they can overcome. "Sidewalk, buildings, other utilities - there's usually a lot of things that can produce interference. The Falcon F5 gives us so many options; I can't imagine using anything else," says Bunge.

To help locate existing utility lines, Lusalco added a Vermeer Verifier G2 utility locator by McLaughlin. "There are steel water lines and electrical lines that are poorly marked in Montevideo and utility strikes are a major concern of mine," explains Bunge. "We purchased the Verifier utility locator because it can locate anything with electrical connectivity. Now, we have more assurance about what's buried underground."

Extended team

Lusalco crews are spread out across several cities in two countries and Bunge says the only way they have been able to do that is with the support of Vermeer Latin America and its dealer network. "From keeping us supplied with the tooling we need, consulting with us on challenging jobs to providing parts and service when and where we need it, they have been an extension of our team," he says.

Looking ahead

Experience and investing in the right equipment and tools have helped Bunge and Lusalco get where it is today. With all its experience working in busy cities while facing challenging ground conditions, the company always has plenty of work to do in both countries. That does not stop Bunge from looking ahead though; he says he plans to add another drill soon and has his sights set on expanding the company's base of operations to other parts of the region. "I'm excited about the future and can't wait to see what challenges are waiting for us."

Got a story? Email: duncan.moore@aspermontmedia.com