Michael Thomas

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Boring Through Austin Rock

Boring Through Austin Rock

Austin, Texas’ capital city, is one of the beneficiaries of the current fiber boom. Currently Google fiber is building an all-new fiber network, AT&T is expanding and upgrading its system, and smaller companies are also offering high-speed service via fiber.

One of the companies that is busy every day working to extend fiber in Austin is Oregon-based contractor Alltech Directional Drilling. Working as a subcontractor of Texstar Enterprises, Alltech is installing conduit for feeder lines in which fiber optic cable is placed.

“Ninety-five percent of conduit where we are working is being installed by horizontal directional drilling (HDD),” said Michael Thomas, Alltech president. “We are in subdivisions where there cannot be deviations in the accuracy of our bores. In the past year, we’ve done four subdivisions with complete success, and where we are now is a very upscale neighborhood.”

Alltech’s job is to extend the feeder lines while maintaining high production levels every day. Texstar installs fi ber cable into the conduits, sets vaults and makes connections, and installs service lines to customers.

Alltech is installing high-density polyethylene pipe (HDPE) conduit in diameters of 2, 2 ½ and 4 inches, all by directional drilling.

“HDD is what we do,” said Thomas. “We are a directional drilling specialist and do not trench or plow. Clearly, directional drilling is the way to go in areas where we work. Property owners don’t want their landscaping and streets damaged or traffic disrupted.”

However, soil conditions for burying conduit is not ideal.

“There’s soil at the surface but down about 24 inches it is solid rock in most areas with some broken up rocky conditions,” Thomas said. “Th e ground is so hard, Texstar has to use excavators with hydraulic hammers to set vaults and do tie ins.”

Alltech is using Ditch Witch All Terrain (AT) equipment – JT3020 AT and JT30 AT models – both with 30,000 pounds of pullback. AT equipment has a patented dual-pipe drilling system that allows relatively compact equipment to effectively drill and be steered in hard rock and other difficult conditions. Dual-pipe drilling drive design allows midsize equipment to drill and steer in rock that would be impossible for other machines.

Right Equipment

“Conventional equipment would struggle severely in these conditions,” Thomas said.

“At-flush pipe is proving perfect for this ground. The value these machines gives us the confidence we will not fail on any bore. These machines work perfectly in all conditions. We have not had any failures.”

Alltech drill units are equipped with Subsite® Electronics TKD tracking systems.

“They have proven to be able to hit our targets on pilot bores,” said Thomas. “On many locations, there are parallel gas distribution pipes, power and communications cables and in some cases aerial lines, but we have had no interference problems at all with our tracking signals.”

Support equipment includes Ditch Witch FM25 fluid mixing systems with 1,000-gallon tanks and FX30 vacuum excavators to pothole and keep job sites free of excess drilling fluid.

“The vacuum excavators are easy to move around and fi t into tight spots,” Thomas said. “They are a perfect fit for our projects.

“Property owners are amazed at the low impact of HDD and are very happy with the short amount of time it takes for us to be in and out. The result has made them appreciate the benefits of HDD.”

To date, Alltech has installed 50,000 feet of conduit for fiber in the Austin area. Lengths of bores range from 75 to 500 feet with the average bore approximately 200 feet.

While telecommunications work is a primary focus, Alltech also serves the water, sewer and gas markets. Until taking on the Texas fiber projects, most of the company’s work was on the west coast.

Thomas credits the company’s success to its dedicated employees, productivity of Ditch Witch equipment and Ditch Witch dealer support. Alltech is using two-man crews and still outperforming other contractors, he added.

“Fiber is growing and we are gearing up to be a big part of the market,” Thomas concluded.

Mike Thomas