No more trenches in busy centres

Dangerous trenches spanning roads and sidewalks in urban areas can be a thing of the past if contractors laying new utilities adopt the latest horizontal directional drilling (HDD) technologies.

South Africa’s already congested roadways and pavements can ill-afford disruptions caused by trenching activities. As a result, project owners are increasingly calling for technologies, such as HDD, to provide a means of burrowing beneath roads and pavements with minimal disruption to surface traffic, while also being able to avoid other buried utilities.

According to Keith Smith, area sales manager of ELB Equipment, one of South Africa’s leading supplier of HDD systems, the roll-out of large-scale fibre networks in cities and suburbs has highlighted the necessity to curb conventional trenching to avoid large-scale congestion, as well as potentially costly and disruptive damage to buried utilities such as electricity and water supplies.

Effective technology

HDD technology effectively employs a drill rig to steer a drill pipe on a set horizontal path underground from one side of an obstacle to the other. Once on the other end the drill crew is then able to attach a backreamer which is pulled through the narrow pilot hole to cut and remove the soil in stages till the required diameter is met.

With equipment ranging from small rubber-track machines that can fit through a garden gate (Ditch Witch JT 5) for small confined areas or large machines such as the Ditch Witch JT 100. Ditch Witch also offers All-Terrain machines which can drill and steer in solid rock and span long distances with enough pullback force to pull large backreamers where large diameter utilities are required.

“Using HDD trenchless technology means road traffic can remain unhindered while sidewalks only require a small area to be cordoned-off for launch and receiving pits and equipment on either side of the roadway. What’s more, utilities buried over many decades can be avoided without disruption to services. Whereas the only way around utilities in the old days was to go aerial, HDD now means that we can thread new utilities in among the old ones safely without damaging or disrupting services.

Roads and rivers

“Thus far, our HDD equipment has been employed to go beneath obstacles ranging from driveways to dual-carriageway roads, to sensitive landscapes. This shows the different types of applications that have to be catered for, each with its own unique challenges,” says Keith.

ELB Equipment has a long-standing relationship with Ditch Witch and have developed the technology in South Africa so that solutions exist for almost any imaginable requirement. There is also a considerable “brains trust” within ELB Equipment, where a number of specialists are available to work with customers to identify the right equipment for specific requirements.

“When performance and reliability is at stake you need to know that you are dealing with a solid company that has the expertise and nationwide infrastructure to support your efforts no matter where you are.”

Right equipment

Phillip Mc Callum, ELB Equipment product manager continues that globally the Ditch Witch is regarded as the defacto machines for accuracy and ease of operation in the field. Ditch Witch may not have invented HDD but they certainly perfected it by introducing steerable drilling and a host of other innovations that transformed the way we lay utilities nowadays.

All Ditch Witch machines are designed to have class-leading performance in a package that is easy to use, reliable with lower maintenance requirements. Philip advises that potential buyers or users of HDD equipment consult with one of their experts to ensure that the right equipment is procured for the job and that the right selection of ground engaging tools are selected for the type of terrain that will be encountered.

ELB Equipment also has a range of HDD Guidance and utility locating solutions from Subsite Electronics that enables contractors to locate and reduce the liability of striking buried utilities and infrastructure.

ELB Equipment, Keith Smith, Tel: (011) 306 0804, Email:, Web: