Back in the 1970’s, the technophiles at TRACTO in Lennestadt-Saalhausen were keen to find the answer to an important question: could steering a bore undergound really work?
The first tests were undertaken with a soil displacement hammer, which was fitted with small wings at one end and a slanted head at the other to help it steer round bends, depending on the positioning of the bore head. The trial was quite effective but not as precise as the TRACTO team envisioned.
In the mid-80’s Manfred Schauerte, Head of Construction, and his team developed the GRUNDOMOLE, a soil displacement hammer combining a slanted steering head with hydraulic thrust and rotation.
Then, in the early 1990’s, Jochen Schmidt, eldest son of company founder Paul Schmidt, discovered that the USA had already developed machines that could be steered precisely underground.
With no time to waste they ordered some of these units to carry out further inspections. TRACTO technicians and engineers in Saalhausen stripped them down to their individual parts and then reassembled them. After a complete re-design and with the addition of a rubber track undercarriage, TRACTO launched its first surface launched HDD rig, the GRUNDOJET. Initial drilling results weren’t satisfactory however. Among other issues, the modified tools weren’t up to scratch - the expanding tools bent and drill rods broke under the stress of the local site conditions and there was no proper detection system either.
These failures, however, are also lessons learned. TRACTO therefore decided to develop its own horizontal directional drilling system based on experience, specification book and German-engineered precision. The GRUNDODRILL family was born.
Future plans with HDD
It became clear that a new era at TRACTO-TECHNIK was unfolding. Steerable fluid assisted drilling not only had great potential; it also expanded the product portfolio perfectly.
In 1994 Wolfgang Schmidt and then Managing Director, Frank Volker Theile, provided space for this in Lennestadt-Langenei where they rented a production area in the Karlshütte buildings. Drilling rigs are still assembled there today and it is now also home to TRACTO's service team.
The head of protoype construction, Gerhard Völkel, is an inventor & innovator by nature. In the early 1990’s he was a Project Manager for house connection. He observed that a machine that could start from a launch pit, as well as the surface, was required. The GRUNDOHIT, forerunner of the GRUNDOPIT family, was thus conceived. The precision of the directional drilling in combination with a compact design- ideal for minimally invasive construction in the confines of our world's urban metropolises.
The GRUNDOHIT featured a percussive hammer, which was to become a trademark of the GRUNDODRILL family. As well as drilling, the percussion enabled propulsion in hard soil for ultra-precision steering.
An era for development
TRACTO was the only manufacturer of trenchless machinery using the horizontal directional drilling method in Germany at the time. The FlowTex financial scandal helped us gain publicity for this unique technology. However, FlowTex lacked the machines that TRACTO was continuously producing and evolving.
Based on experience gained with the GRUNDOJET, TRACTO engineers Dieter Wurm and Gerhard Völkel set to work on another new design under the direction of Manfred Schauerte – the GRUNDODRILL 6,5t. Using the team’s combined project experience, the technicians soon realised that the bore rig needed to be stronger and faster. This led to the development of the GRUNDODRILL 10S; This powerhouse was able to drive itself to the starting point of the bore through its own drive. Moreover, detection technology from Digital Control was now sufficiently developed to provide better target precision. The detection systems could now show the soil conditions as well as the rotation and inclination of the bore head. From that point TRACTO engineers have prioritised precise and simple locating. Precise measuring helps to eliminate errors.
The GRUNDODRILL 12G was the next milestone and was launched in 1986. Technically the machine was a quantum leap forwards. Thanks to the unique rotary drill rod magazine, drill rods were fed in automatically for the first time. This was a great benefit for the machine operator, who no longer had to insert the rods by hand. The GRUNDO- DRILL 12G boasted yet another indispensable innovation – it was the first machine with a cabin and seat with access to the control panel. Offering a high level of operator comfort it is still a key feature of the GRUNDODRILL bore rigs.
This successful period of TRACTO innovations has continued ever since, with input from customers used to adapt and advance the products. Whilst former TRACTO company owner Wolfgang Schmidt – who sadly passed away recently – lead manufacturing of the drilling rigs towards serial production, the R & D team developed the next generation.
The strategy also had a ripple effect across other products in the range, including the pit launch rigs that became today’s successful GRUNDOPIT family. An eco-system of innovation directional drilling technology permeated and experience from larger equipment was implemented in the smaller machines and vice versa.
Customers’ desire for larger and more powerful HDD rigs was the driving force behind the development of the GRUNDODRILL 20S in 1997. The potential of this machine was huge and it soon became clear that a lot more space would be required for its production. Wolfgang Schmidt successfully secured all the space at the Karlshütte business site in Langenei for the assembly of the GRUNDODRILL 20S; the first machine with a swivel magazine. The latter represents another milestone in TRACTO history and it rightly fills inventor, Elmar Koch, with immense pride to this day: “With this unique magazine, drill rods can be swivelled into the carriage, which saves space and works faster.”
The next generation came along in 2003 with the addition of the GRUNDODRILL 15N and its semi-automatic drill rod handling system. This machine was equipped with electronic control, which allowed bore processes to be carried out fully automatically for the first time. This machine represents a revolution in the development of drilling rigs. With increasingly precise, integrated detection systems it led the way for directional drilling.
An eye catching design
Machines were not only becoming “more intelligent” but also even more attractively designed. This is why TRACTO started working hard on machine designs in 2005 and it was showcased in the launch of the compact and powerful GRUNDODRILL 25N, the first machine with a GRP cover.
When the new DRILL generation was designed in 2016, TRACTO employed professional industrial designers who not only looked at individual elements, but also the entire machine concept from a design perspective and provided valuable advice. The result is something we are really proud of.
Industrial design should never focus exclusively on nice appearance. In addition to ease of use and safety, good design must be engineered for series production. A theory suggested by Wolfgang Schmidt in the 1990s and reflected in today’s steadily growing production statistics and, according to Markus Hamers, Head of Product Development, another milestone in TRACTO’s history.
Equally as important in the evolution of the product range is the development of the GRUNDODRILL 18ACS, which enabled us to offer machines not just for jet drilling, but for rock drilling for the first time. Sales figures for this impressive rig have already reached triple figures.
TRACTO as leading innovator
Today for tomorrow
And as always, TRACTO is already working on the next trenchless drilling rig, innovative features and services, will ensure that TRACTO customers can always deploy the most effective drilling rig for their projects.
THE FIRST STEERABLE BORE RIGS WITH:
- Rubber chain undercarriage
- More than 130m drill rods on board
- Recycling units
- Tensile strength measurement
- Mud motors
- Bore data recording
All sizes of the latest GRUNDODRILL range can drill through rock. “We have integrated the innovations of the last 20 years, added more thinking and enhanced them even more. This is the first machine worldwide merging detetion data and machine control,” according to CTO Meinolf Rameil.
Sebastian Fischer, responsible for Digital Developments adds; “The integration of the DCI-detection display into the concept of the new generation GRUNDODRILL is an outstanding feature that sets new standards in the market for the horizontal directional drilling technology. By merging the bore rig and the detection technology into one unit, all relevant data is brought together centrally and the control of the drilling process is simplified even further.” The whole world entered the age of digitalisation concurrently and this opened up completely new possibilities for steered drilling.
En Route to autonomous drilling
Legal requirements around planning, quality and implementation are becoming more intense and precise documentation of the bore process with all installation data is becoming increasingly important. A shortage of skilled workers is paralysing the growth of the drilling industry. Contractors and manufacturers alike suffer from having insufficient drilling rig operators compared to purchase orders. TRACTO is the first manufacturer to provide an answer and it lies in digital integration – i.e. merging mechanics, steering information, detection data and the experience of the bore rig operator; supplemented by control of the mixing system.
Remote controlled drilling solutions are already available. All operating elements and remote control can be removed from the cab and used like a smartphone or tablet. This allows the rig operator to use his judgement to set up the optimum observation and operating point for the job with all machine functions and operating modes at his fingertips. A camera that surveys the surroundings ensures full safety remote control operation.
This unique combination of technologies has set the scene for autonomous drilling. It includes precise planning of the bore hole, the upload of programmes into the bore rig, documentation of the planning process and the autonomous drilling.The rig operator uses his experience to ensure the correct performance, thrust speed and reaction to obstacles. In future, the bore rig will assume more of his responsibilities freeing up the operator even more.