Stitch Boring with Piercing Tools Makes Contractor a Force to be Reckoned With

July 25, 2011

Grayco Communications located out of LaPorte, Texas, understands the importance of taking care of their customers and the clients they serve. Butch Grambow, VP of Operations states, “Catered customer care is not just our slogan; it is also our number one goal.” Grayco currently services more than 900 customers daily and is one of the largest contractors for Comcast in the Houston Metropolitan area providing a full range of services including: residential & commercial installation, audits/sales, collections, multi-dwelling unit service plans, equipment recovery, and underground construction. 

Minimizing social impact and providing fast, clean and cost-effective installation of underground utilities and services utilizing trenchless technologies is one of the ways they achieve their goals. Grayco utilizes the “stitch boring” as the primary method for the installation of underground utilities. The stitch boring method utilizes pneumatic piercing tools to bore from small pits to the next followed by the new product installation. It is the preferred method of many contractors because of the low operating cost per foot of installation, reasonable equipment investment and minimal expertise required for equipment operation. In addition, due to the minimal surface disruption of the method, clean up and restoration costs are minimized. 

With more than fifteen (15) years of industry experience, Grayco Communications Construction Manager Trae Stavinoha knows the importance of getting the most out of his crews. Stavinoha says, “by using the stitch boring method, we average about four hundred (400) feet per day and up to 2,000 feet per week of new installation with just a three (3) man crew.” Armed with shovels, two piercing tools and air compressors, Grayco’s ten underground crews and subcontractors install more than 20,000 feet of underground fiber, coax, electrical and communications lines each week in residential and commercial areas throughout Houston.

At the jobsite, each three man crew carefully chooses pit locations to minimize impact and maximize job production. “Most bores range from twenty five to fifty feet and individual projects ranging from 100 to 2,700 feet long with each pit being approximately twenty four inches deep,” says Stavinoha. Once pit location is determined, the pits are hand dug and the crew strings air hoses from the compressor to the easements to power the piercing tools. Once connected to the air supply, the tool is shot from one pit to the next, each pit serving as both an exit pit and entry pit for the next bore. “Piercing tools are a reliable way of installing conduits under trees, gardens, out buildings and other permanent fixtures. In addition, there is less restoration involved versus plowing or using a trencher,” says Stavinoha.

Because the location of easements in the Houston area is usually located in the back yards of homes throughout the city, underground utility installation often becomes challenging with larger equipment. Leaving these landscaped areas the same way they were found is a must for the customers, and is a big reason underground utility contractors like Grayco choose the stitch bore method.  “Although we work in front easements, we normally work in back yards. Most of our work is done in landscaped areas with many other underground utilities within the right of way,” says Stavinoha. 

Limiting the damage to existing utilities is another great reason for contractors to use the stitch bore method. “One of the great things about piercing tools is that it forces our crews to dig up and expose the other utilities that they may be crossing. By physically identifying the location of the existing utilities, we take a proactive role in damage prevention,” says Stavinoha. “Over the years, I’ve seen damage to existing utilities that could have been avoided if only the construction company had chosen piercing tools as the method of installation. Using a piercing tool for these installations has become the norm because it allows us to provide the catered customer care we strive for while minimizing installation and restoration costs. When evaluating cost and production, it’s simple. For the work we do, the stitch boring method has a high rate of production and often the most cost effective way to install underground utilities; especially where clean up and tight utility easements are an issue.” 

Grayco has learned through their experience that it benefits them to have different tools for the varying soil and ground conditions they work in.  The ground conditions in the Houston area vary greatly from gumbo, sandy loamy, and sugar sand.  They choose piercing tools from HammerHead Trenchless Equipment because they have a wide range of tools designed to keep them productive while minimizing their maintenance costs in different soil conditions.  "We run the 2.50” and 3.00” Catamount piercing tools in tough ground conditions and when we’re in soft or sandy ground, we run 2.50” and 3.00” Replaceable Head piercing tools,” says Stavinoha.

“Replaceable head, or fixed head, tools are preferred in average to soft ground conditions. They have fewer moving parts and therefore have a much lower maintenance cost.  They also maintain traction much better in softer ground making them much more productive than reciprocating head tools.” says Will LeBlanc, National Sales Manager for HammerHead. 
When ground conditions get harder and production from the Replaceable Head tools begins to slow, Grayco has been using the new Catamount™ piercing tools from HammerHead, The Catamount piercing tool features a reciprocating head that is designed to bore through harder ground conditions. “The new tool design brings to the industry a reciprocating head that is easy to start, regardless of air pressure level, and the Catamount design eliminates the need for a mechanical spring, which is prone to fail over time,” says LeBlanc. “It’s completely different than any other tool design in the market as we’ve taken technology from down-hole hammers and incorporated them into this tool.” 

According to Stavinoha, “We started working with the Catamount when they first hit the market and HammerHead stood tall and took care of any of the initial issues common with a new product release. I believe this is the main reason that we are still using HammerHead tools. It means so much to us that HammerHead sent Will LeBlanc, their National Sales Manager, to help train us in the repair and maintenance of our piercing tools. I have never had a company send somebody from the factory of Will’s level to come and teach me about their equipment in over 15 years. Will has not just made one trip, but he has made many trips to work with us. That is what I call customer care. Nothing else needs to be said…” 

“I have used the other major brands and I am a loyal HammerHead customer. The ease of fixing the HammerHead is by far the quickest and easiest. It is not a matter of when a tool will need repairs - because they all will. It is a matter of how fast can I get the tool back in the field working and making the company money” 

Stitch boring with HammerHead piercing tools is how Grayco Communications has become one of the largest and most productive contractors in the Houston area. “Hammerhead has allowed Grayco to be a force to be reckoned with.” says Stavinoha.