HammerHead Piercing Tools Produce Efficient Waterline Installs

Piercing tools boost productivity for Utah drain cleaner on waterline installs

HammerHead Piercing Tools Produce Efficient Waterline Installs

Rob Snow, co-owner and general manager of Valley Plumbing and Drain Cleaning in suburban Salt Lake City, holds two Mole Active Head piercing tools, made by HammerHead Trenchless (a Charles Machine Works Co.). 

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As a former business coach and co-owner of Utah-based Valley Plumbing and Drain Cleaning, a company that racks up more than $10 million a year in revenue, Lawrence Snow is a big advocate of efficiencies that drive better profitability.

That mentality is reflected in the four pneumatic Mole Active Head piercing tools the company purchased from HammerHead Trenchless (a Charles Machine Works Co.). Crews at Valley Plumbing use them to install new residential waterlines.

The company, based in West Jordan, a southern suburb of Salt Lake City, employs 70 people and runs about two dozen service vehicles. Snow founded it in 2010 with his son, Rob. The company owners now include Snow’s other son, Corry, and a son-in-law, Brett Reeves.

The HammerHead piercing tools epitomize efficiency. They give Valley Plumbing the ability to perform trenchless service line replacements roughly two to three times faster than conventional open-trench replacements.

“Installing service lines used to take us a full day,” Snow says. “Then you also have to worry about repairing any irrigation-sprinkler lines that were damaged, plus when you backfill the trench it usually leaves either a hump or a dip. It was a big hassle. But now we can do two to three installations a day as long as soil conditions are good and there aren’t any utility lines in the way. And there’s virtually no disruption to customers’ yards. In fact, I’ve had customers call and ask me, ‘Weren’t you supposed to come here to replace my waterline today?’ And I tell them, ‘Yes, it’s already done.’”

In addition, the trenchless line replacement technique generates great profit margins.

“Quite frankly, people will pay a premium price to not have their yards messed up,” Snow says.

Diverse services

Plumbing services generate about half of the company’s revenue, with drain cleaning and trenchless pipeline rehab contributing the balance.

To that end, Valley Plumbing owns dozens of cable drain machines made by General Pipe Cleaners (a division of General Wire Spring Co.); six HotJet USA water jetters (two trailer-mounted and four truck-mounted); a liner-inversion machine made by Perma-Liner Industries and a Quik-Shot lateral lining system from Quik Lining Systems and sold by Pipe Lining Supply (now both owned by Waterline Renewal Technologies); about 28 RIDGID SeeSnake Mini pipeline inspection cameras; and 28 RIDGID NaviTrack Scout line locators.

As for the Moles, the company owns three 2-inch-diameter models and one 3-inch-diameter model. They look like small torpedoes. Valley Plumbing technicians call them “missiles.”

Snow invested in the company’s first Mole piercing tool about nine years ago after watching a cable-TV company use one to install a new line under his 45-foot-wide driveway without disturbing the yard.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” Snow says.

Made from heat-treated alloy steel and powered by an air compressor, the Mole Active Head tools are designed to install gas, water, cable, irrigation, fiber-optic or electrical lines. The models Valley Plumbing purchased feature reciprocating heads, which deliver a double-strike impact for greater productivity. 

The 2-inch model is 30 inches long, weighs 19 pounds and delivers 714 blows per minute, while the 3-inch model is about 52 1/2 inches long, weighs 67 pounds and delivers 370 blows per minute.

There are limits to usage, however. For example, rocky ground is a nonstarter because rocks will deflect the tool off course, Snow says.

A boring process

Using the Moles typically requires digging a small entrance pit, roughly 3 feet long by 2 feet wide by 3 feet deep. Then the tool is connected to an air compressor and placed in what HammerHead calls a launch cradle. An available aiming sight helps ensure an accurate starting point.

“You basically turn on the air and lean into it,” Snow says. “Depending on the soil conditions, we can bore as much as 40 feet in a minute or it might take up to 10 minutes. The more clay there is, the longer it takes. You can walk along with your feet spread and you can hear it, so you know exactly where it’s at. The ground vibrates and worms come to the surface because they don’t like the vibrations.”

In the Salt Lake City area, Snow says technicians usually shoot bores from buried water meters in parkways in front of houses to basements. The compressor hose is only 50 feet long, so boring runs longer than that would require a second entrance pit, Snow adds.

Reversing the tool’s direction requires just a quarter-turn in a counterclockwise direction. The quarter-turn feature locks the tool in either forward or reverse and prevents accidental directional changes while boring.

Operating the tool is fairly easy. But learning how to get it to where it needs to go requires a bit of a learning curve, Snow says.

“You learn by the school of hard knocks,” he says. “But usually after six or eight shots, technicians are proficient enough to do it by themselves.”

Great ROI

A piercing tool costs roughly $3,500. But it also requires a powerful air compressor, which adds considerably to the investment, Snow says. The company owns three 185 cfm compressors made by Kaeser and Vanair Manufacturing that cost around $24,000.

“The missile is the cheap part,” he says.

Nonetheless, the Moles provide a great return on investment in terms of increased productivity, which in turn leads to greater revenue generation and better profitability, Snow says.

“If you include the cost of the generator with the tool, it probably takes about 40 to 45 jobs or so before it pays for itself,” he says. “In the end, it’s all about increased efficiency.”


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