May 2023 Vol. 28 No. 5


Pneumatic piercing tool helps innovative utility solutions grow

by Aaron James

Around for a long time, pneumatic piercing tools remain an efficient way to perform small-diameter bores ranging from 15 to 70 feet. For contractors looking to break into the fiber installation business, a piercing tool offers an attractive entry point to meet the demand for stitch boring in residential areas. All that is required to get started is an investment in an air compressor, an in-line lubricator, the piercing tool, and equipment to dig entrance and exit pits. 

Macon, Ga.-based Innovative Utility Solutions adopted this approach, using piercing tools as an economical entry into the fiber installation business. “It was the quickest way to get in, and it was what we knew,” said Scott Menke, company owner. “We never got into the long runs where you would use a directional drill.” 

Scott’s father, James Menke, has been in this industry for 40 years. Five years ago, he encouraged Scott to branch out on his own in the underground business. 

“We were just getting so much work,” Scott Menke explained. “We had a couple of contractors doing the underground work, but they couldn’t keep up. So, I hired two guys, and bought a truck, a mini excavator, an air compressor and a missile.” 

This was before the surge in fiber installation. “We were stitch boring for actual cable TV. We weren’t doing a lot of fiber at the time,” Menke recalled. The work involved span replacements for Cox Communications. Typically, Innovative Utility Solutions was replacing 150- to 200-foot spans of cable. The company quickly grew from two employees to nine. 

Expanded capability 

With growth, the equipment fleet became more diverse with a horizontal directional drill (HDD) and cable plows. It switched primarily to Vermeer piercing tools for the enhanced customer service provided by Vermeer Southeast. 

“Curt Kopacek, the local Vermeer dealer contact, has gotten me out of so many tight spots over the years,” said Menke. “His knowledge is what made me turn to the yellow equipment.” 

He cited a specific case of losing a piercing tool in soft gravel. The dealer’s advice allowed Innovative Utility Solutions to recover it without resorting to digging up and restoring a road. 

Even after diversifying into HDD and cable plowing, the company continues to use piercing tools for mainline fiber installation. 

The HDD purchase occurred when Innovative Utility Solutions won a contract two and a half years ago to install fiber for public service in a rural area. 

“We are going down country roads for miles at a time that have four or five houses on them,” Scott said. “It didn’t make sense to missile when you could set the drill up and sling 400, 10-foot rods, rather than digging 75 pits.” 

The company currently has a Vermeer D20x22 Series 2 HDD. But as needs change and the company continues to grow, it’s looking for even more capability. 

In rural areas, the company is also plowing in fiber with Vermeer RTX1250i2 and RTX1250 ride-on tractors. It performs drops with a remote-operated SPX 25 vibratory plow. This has proven to be a valuable tool for depths of 6 inches and under. 

Best tool for the job 

The wide range of equipment allows Innovative Utility Solutions to choose the most efficient option to install fiber. 

When on a right-of-way, the crew can plow right down the side of the road. In one instance, the crew plowed almost 5,000 feet nonstop. In another instance, the mini excavator was used to make clearings in the woods for the HDDs to sit and drill through the woods. 

Piercing tools are still important for business. “I still have three crews that use the missile every day,” said Menke. “We run several Vermeer Hole Hammer positive turn reverse pneumatic piercing tools. We also run a few quarter-turn Hole Hammers. We call them the sand missiles.” 

The bulk of the work involves mainline fiber installation. With four crews, the company is averaging 3,500 to 4,000 feet a day of mainline work. That is two drill crews and two missile crews. Everybody tries to achieve about 1,000 feet a day. 

Crews also do drops – probably six or seven 250-foot drops a day. With drops included, the company averages 5,000 feet a day. 

Soil conditions can vary dramatically. “You can go 2,000 feet in the nicest soil you have ever seen and then the next 1,000 feet will be straight rock,” he explained. “Some of them we open cut and we also have a backhoe with a hammer on it. We will get it as close to depth as possible and pour concrete on top of it.” 

As Innovative Utility Solutions has grown, the company has added to its fleet. This allows the company to match the correct tool to the job and this often means the proven pneumatic piercing tool. UI 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Aaron James is a product specialist for Vermeer MV Solutions. 


Innovative Utility Solutions, (478) 972-3778 

Vermeer Corp., (888) 837-6337, 

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