The old handheld dowel drill: For years this was a necessary evil on any concrete patching job.
“Evil” because its use consisted of slow, back-breaking work, bending or kneeling down, struggling to hold the drill in place while boring out multiple holes for concrete dowels—a chiropractor’s dream, perhaps, but a nightmare for any laborer stuck with this grueling task.
Enter the hydraulic-powered dowel drills. First hitting the scene about 30 years ago, the concept was a virtual quantum leap for concrete-patching contractors. The drills were designed to guide themselves, making for faster, more accurate holes. And there was nothing handheld about them. There were smaller single-drill units, which were mounted on a portable chassis and able to be wheeled from one location to the next; and there were larger, multigang drills that mounted to backhoes—making them faster and easier to move and allowing for multiple holes to be drilled at once. A much better mousetrap had been built. There was just one major problem: the expense.
A drill is born
This was the issue Leon Hake with WCCI, a Stillwater, Okla.-based construction company, faced in the mid-1980s. The company had secured a job that required a large number of dowel holes, but the schedule dictated that they couldn’t be drilled by hand. Yet, the hydraulic alternatives were just too expensive and cumbersome for the company to consider.
Hake decided to develop a third choice as he engineered and developed his own pneumatic-powered drill system. What made this the better choice from Hake’s perspective was a unit that could be powered by air. Less additional equipment meant less expense and less to haul around. Thus, E-Z Drill Inc. was born.
Yet, even with the equipment advantages and the fact that manufacturers have focused their attention on pneumatic machines, some companies continue to struggle with hydraulic rigs. And, until relatively recently, G.M. Sipes Construction Inc., Rushville, Ill., was one of them.
G.M. Sipes is a highway/heavy construction contractor that exclusively does concrete and asphalt patching all over the state of Illinois, including some work on I-80 near the Quad Cities (Rock Island and Moline, Ill., Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa).
State work in an age of budgetary constraints and cash-strapped governments puts a fine point on productivity. Efficiency and ready-to-roll availability mean steady work and better margins for contractors, like Sipes, that depend solely on road-patching contracts. And with productivity and uptime being paramount concerns, the hydraulic drills just weren’t pulling their weight.
“We just kept fighting them and fighting them,” said Eric Unland, G.M. Sipes’ service manager, referring to the five-gang hydraulic drills that were charged with the duty of producing dowel holes.
The biggest fight was trying to keep the drills on the job. “The maintenance was eating us up,” Unland said. “First off, there were blown hoses. If you blow a hose on a hydraulic piece of equipment, you know what it does? It makes a hell of a mess.”
Beyond the mess and subsequent cleanup, the bigger issue was that any trouble with the hydraulic drills meant considerable downtime.
And worse still, there is likely a contractual timeline, and adding hours is not an option.
“For example, let’s say we’re doing night work from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.,” Unland said. “We have to be off the road by 6 in the morning. If we’re not, it’s a big fine—like $15,000 for every 15 minutes we remain beyond the agreed timeline.”
G.M. Sipes had a need that wasn’t being met . . . at least not as well as it could be. So, after years of struggling—and getting by—with the old way of drilling dowel holes, the company decided to investigate the promise of pneumatic drill technology and purchased an E-Z Drill model 210-5 EQ five-gang drill to mount onto one of its John Deere 410E backhoes.
“Shortly after we first pulled up on a patch with the new drill, we knew it wouldn’t be long before we bought another one,” Unland said. “They just worked better and quicker—that was enough to sell us on replacing our hydraulic units.”
On task, on time
The value of this increased productivity was exemplified on a recent job in Springfield, Ill. In March 2008, G.M. Sipes started work on I-55 and I-72. As was typical with most of Sipes’ work, the job required about 500 patches and, no surprise, the schedule was tight from day one. Therefore, this was one of those critical 6-to-6 jobs that required night work to finish the project on time.
As soon as the interstate lanes were closed, the Sipes crew would quickly saw a relief cut around the ailing road sections with a Vermeer diamond-blade wheel saw. Following this step, the John Deere backhoes were used to dig the patches out, and the attached pneumatic drills were right on the spot to be quickly lined up and start drilling immediately.
In the end, it took two crews only three weeks to do 500 patches on the Springfield job.
Though the Sipes crew saw the increased speed and efficiency as an important factor contributing to the productivity on this job, the primary benefit of the pneumatic units is their ability to stay on task.
“These drills are just amazing compared to how we used to do it,” Unland said. “I just can’t say enough about them and what they’ve done for our business.”
Information for this article provided by E-Z Drill Inc.