Following a downturn which took hold as the economy tanked after the GFC, large trench digging machines are on the comeback trail in the United States, a media report says.

A report in Construction Equipment magazine says that whilst a number of smaller brands disappeared from the North American market following the GFC, large trenchers are back in vogue, with demand being underpinned by a large number of energy and shale gas projects as well as an upturn in other utility associated work.

“We see growth in pipeline activity domestically and abroad as the oil and gas infrastructure continues to grow with the distribution that needs to take place,” the report quotes Jon Kuyers, global product manager of underground business at mining and compact equipment provider Vermeer, as saying.

Matt Collins, a senior product manager of compact and heavy-duty equipment for the Dutch Witch organisation agrees, citing the fibre-optic cable sector as an added source of growth.

“The telecommunications market in general has been driving business the last couple of years—we’ve seen quite a few of our machines go out with 36- to 42-inch plows for the backbone/middle mile installations, connecting community-to-community,” Collins says.

“In the energy sector, we’re also seeing an increase in demand for Ditch Witch quads used for six-inch and smaller installations.”

Collins says recent developments of note include a wider availability of quad-tracked trenchers and new Tier 4-Interim engines.

He says a number of customers were using quad-tracked design to provide better traction and floatation as well as increased ground clearance, which allowed for greater productivity in challenging conditions such as different soils, weather and terrain.

Having introduced its first quad track in 2009, Dutch Winch is now producing the 121 horsepower RT120 in a Tier 4 – Interim configuration, while a rubber tired RT100 will go into production this month.

When evaluating equipment, Collins says understanding depth requirements is key – along with evaluating the productivity of the machine.

“You need to know what the depth codes require for the placement of product in the ground,” he says.

“The codes for fibre, for example, have varying depth requirements depending upon whether you are working in metropolitan areas versus backbone-type work. Make sure you understand the requirements, and the appropriate horsepower required to productively dig at the depths.”

Kuyers, meanwhile, talks about the importance of ground conditions, with smaller machines being adequate for easier conditions but greater horsepower being required for deeper and wider work.

Moreover, he says managers should listen to those on the ground with regard to what is needed.

“Listen to the field supervisor and understand exactly what kind of conditions the machine is going into” he says.

“A lot of people simply say they need a 5-foot trench, 10 inches wide, and they need a machine tomorrow, sometimes they don’t really understand the conditions. If you take one of the smaller machines that are capable of doing it, it could be destroyed in a matter of hours, compared to a machine that would be properly sized with the proper boom, and the proper chain and boom set-up.”