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Maintenance mindset

How to keep your rig running right.

April 12, 2013  By Laura Aiken

You can say check the oil, check the valves before you go out, but I’d say check the mindset,” says Rich Clarke, director of sales and marketing for SIMCO drilling and my first phone call for this article.

You can say check the oil, check the valves before you go out, but I’d say check the mindset,” says Rich Clarke, director of sales and marketing for SIMCO drilling and my first phone call for this article.

What percentage of repairs could have been predicted?



Hmmm. I mull this insight over. I think of the four cars (at least, and I am baring my soul here to admit it) that I have sent to early graves with my own maintenance mindset. I’ll take it in next week, I’ve thought, only to once find myself eventually stranded in the middle of a Toronto intersection shortly before needing to be on an airplane. I even drove without a working fuel gauge for nearly a year, as if that’s not asking for trouble. Doing proper maintenance on a car can seem a monumental task in a busy life, and attending to the needs of a rig in a busy business is triple that and then some. Breakdowns cost money and lost time on the job, that’s a given. Sometimes procrastination is at play, but that’s too complicated a subject to delve too far into here. Here are a few words from two procrastination experts as to how deeply humans and the art of putting things off are intertwined:  

“We see that procrastination is even more complex that we once thought – an interweaving of not only individual psychological, behavioural, and emotional issues, but also social, cultural, and technological dynamics, biological and neurological predispositions, and universal human tendencies,” wrote Jane B. Burkha, PhD, and Lenora M. Yuen, PhD, in their book Procastination: Why You Do It, What to Do About It Now. 

Why we don’t do what we need to do when we should is complex, but reflecting on the important things helps keep the big things in view. This is pretty key when you think about how central maintenance is to keeping your moneymaking machine on the road. On that note, let’s look at how the hydraulic system takes centre stage when it comes to keeping your drill boring hole after hole. 

Hydraulic oil doesn’t wear out, it becomes contaminated
A hydraulic system is like the arteries of a rig – clog it up and the machine’s going to have a heart attack. A lack of maintenance when it comes to keeping the hydraulic system clean is the number 1 reason Sonic Drill Systems rigs land in the shop, says Kevin Reimer, the company’s sales and operations manager.

“Regularly changing filters and regularly taking an oil sample analysis to test for water content and/or other contaminates like metal: That’s the key thing for sonic rigs. It should be a very common preventative measure for rotary rigs or any other type of drill rig for that matter. Hydraulic oil preventative maintenance testing analysis and filter element replacement is front and centre the most key thing to having a long life on your equipment and avoiding any mechanical issues and expensive breakdowns.”

If you’ve experienced a breakdown caused by a dirty hydraulic system, you already know that repair can be a long and expensive process. A poorly maintained hydraulic system can cause pump failure, says Reimer, which introduces steel and/or iron that contaminates the hydraulic system and can threaten other critical components like the drill head.

“Hopefully it’s just a pump replacement, but worst case, it’s a pump replacement and an entire cleaning of the hydraulic system, which is a very arduous process. It takes about a week to do the job, and it’s expensive to replace a hydraulic pump considering all the oil and labour [required] to flush out an entire system.”

Hydraulic oil doesn’t wear out; it becomes contaminated. Oil sample analysis can monitor contamination levels, oil condition and wear trends. Oil degradation is subject to many factors such as heat, water entering the system, iron or steel partials, working environment, and the rate and type of contamination. However, the single most important factor determining the life of the oil and the equipment is the type of filtration used to filter the bloodline of the component.

Sonic Drill Systems trainers cover preventive maintenance on all rigs when doing onsite commissioning with our customers, plus the machines have reminder maintenance decals and a manual that outlines clearly the periodic maintenance interval times. If you suffer from either procrastination or forgetfulness, two human traits shared en masse by the species, try enlisting supplier support services. For example, Sonic Drilling will put together a maintenance program for its clients, and then send regularly scheduled reminders when it’s time to do an analysis sample, oil change or filter inspection/replacement. However, Reimer says that he doesn’t see enough drillers take the advantage of this available service.

Darren Swolley of SIMCO Drilling, also mentions the hydraulic system as being at the root of a lot of repairs. Keeping the hydraulics and oil clean and cool is the ticket. If you’re tempted to shortcut on your next filter purchase, consider this common sight of Swolley’s:

“[Drillers] putting the incorrect filters on a hydraulic system – putting a cheap filter you can get from an auto parts store for $30 bucks when you should be using one that cost $75 or $80 bucks is a pretty common thing when it comes to hydraulics.”

The daily grind
There are simple things that should be checked each day before any drilling is done. Swolley shares a simple list of top things to keep an eye on:

  • Check all the fluids.
  • Check grease points.
  • Check the bolt heads of the parts that move a lot and make sure the nuts and bolts are tight.

Little things, but of course, they are the seeds of bigger things. Swolley estimates that 60 to 70 per cent of the repairs he sees could have been predicted. Most jobs are in and out of SIMCO’s shop in a day, he says, unless it’s a major fix. The company provides next-day shipping for parts, but it’s a costly service and Swolley says the drillers who see the wobbly part ahead of time and allow for the two to three days ground shipping are the ones avoiding the emergencies and breakdowns. 

SIMCO rigs come with a fully loaded maintenance guide, but in the end, it comes down to drillers applying it.

“Unfortunately businesses get busy and it’s hard to do the small things that can save you a lot of money.”

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