Georgia drilling contractor leads charge with redesigned T3W.

It takes a certain type of individual to be first. Someone who will take risks to keep ahead of the competition – stay on the cutting edge of technology and have the patience to do what most of the population would only think of doing. That kind of person is Johnie Robinson, a real trailblazer.

Robinson Well Co., Monroe, Ga., has been in operation since 1972, boring holes, then drilling with cable rigs and finally going to top-head rotary drilling in 1984 with the purchase of its first T4W. After owning a couple of T4Ws, Robinson purchased the company’s first T3W in 1989. He moved to the T3W because of its ease of operation and weight. In the last 10 years, Robinson has started up five T3Ws, so the company is very familiar with the rig and the start-up process.

When the redesigned T3W needed its first home, the management at Atlas Copco wanted the drill rig to go to someone who had T3W experience, and the patience of someone willing to work out the bugs. After discussing this with Atlas Copco distributor Noland Drilling Co.’s Virgil Bruinkool, it was determined to approach Robinson about taking this first rig, and he jumped at the chance. “I have always been one for change and new technology,” explains Robinson.

The T3W is a rugged, go-anywhere, get-it-done rig that has seen little change in the last 20 years. But, as all things must evolve, so has the T3W gone through changes. When the new government engine standards had to be incorporated into the drill, the opportunity was presented to look at other things as well.

Looking at the big picture, Atlas Copco design and sales personnel sat down with customers to look at things that needed attention. The broad goals laid out were to reduce maintenance, while increasing productivity and durability through component and electronic feature changes.

Large sheaves have been used with success on the RD20 for some time, so they were designed into the T3W to extend cable life. Any driller will agree that changing cables is a time-consuming hassle. It is projected the life of the cable with the larger sheaves will easily last 5,000 hours to 6,000 hours, or the usual first-owner life cycle.

The rig’s UL88 air control system had been a mainstay for the model, but now electronics have taken over. This is expected to save wear on expensive components, and reduce fuel consumption. The new electronic air regulation will allow full air-volume control by the operator from 15 percent to 100 percent capacity.

With the new control on the fan, a cooler ambient air will allow the fan to back off, saving on power because the engine is not working as hard. Currently, Robinson says the rig has run at a maximum of 87 percent engine load. “It is too early to tell what that energy savings equates to in dollars,” notes Robinson (he has only been running the rig for a couple of weeks).

Robinson also expects to cut maintenance time because of less pressure on hoses. He says with the new system, the hydraulic lines don’t jump when a pump is engaged like the old system did. He thinks eliminating the jump in pressure on the hoses will make them last longer.

Robinson ordered his new rig with a 1,070 cfm/350 psi air package and 30,000 lbs of pullback. The rig also can be ordered with 40,000, 55,000 and 70,000 pullback, and 900 cfm/350 psi air as an option.

When everyone in the southeastern United States was using 41⁄2-inch drill steel, Robinson was the first in the region to switch over to 31⁄2-inch. This increased his on-board depth capacity from 420 feet to 600 feet. That works perfectly in the southeast where the average hole is 400 feet, with the deepest residential wells usually coming in around 600 feet. They do drill the occasional 1,000- to 1,200-foot well for irrigation, but that is uncommon.

Robinson has a diversified business including setting pumps and service work, and he also has a septic pumping business. His business offers both air and mud drilling with the T3W.

Andrew Stone, Robinson’s driller of six years, has 11 years drilling experience. Johnie’s son, John Robinson, takes care of the service side of the business.

Typically, a well in the area will require a 12-inch wing bit to open up a hole, and then an 83⁄4-inch tricone bit is used to drill the rock. Robinson cases with steel or PVC pipe. Robinson then will go to air drilling with a 20-button, 6-inch bit on a QL DTH hammer to total depth. Robinson likes using a hydrocyclone too. “The hydrocyclone really lets you go through rock faster in wet holes, and the recovery of air is a lot quicker,” he says.

The first well drilled with the new T3W reached total depth at 700 feet and took 61⁄2 hours to complete, including 60 feet of casing. Stone says he really likes the 1,070 air vs. the 900 air, but otherwise this drill is a lot like the T3Ws with which he is comfortable. “The controls are mostly in the same place, but things just work faster with the new drill,” he remarks.

Business for Robinson is changing much like it is other places where rural co-ops are delivering water to homes more all the time, but he has found opportunity with niche markets like irrigation drilling. Lately, about 20 percent of his business is irrigation. Rural water costs quite a bit, so he is putting in wells just for people to water lawns and plants. “Some of these places have so much tied into landscaping, and a few thousand dollar water bill each year to keep it alive gets expensive,” he notes.

Robinson has had to contend with a few quirks with the new rig as Atlas Copco engineers get the bugs out, but overall he is happy with what he sees. “This is going to be the future, and I really like the drill,” comments Robinson. With all the T3Ws he has started up in the past – with never even a minor issue – he knows Atlas Copco has given him a unique opportunity. “What is an issue today, we will forget about down the road,” he points out. But he will have forever taken his place as a trailblazer in the future of well drilling.