One priority of any professional tradesman is to value and respect the tools, equipment and machinery they operate. This is by no means of any less importance to drillers; it is vital that they keep equipment in peak condition through regular maintenance and servicing. Drilling equipment is an investment—not only is it often costly to purchase, but it will continue to operate efficiently if kept in good working order.

When equipment breaks down, production stops and so does profit—that’s bad news in any industry, especially when your equipment is your “bread and butter” as is true in the drilling industry. Proper maintenance and service includes everything from hydraulic components and engines to pumps, compressors and drilling tools. Rather than taking an in-depth look at the specific details of these individual components, let’s overview some basic principles that can be applied across the board toward well maintained rigs and equipment.

Safety should be the first priority of every driller. Simple maintenance can ensure a safe working environment for the drill crew. Overhead components must be well secured, working parts should not be worn to the point of being compromised and tools need to be stored properly to avoid accidents. A clean and orderly rig is a safer rig. Wear and tear or damage can then be detected quickly, tools are easy to locate, and trip or slip hazards are minimized. Attention to safety invariably results in good maintenance practices, and attention to maintenance consistently produces safer equipment. Although fairly simple, these steps are of vital importance and should be a common goal for the entire crew.

Safety must also be considered when performing any service on the rig. For example, if it is necessary to climb on to any part of the rig for maintenance or other work, ensure that adequate safety equipment is used to avoid injuries from slipping or falling. Do not undertake any adjustment without first stopping the engine and placing all hydraulic moving parts in a locked position at rest. Hydraulic parts can be locked in position by oil pressure even when the engine is not running. The removal of hydraulic hoses could cause parts to move due to the force of gravity, therefore release all hydraulic and pneumatic pressure before doing any work on the machine. Also, exercise caution when touching engine components or fluids as they can become very hot when the rig is running and can remain such even after the rig is powered down. If the replacement of a component is required, ensure that the hydraulic and air hoses are suitable for the working pressure and that the hose end fittings and connections are the correct type. A hydraulic hose failure can cause serious injury, so do not use damaged, frayed or deteriorated hoses and replace hoses at the first signs of damage.

Owner’s manuals provide detailed specifications, diagrams and instructions regarding daily, weekly, monthly and annual maintenance requirements. Even if you’ve purchased pre-owned equipment, replacement manuals are generally available from the manufacturer or supplier. It is vital to study these manuals and keep them for future reference. If problems do develop on-site, having the owner’s manual on hand will expedite identifying the problem, ordering replacement parts and making necessary repairs. Failure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions could void warranties, so be sure to keep them handy, understand them and keep accurate records of any maintenance and service preformed. Over time the records can indicate if components are being repaired more often than normal, and therefore identify problem areas that require attention or tweaking for optimal operation.

Regular inspection of key components and the general operation of the equipment is also essential. Accurate reads of gauges and indicators such as engine oil, hydraulic pressures, temperature, etc. disclose important information about the operation and condition of the equipment. However, thorough inspection involves more than just a quick look over the equipment and checking a few gauges. The driller must first have a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of how the equipment is supposed to look, sound and feel when it is working properly so that he can quickly identify any changes that could affect safety or performance. Some indications would be excessive fuel or oil loss, rig vibration, low power, difficulty starting, engine noise, exhaust smoke, cracked or leaking hoses, leaking hydraulic cylinders, loose belts or chains, loose bolts, etc. This knowledge is largely gained through experience, training and studying the owner’s manual. Ultimately it will help in avoiding costly breakdowns and accidents.

 A “well-oiled machine” is not merely a cliché expression in the drilling industry. Equipment that is well maintained will run more efficiently, last longer and be safer for the entire crew. Give your equipment a thorough inspection today, make operating it safer by servicing it regularly, and be sure to inspect your rig and operating components on a daily basis. Following the manufacturer’s recommended service schedule protects your investment and increases onsite safety for your workers.