When it comes to any profession, success, efficiency and customer satisfaction are always the end goals. Getting the job done right is all a matter of performance, and for drillers the drilling rig plays an enormous part in determining how any given project plays out. Robert Caho, director of sales and marketing at Diedrich Drill, has spent 35 years in the industry and says the drilling crew and rig have to be at their best in order for business to boom. “Drill rig safety and maintenance is the number one key in our industry to keep it going,” he says. “Without safety and maintenance and keeping the rigs up to date, cleaned and worked on, they’re just going to go down.”

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Pulling from his years as a driller, supervisor, operations manager and now sales representative, he spends a good deal of time sharing the importance of rig upkeep with drillers across the country. National Driller was present for his lecture, “Drill Rig Maintenance and Safety,” at the 2015 Florida Ground Water Association Convention and Tradeshow. He says that from what he sees every day, lack of rig preservation is the biggest problem out there. “Most of the time the guys don’t seem to think they have enough time to do the work that needs to be done as far as greasing the rig, checking the rig and doing any maintenance. There just seems to be a lack of that.” In a recent interview, Caho spoke to National Driller about how to address that problem, offering key best practices for drilling rig maintenance.

Keys to Care

For starters, the functions on the rig that save lives should be checked on, Caho says. “One of the first things that I always address that needs to be addressed is the guys should be doing everyday checking of the kill switches, making sure that they work and that everybody understands how they work.”

Moving on, a thorough inspection of the drilling rig should take place every day before heading out into the field. Drillers should look for leaks, especially from hydraulic hoses. Also important to check on are the cables, to make sure they aren’t unspooled. Other things to keep in mind while scoping the rig out are loose bolts, which should be tightened right away. Another basic involves fluid levels, which should be maintained always.

In addition to daily rig inspection, Caho says there are key maintenance steps that should be habitual for every drilling crew, but aren’t necessarily.

  • Greasing: “Greasing is the number one maintenance thing that needs to be addressed and everybody should know what a grease gun looks like and how they work. They should be used on a daily basis. One reason you grease a rig is to get all of the dirt out of the bearings and keep them clean. It pumps new fresh grease into them. A lot of times you’ll find different issues of safety or maintenance on a rig that need to be addressed while you’re greasing the rig. Rigs are being run up all of the time and mechanically moving, so without grease, they will wear out and they’ll wear out in a pretty quick fashion if they’re not taken care of.”
  • Cleaning: “Rigs should be cleaned on almost a daily basis, but I know that’s not practical in our world just because of what we do and the timeframe. The Kelly bar is a big issue on mechanical rigs. You need to clean all of the grease off of the Kelly bar and then re-grease it at a minimum of once a week as well as all of the slide bases and everything. The reason is because all the dirt that flies in the air, sand and everything else will get onto these surfaces and it’s basically like sandpaper on the bearings. They will not last if they’re not completely cleaned and re-greased.”
  • Paint chips: “I’ve just looked at a rig today from the South by the coast and the paint’s been chipped off of it and it didn’t get repainted. Now what happens is it rusts and the rust goes right through and ends up ruining the frame and structure of the rig by not repainting it over. What happens is the salt gets on the [chipped spot] and ruins the metal. So it needs to be repainted and touched up when you’ve got scratches.”
  • Hydraulic fluid:“[The rig] manual will have a lubrication chart in it and it goes into telling you what kinds of oils you should use. If you use the wrong hydraulic fluid, you’ll eventually have seals going out, also pumps going out and that gets really costly. If you put the wrong oil in it, it can really burn a pump up really quick and that’s when you’re down for a long time.” 
  • Closed loop versus open loop: “There’s an open loop system and a closed loop. On a closed loop system, where it flows, all of the pumps and everything run through it. If you happen to have a mechanical breakdown that comes through as far as burning the pump up or whatever, those metals on a closed loop system are going to flow all the way through the whole system and, potentially, if you don’t clean the whole system out and get fresh oil in it, you end up burning the motors out of them.”
  • Electric versus hydraulic: “This is a big topic — electric versus hydraulic. A lot of the newer rigs are electric and if you don’t have some kind of background with electric, you need to learn it. Know your electronic system on your rig because all the way from throttle linkages to hydraulic linkages are all electrical now. You need to make sure that when you do a repair on any electronics that they are put back to factory, if not better. Also seal them up good with some type of silicon or something to keep moisture from getting into them.”
  • New versus used rigs: “Really there’s no difference. They both take the same amount of maintenance if done properly on a daily, weekly, monthly, annual basis. Some of the older rigs you’re going to need to keep a [closer] eye on, but even new rigs, you have to keep an eye on leaks because when a brand new rig comes out there always seems to be leaks on them  when they get up to temperature.”

Important things to note are that, if nothing else, drillers should prioritize greasing and checking of all rig lubrication points, he says. Since drilling rigs are big, complex machines that work really hard, problems are bound to take place in the field, which means that keeping a small set of tools with the rig, including a grease gun, is essential.


Even more important than rig conservation is, of course, crew and customer wellbeing. Although it isn’t necessarily taken as seriously as it should be, Caho says safety during rig maintenance is just as big a deal as safety while drilling.

The biggest thing is to make sure that the machine is completely de-energized while repairs are being made. Caho says the most common safety mistake he sees is maintenance being performed while the rig is still running. De-energized means there are no hydraulic pressures anywhere. Another precaution to take during maintenance is to make sure the drilling rig isn’t accidentally re-energized during the process. Making sure the rig is locked out and tagged out will assure another crew member doesn’t start the drilling rig up while it’s being worked on by a vulnerable teammate.

Caho says he feels strongly that the same safety gear that’s worn in the field — hard hats, safety glasses, gloves, hearing protection, etc.— should be worn while drillers repair the rig, whether out in the field or back at headquarters. “A lot of times when you’re doing repairs, tooling can be left on the rig, bolts get dropped and you could get hurt, so safety equipment should be used at all times.”

Taking the Time

The strongest deterrent to proper drilling rig upkeep is the time factor, Caho says, but there are no good excuses because too much is at stake.

Every morning, he says, time should be made for a tailgate safety meeting. That should include all drilling managers and operators, and the group should discuss the day ahead, the projects scheduled and the maintenance that needs to take place. Not only does it keep everyone in the loop, it also holds everyone accountable.

Then it’s important to spend 10 to 30 minutes looking over everything on the rig and taking any due maintenance steps. That isn’t the only time for upkeep though, Caho says. “If you can’t do that, any standby time you have where you’re waiting for a client to make a decision, a grease gun should be in your hand and you should be checking over the rig. Everybody’s got time.”

As for who’s responsible for drilling rig maintenance, it varies depending on how big the company is. The drill crew supervisor should be chiefly responsible for making sure it gets done. Then, depending on the size of the operation, it goes all the way down to drilling managers and assistants. Some companies even have their own mechanic.

No matter who’s directing the drilling rig maintenance operations and who’s carrying the repairs out, no one can be expected to know and remember every single step a particular machine requires. That’s OK, Caho says, because every rig has a point of reference. “What they should do is make sure they have what I like to call the drill rig bible and that’s the corresponding safety and service manual that you can get right from the factory, whoever built the rig.” He says the rig manual should be with the rig at all times because anything can happen anywhere and it’s easy for a tiny wrong turn to cause a huge problem. Not only does it ensure repairs are made the right way, it ultimately ensures the drilling rig operates at maximum capacity and the crew is kept safe.           

“I’d like to see the day when I can go out and don’t have to tell drillers to clean and grease rigs and see them wear out,” Caho says. “Safety and maintenance should be the number one priority in the field every day. If you don’t feel safe, make sure you stop operations and take care of it. Do not continue drilling if you don’t feel safe.”