There’s a special feeling that accompanies being part of something that’s built to help so many people. When the Panama Canal was completed just over 100 years ago, it was one of the most ambitious and difficult projects the world had ever seen and, indeed, it was a project that required the world’s cooperation. French engineers worked on the canal as well as American. Owned and operated by the Panamanian government since 1999, it’s time once again to expand on this important monument of human achievement.

With a little help from Canada and England.

Dando Drilling International is currently working beside the Bridge of the Americas gathering samples in preparation for a larger Panama Port. Viking West Engineered Products (Viking) has a close relationship with Dando — we’re a distributor and we’ve augmented Dando’s rigs with our attachments, so we were able to catch up with Dando’s Rupert Coler to learn more about their participation in Panama.

Q. What has Dando been tasked with when it comes to the upgrade of the Panama Canal?

A. Our responsibility is mainly related to the Panama Port right now. Because the canal itself is being widened to allow for more cargo and larger ships, the port needs to expand as well. The sampling we’ve been doing is for the port specifically, which is really neat to be a part of. There is going to be a lot of traffic going through in the next decade and beyond.

Q. The project involves building a new set of locks at each entry point, both the Pacific and Atlantic sides. It’s a massive undertaking that’s lasted the better part of a decade. How long has Dando been working on the project?

A. We started the inquiry process in February of last year; we were commissioning a few Terrier rigs out there. We have an agent out there, E&P Mapintec Comercializadora. We were working with them commissioning Terriers for other soil engineers’ works for a company called 3P Sociedad Limitada Ingenieria Civil. They needed a multipurpose rig for their client, Universidad Técnica de Panama, to do some regular drilling, some coring work and some SPT sampling all on one combined machine, which is where Viking’s Auto Hammer comes into the mix. The rig was customized to their specifications, the major modification being the Viking hammer.

They decided on the Multitec 4000 and we fitted Viking’s SPT hammer on our carriage system, which allows us to do SPT and driven window and window-less sampling. There was some HQ wireline coring as well, so the rig needed to wear a lot of hats, so to speak.

Q. There have been some challenges throughout the completion of this project. What are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome?

A. For us it’s just about taking things slowly and determining the best possible solution for the customer, for us and, ultimately, for the job itself. It’s a group effort, truly — that’s the best way to do things these days. We’re cognizant of the time it’s taken for the project to be completed, but truthfully we’ve just provided the information as it’s been requested. We’ve supported our agent and customer, so in the end our challenges are the same as usual — making the pieces fit. So far the fit has been great!

Q. You’re using the Dando Multitec 4000 rig, which is equipped with both a Duplex Drive 3D sampling system and Viking’s SPT Auto Hammer. How have you been using the rig and how has it performed?

A. The Duplex Drive is a system that works with the Viking Auto Hammer, so it allows you to case and sample at the same time. It allows the hammer to be used in multiple applications, so taking SPT samples in this case. The Viking Auto Hammer has been very successful; our operators have been very pleased with the performance. They’re doing HQ boreholes 35 meters into the ground and taking SPTs along the way.

Q. Is this Dando’s first foray into Central and South America?

A. This is our first multipurpose rig in Panama, but we do have a number of other machines throughout South America, including Terriers, Multitec 4000s and a Sonic SDC 375 in Chile. It’s a growing market — we’ve hired a number of Spanish-speaking employees to better support the work in the region. Do a good job and you’ll attract attention, right? So we just focus on the task at hand.

Q. What’s next for Dando Drilling?

A. We just came back from South Africa from MineExpo and we’re heading to Toronto for PDAC [the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada convention] in March alongside our pals from Viking, so that’s exciting. Viking signed on as the North American distributor for Dando this past year and we’ve already seen some solid results with that. The interest with our limited access Terrier rigs has been particularly strong. While we’re in Toronto for PDAC we’re going to check out our first hockey game — I believe the team is the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Q. Oh dear …

A. [Laughs] Yep. On this side of the pond our main focus is looking for more options for the 4000 rig, as well as developing our larger water well rigs and looking for development opportunities in geotechnical rigs.

Q. So you guys have a lot on your plate on the moment?

A. Now that I hear it out loud, apparently we do, yes! Seriously, it’s great but it all comes back to the work and creating something valuable that people can use. We have some great developments on the horizon and we hope to have some unique solutions to release in 2016 and beyond.