Your day just went south. You were drilling along, minding your own business and whamo! Drill rod problems. Your threads are damaged, you notice a couple of cracked welds or your drill pipe broke down the hole. Why did the drill pipe have problems, and who is responsible? Did the manufacturer have an issue? Did you do something to cause this? Maybe the downhole conditions created the problem? Or, maybe it’s a combination of factors?

The experienced driller might say, “I’ve been drilling for 30 years and never had this problem before. I’ve pushed, I’ve run loose and it can’t be me.” The manufacturer might say, “I made 200 rods in the same batch as yours and yet you are the only one with problems.” Defective manufacturing or operator error? How do we know?

During my years manufacturing and selling drill rods, I have had customers experience problems. Although these are not common, they are always of concern. If the manufacturer is at fault, what happened? How can we make sure it does not happen again? Most importantly, how can we get our customer back up and running? If the contractor is at fault, how do we convince them? How can we help?

A few years back, I purchased a Panasonic big screen TV. After less than a year, it would no longer turn on. The store where I bought it referred me to Panasonic for service. What a big help that was! Panasonic said they had never experienced this type of problem, but could send out a repair guy for about $350. I went online. There were multiple posts about this relatively common problem. It was a capacitor. My son-in-law fixed it in 30 minutes, and the capacitor was less than 50 cents. Thanks, Panasonic, for the honesty. I got no help from the distributor or factory. I had no clout!

Troubleshooting Pipe Problems

Some problems present a straightforward approach. A broken weld can be examined metallurgically and, if present, manufacturing issues will be exposed. Saw off a disc of drill pipe so that it includes the weld area. In case of a break, take samples of both pieces. Send these to a lab that specializes in weld analysis and, $1,500 to $3,000 later, they will send you a report.

Other problems present a more nuanced analysis. You just bought a new string of drill rods and, after a couple of holes, you see thread issues. Perhaps you found it difficult to break a connection and, upon inspection, you see extensive galling. You look and find a lot of thread damage in many of your drill rods. Once drill pipe have been run, it is very difficult to measure to determine if they were properly machined — if they gage.

In both the manufacturing process and drilling operations, there are plenty of opportunities to create thread problems. If there are rods not yet put in service, these can be checked. But if the connections were phosphated or shot-peened, then this inspection is limited. Sometimes mixing new with well-worn drill pipe can create thread problems. All drill pipe passes through the top sub, so this can be an issue or, when thread problems start, will become an issue. Was a break-in procedure followed? How do we navigate the possibilities as a driller when drill pipe problems happen?

The Value of a Distributor

If you buy a new string of drill rods every three years, that $20,000 does not buy you a lot of clout with most manufacturers if you bought directly from them. That said, the underlying threat of the news spreading in the industry is a potent driver of warranty consideration. This is where the distributor steps in.

One of the jobs of the distributor is to advocate for you with the manufacturer. You might spend $20,000 every three years, but a distributor might buy $500,000 every year, or more. That is clout. The better this distributor’s product knowledge, the better the help they can provide to the driller. The more knowledgeable your distributor, the better the advocacy, which is a nice insurance policy. Over the years, I have called “BS” on some excuses I have heard from various manufacturers. We are not talking about one or two pieces, where warranty might be issued as a customer service gesture. When it becomes 20 or 50 pieces, then it gets serious.

As a distributor, I work for both the factory and the consumer. The factory depends on me to screen and gather information. The driller depends on me to make sure the factory stands behind their product if it is their fault.

Here is an example. I sold 60 pieces of a 5½-by-.361-inch wall by 30-foot rod to a drilling contractor drilling larger-diameter holes. Six months after the sale, I received a report that two welds had cracked within a couple days of each other, spurring a full inspection — only to find multiple cracked welds.

Some might say that if the welds were bad, they would have failed long ago. For certain weld problems, maybe that is so. It was possible that the rig was drilling in severe drilling conditions, or that the driller was pushing too hard or had a poor drill string design. I asked some questions as to hole sizes, depths, etc. I requested a sample cracked weld.

In the meantime, I was on the phone with the manufacturer. I suspected that the welds failed due to insufficient post-weld heat treatment. In this situation, hard spots in the weld zone can lead to the formation of cracks that work their way to the surface. This can take six months or more. And this would show up in the metallurgical analysis.

After inspecting the failed weld, the factory called and I was quite surprised. It was not a poor weld procedure or poor heat treatment at all. During the manufacturing process, the tool joints were manufactured for the .361-inch wall. Tool joints have a thread on one end and, on the other end, they are machined to match the wall thickness of the tube. When the tubes were brought in from the yard, the yard workers grabbed the .415-inch wall tubes instead of the .361-inch wall tubes. It was a time bomb in the making. Going from the .361-inch wall on the tool joint to the .415-inch wall on the tube at the weld created a severe stress point. The fatigue at this stress point caused the failures.

The factory took back all 60 pieces and put the tool joints on the correct tubes. Problem solved. I guarantee that the factory put in place or reinforced procedures to make sure wall thickness is conformed prior to running through the weld-line. The cost to the contractor was downtime and concern that they might incur a huge cost of drill pipe replacement. The factory performed excellently, being honest and quickly remedying the problem — even at a sizable expense. As the distributor, I helped my customer get their fair shake, thanks to my experience and product knowledge.

The Value of Experience

That was my first experience with a problem caused by this kind of issue. Since then, it has come back to help me. Later on, I dealt with a local contractor who had 4-inch-by-.330-inch wall by 20-foot drill pipe breaking down the hole. This was pipe I did not sell, which was made by a different manufacturer. I metered the wall thickness in the .360-inch range, and knew exactly what happened. In this case, the factory’s buyer went to buy .330-inch wall, and only .380-inch wall was available. It was at the same price so the buyer thought he got a great deal. Unfortunately, no one in the contractor’s yard knew and it was piled on the .330-inch wall pile.

In another instance, I was consulting with a manufacturer that wanted to use the same tool joints for both a 4-millimeter (.157-inch) and 6.3-millimeter (¼-inch) wall tube. I relayed my concerns and told them that if they went ahead, to extensively test the results. I do not know how it worked out, but I suspect it did not go well. I thought it rather silly to save money by stocking only one design tool joint instead of two, when one or two failures could quickly wipe out any savings.

Working with knowledgeable distributors gives you added help when problems happen. They give you clout with the manufacturer. They give you credibility. They also help you make better decisions.

I will quote what is asked, but I will also quote what I think is needed and offer options and explain what these options provide. In the words of the great philosopher, Mick Jagger: “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometime, you’ll find you get what you need.”

Knowledgeable distributors also help prevent bad things from happening by offering better options. You want the person who tells you, “Here is the pricing on what you requested, but in your situation, I would recommend …”

Have problems? Talk is free. Call me. Please limit it to drilling related issues or maybe beekeeping. My record on domestic relations, carpentry, plumbing, electrical, etc., is poor at best.