It’s just a few weeks from Christmas and the reverse circulation swivel on a high-profile drilling project fails. Immediately the call for help goes out to the industry looking for a replacement that fits rig specifications, fast. The drill rig is the company’s heart, and when it stops beating, the company comes to a complete halt. Every day down impacts morale, revenue and future scheduling, further impacting revenue.
In this case, at the 11th hour, a call came in from Chris Delahunty of Matrix Drilling Products. He says, “I believe we can help you get back to drilling.” The team dropped everything and headed for Lewisburg, Tennessee, to pick up the new side discharge swivel at Matrix. Like a defibrillator shocking the rig, we got back into operation.
After hearing that story from Jason Mckinney, director of drilling on the project, I reached out to Delahunty and the Matrix team to learn more about them.
Q. What is Matrix building, and what are you excited to do next?
A. Our mainstay has always been dual-tube reverse circulation, but recently we find ourselves working with more flooded-reverse tooling. We are excited about the new opportunities to build into HDD, as well as borehole mining.
Q. How do you service multiple sectors of the drilling market and maintain some standardized products?
A. We have a standard product line, but everyone wants a little bit of a twist on it. They want specifics flats, longer or shorter tool joints.
Q. How do you accommodate custom tooling requests?
A. Most of the energy in building drill rods is in the tool joint. The mid-body is pretty straightforward. It is challenging to plan for what a company wants and desires. The best thing we can do is pre-buy our material and stock it so that we are reactive. The current lead time today is about eight weeks. Where I would like to see us is four weeks lead times.
Q. How old is Matrix Drilling Products?
A. Matrix was incorporated in 1976 in Minnesota by Bob Peters. A few years in, he took on a partner who had the welding technology who wanted to be closer to family in Tennessee. So, they packed up the company and moved to Lewisburg, Tennessee.
Q. What was Matrix’s first product?
A. Interesting, the name Matrix comes from the Matrix of a diamond core bit. Founder Bob Peters came from the wireline coring at Boart Longyear. Matrix focused on diamond coring for the first 8 or 9 years. However, that industry is very competitive, so they started shifting toward composite drill rods for rotary drill rods.
Q. When did dual-tube become a focus?
A. Matrix teamed up with Eklund Drilling in Nevada, which was the development start for dual-tube. … A lot of it was trial and error. You know, when you’re on the back of a drill rig and you come up against a problem you think, “How did we just find a new problem?” But, sure enough, you are innovating on-site to fix that problem.
Q. How do you handle mining requests out of the western U.S. from Tennessee?
A. We have a plant in Idaho that has been around since the R&D days of Eklund. Today, it is used for the final assembly of products as we shift RC products utilized most out West to be closer, and help alleviate shipping and weather issues. The Idaho facility mostly has done repair and rework [on] our rods to understand our tooling lifecycle better.
Q. How did you get into the drilling industry?
A. I came out of college with a degree in mathematics, physics at Southern Utah. Then I got my master’s in civil engineering at the University of Utah. When I got out of college, my first job offer was with a coring company. I said, “Why not?” I didn't know the first thing about it. This was in 1999. They plunked me on a little island in the Caribbean by the name of Montserrat, on an active volcano installing long wave seismometers for detecting volcanic eruptions. I was hooked.
Q. From drilling volcanos to owning a tooling company, did you ever think you would be in manufacturing?
A. I had my own manufacturing company doing very small contract stuff for a long time. But I did not imagine this, no. It has been a blessing to be here. I did some time to cool my heels away from drilling, but after a year and a half of working power infrastructure, I had the itch to be back in the drilling industry. So I posted on LinkedIn “I want to be in the drilling industry,” and Kent, the owner of Matrix, reached out to discuss a continuation plan for Matrix’s future.
Q. Is Matrix sprinting right now with all the product offerings and innovation?
A. It’s exciting times for sure. From Bob Peters’ creation to his son, Kent, taking the reins in 2004, they have continually pushed and innovated. Kent brought a new perspective from the other manufacturing companies he had worked with while away from Matrix. Kent and Nancy Peters had several big growth implementations over the years, from bringing in new machinery to expanding the facility with more buildings. The decisions made to build create a solid foundation for Matrix and are allowing us to innovate continually. We have big goals for the future.
Q. How do you maintain and achieve those goals?
A. We have adopted the Traction Entrepreneurial Operating System, which is a methodology on how to run your company through accountability. Our company’s attributes are: quality driven; accountable; learn and improve; fearless; and client first. We chose these attributes for our system, and they help us deal with all aspects of our business. The system gives us checks and balances to set and meet our goals. We have great buy-in from the team on our system. It helps everyone know their path and even pay scale as they progress working on their “Rocks” [the priority framework for the system]. They can see how to get from point A to B.
Q. What drove Matrix to the Traction path?
A. There were a few things that drove me there. Number one: We are a company with eight 30-year team members out of a 50-person company. We have two more transitioning to 30 years this year, so it's a big deal with 20% of your company having been part of it for 30 years. Two: I don’t want to be part of some company; I want to be part of a company that cares for the people near and dear to me. In the drilling industry, when you are out on-site, that is a family. You live together, you breathe together, you work together, you share a bunk together and you are getting as close to these guys as your true family. Because you are away from your real family, and I knew that was hard, I constantly checked in on them and their wives to see if they needed anything. The most phenomenal way to run a company is to be a family, and for the Matrix team, I want nothing but the best. I want every employee to know that what we are doing today will benefit them tomorrow.
Q. Talk about your outside sales and technical team.
A. In the east is John Millard, who started in western Canada and worked worldwide. West is Aaron Maurer, who came from WDC, Cascade and Layne. George Burnhart is running new clientele. Our latest team member is Art Steelman from Boart Longyear; he is going to do our technical training to help our new clients jump some curves.
Q. How do you jump some curves?
A. Matrix has done a great job over the years teaching companies how to replicate success consistently. We can say, “Hey, we know the recipe; if you stick to this plan, you will have a cake at the end.” So, getting those drilling industry experts in coring, dual tube, reverse circulation, and other applications out into the industry to talk and share knowledge on being successful worldwide.
Q. I would love to be a fly on the wall when you are all together; what do you all do together?
A. They are definitely passionate about drilling; very quickly on, you see that they are not just out to make a buck. Every one of them will make a detour when they see a rig from the highway. They love drilling.
Q. I think about all the times drillers were helping influence engineering while designing rigs. How does Matrix utilize that with you and your technical team?
A. It is incredible to help employees of manufacturing see it from the point of view of a driller. We all know the stakes of reliability and continuing to operate. When I was DOSECC Exploration, the general rule for when we were down was, I had to do whatever it takes to get operational again. Because if you are down two days, that is even worse. We understand that the people we serve are operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They don’t take weekends off and, when needed, neither do we. Hence, the desire to shorten up a lead time on brand new manufacturing and build up inventory on consumables that can be shipped up overnight.