Tom Moffitt knows drill rigs and drill rig development. Now a geothermal and drilling consultant, the former Atlas Copco (now Epiroc) sales and product line manager has had a front-row seat to rig evolution over his 20-plus years in the industry.
“A lot of my job was traveling out to the field and meeting with customers and trying to learn, what where their pain points?” Moffitt says. “How could we help them improve the rig from a productivity and safety point of view?”
Moffitt came on our Drilling In-Site video and podcast series to discuss drill rig development, the supply chain and other topics. This is an edited summary of our talk. Click here to see the full video, or here to listen to the podcast.
Q. It seems obvious that you’d want equipment to improve over time, but there’s always going to be pushback over price and just plain inertia. What’s the case for changing a perfectly good rig that makes perfectly good hole?
A. It comes down to, where can you improve productivity of the machine, the longevity of the machine and, importantly, safety? We all want to have a safer drilling machine. Those were things that I at least tried to look and, as a company, we tried to look at. At the same time, you got to keep product cost in mind because you want people to buy the product. There’s so much that could be done to a drill today, but it would be a $2-3 million drill rig that nobody would buy. You have to keep in mind what the market is willing to pay for. But there’s things that are easier to do from a longevity point of view, [like] switching to nylon sheaves versus metal sheaves. Or going from a pipe wrench to a Petol wrench, from a safety aspect. There’s things like that, [but] a dramatically different machine is hard to introduced to the market.
Q. Let’s get right to those changes. Companies obviously don’t turn over their rigs every year. But what’s a big product development from, say, the last 10 years — for either production or safety — that needs wider adoption?
A. Let me jump back to the prior question for a second, which ties into this. Probably one of the biggest changes over the last 10 years has been the engine changes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t improve productivity, but it’s all EPA mandated to get us a cleaner environment. Those those things are mandated and as a manufacturer that takes a tremendous amount of work to go from Tier 0, which was back in the ’90s, to Tier 1, 2, 3, 4 Interim and then 4 Final. You’re constantly redesigning your cooling system and then the truck manufacturers are also making changes.
As far as the last 10 years ... I’d say I think you see a lot more rod-handling systems and … some people have some better breakout systems. As I said, we moved away from pipe wrenches to Petol wrenches, but there’s even more automated breakout systems that are available. A lot of European machines have safer breakout systems.
From a productivity side, if we look back to the changes in the engines, it’s pushed a lot of the rig manufacturers to go to PTO-based (power take-off based) equipment. Traditionally, most big air-rotary machines, which is typically the market we sold to, and some mud rotary equipment, it was all two engines with a deck engine and you had a big air compressor and everything. Because of the EPA mandates, it just got really hard to be able to do everything on a two-engine rig due to weight, space, truck designs and everything. Most manufacturers have moved to mostly or strictly PTO-based equipment. In doing so, it was you trying to get a bigger engine under the hood to get you a bigger air packaged and then pushing the pullback capability of those machines so that we could drill deeper holes. There’s been a tremendous amount of shift from deck-engine machines, to PTO and trying to get them to go do what deck-engine machines have done in the past.
Q. Is this the worst you have ever seen the supply chain issues with trucks and other components?
A. It’s a challenge. I remember once, years and years ago, when somebody from the accounting department came up and said, “You need to build one standard configuration.” I think it was a T4W … or maybe it was at T3. East and West are different. The Midwest is different and I was like, “Do you want to cut our sales in half?” You can’t do that, and at that time the rig’s weren’t designed to be as flexible to reconfigure them. It’s tough. With the supply chain issues today, trucks are probably the biggest issue. When I was at NGWA, I talked to a couple of the manufacturers. You’d hear stories: “We ordered 24 trucks and the manufacturer told us we’re getting 12.” … Unfortunately, the industry is small and to a major truck manufacturer, you know, Wal-mart can come in and order 200 trucks and, as a whole industry, we’re probably only going to order, of that class of machine, maybe 60 trucks among four or five different manufacturers. It’s really tough right now as a manufacturer. All of them are supply chain constrained. It’s almost like you need to build your own truck. But I’m not suggesting that.
Q. How do you incorporate safety standards to an industry that rebels against it?
A. I think it’s trying to get people accepting of some of the technology that’s out there. The rod handling, people get afraid of, “Well, if I push the button, and it doesn’t work …” Trying to simplify it, so that it does work every time, because rod handling is scary. I mean, you’re picking up a drill rod and — especially if you’re using a Murphy plug or something like that — you hit the rod and people have been seriously injured and killed from that. So it’s trying to move the industry forward. That’s why we would look to partner with certain drillers and have them be kind of a showcase for us. We could bring in customers to watch them drill and see how the new product worked and the technology, and to get them to accept it.
As far as on delivery of a new machine, it starts with training the operators. You know, how to run the machine safely during the startup. And every rig goes out with a training manual. There’s a placards on the side with, “don’t do this” and “don’t do that.” Do people look at those? Not always. … We constantly read about that happening. You know, look up before you do that. There are sensors and things that could be put on the rig that would warn you that there are power lines. It all costs money, but it can be done. But people have to be willing to pay for it.
As a manufacturer, you’re constantly looking at, how do we keep it cost-effective [enough] that somebody’s going to buy but trying to build as safe a product as possible. It’s a challenge. On the weight issue, I’ve been out and seen people who had, I don’t know, five, six, seven extra drill rod loaded on the drill pipe tub. Then they’ve had a mud pit hanging down on the back of the drill rig and it’s loaded with bags of mud. It’s just terrible because that weight’s cantilevered over the back and it’s adding a tremendous amount of weight. … From an engineering point of view, we don’t look at it when we’re doing our axle ratios and weight rations. Well, jeez, what if somebody adds a mud pit on the back? If we supply one, then we calculated in. But if somebody does it after the fact and then loads it up with all their tooling? … It’s best for the drillers to talk to the manufacturer if they plan to do some of these things with it. We try to build them as safe as we can, but there’s always somebody that’s going to do something you didn’t expect.
The Full Interview
We interviewed geothermal and drilling consultant Tom Moffitt for episodes 44 and 45 of Drilling In-Site. See this and other conversations at www.thedriller.com/insite or listen to the podcast version at www.thedriller.com/insite-podcast. Also available in Apple’s Podcast store and Spotify.
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