No Excuses: The Bore Does Not Care

Some Straight Talk from a Veteran Driller on Road Boring and Tooling
By Charles Webb — Aug 21, 2013

TheI have been drilling for more than three decades.

I grew up in the “Point and Pray” days. That is when we pointed our drill stem in the direction we wanted to go and prayed that we came out on target. A long bore in those days was 100 ft. With the new technology that is offered today, it is common for bores to be more than 500 ft in length. But technology always has to be improved.

I am drill rig operator, a road boring contractor and downhole tool designer. The most important thing that I’ve learned is that “road boring is all or nothing.” It relies on every link in the chain to accomplish the goal. The chain starts when the bore is conceived until it is accepted by the owner. Several of the links in the chain are designing, pricing, planning and executing. I’ll discuss each of these.

Do you bore or open-cut? Should it be a dry bore or a wet bore? Boring can be a very cost-effective method of installing utilities under many obstacles. Bores can be made under water, road ways, buildings and vegetation. I’ve bored, on purpose, into manholes, basements, lakes and dams. To get the best price as an engineer or owner, take the time to talk and listen to the people who will be likely to make the bores. Even though it has gotten better lately, designs still show up on my desk showing bores that could be completed as designed but could be laid out in such a way that would make it a whole lot easier to do and thus cheaper.

Price the job appropriately. There is nothing more stressful to boring than knowing that you or your company bid a bore too cheap. Proper pricing of bores is fundamental to performing a bore properly. It gives you the freedom to do the bore right and relieves some of the stress associated with boring. I’ve also found it advantageous to have more than one crew boring on different projects. Invariably one of the crews will have problems and lose money while the other one will have smooth sailing and make money.

Planning is one of the most important links in the chain. It involves gathering all of the information that you can about the soil conditions, the topography, existing utilities and the drawings. Choose the correct machine for the job. Smaller machines are cheaper to run but larger machines can operate under tougher conditions. Choose the best downhole tooling, not the cheapest. I’ve even taken the time to design my own line of tooling based on my experiences. Lastly, either use bore planner software or paper and pencil to visually layout the best route for the bore.

Executing the plan for the designed bore under the given budget is always the goal. Don’t give your crews any excuses; the bore will give them plenty.

First, never focus on the cost of your tooling. I say this because no matter the cost of your tools you will always lose money if you do not use the best tools available. That does not mean that the best price is not the best tools. That means you need to research and make decisions based on performance. When at all possible, test downhole tools under the same conditions to get a true picture of their performance. Make sure that they are sharp and in good working order. Road boring is cutting and displacing the earth to install product. Dull tooling will make it harder to achieve your goal. Also, keep spare tools on hand for when one breaks (and it will).

Secondly, establish procedures that are similar on each bore. Drillers like the rest of us are creatures of habit. If the procedures are established early and followed it is more likely that the bore will be completed on budget.

Thirdly, train your employees on the established procedures. When I first started drilling I hated it. One of the reasons is that I had very little training, but I was still expected to produce. Having said this, you should have a system to ensure that your drillers have followed your procedures and training without cutting corners.
With proper tooling, procedures and training you will have drillers that are less stressed and enjoy coming to work. Life is about having fun and not stressing out.

In my own business, I try to eliminate the weak link when I find one. I am always changing and tweaking our procedures. I’ve even designed downhole tools to eliminate the some of the weaknesses that the popular brands have. These tools are based on correcting problems that my employees and I have had in the field. By using the best tooling you can get, life becomes enjoyable.

What is your weakest link? I’ve listed some potential weak links in the chain when it comes to road boring. Your job is to identify your weakest link. And remember, the bore does not care!

Charles Webb is president of Armadrillco and founder of Southwest Horizontal Drilling Services, based in Fort Worth, Texas.

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