Compact Directional Drill Rigs: A Good Maintenance Program Goes a Long Way

Directional drilling contractors like to get the most out of their drill rigs, to say the least. They are also some of the most knowledgeable contractors out there and have a keen sense of what their machines are capable of.

But any good, successful HDD contractor will tell you that one of the keys to their success is a solid maintenance program. Maintenance programs range from basic to complex depending on the size of the contractor and number of machines they’re dealing with. But one thing is consistent, the user manual often serves as the basis of maintenance operations.

“The user manual is often the best place to start building a successful and safe maintenance program for a directional drill rig,” says directional drilling specialist John Olander, TT Technologies, Aurora, Ill. “When is the manufacturer telling operators to change the oil?  Sometimes it’s based on hours and/or operational conditions. The severity the operation can change those service intervals. But changing oil is probably one of the shortest intervals. Those items are spelled out in the manual and that’s a great place to start. Ultimately the operator needs to know the drill rig’s capabilities and how to operate it correctly too. They need to be aware of approved safe operating practices and procedures.

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“All of these things will help ensure the maximum working life of the drill rig. Like any other piece of construction equipment, proper maintenance and safe operating practices for a compact directional drill rig begin with the manual.”

When it comes to the ultimate cost of maintenance programs some contractors actually keep a list of detailed expenses of all costs related to operating a particular machine. They keep track of what’s been done, maintenance, repairs, etc., over the life of the machine. Depending on a company’s fleet or size of operation, this type of information can be very valuable in terms of the profitability of jobs and identifying problem areas.

Daily Checks

Daily checks help alert crews to potential maintenance issues, as well as potential safety hazards. Olander suggests following the manufacturer’s recommended service intervals and becoming familiar with all lubrication points and fluid level checkpoints. Check all fluid levels and grease/lubricate according to an approved maintenance schedule. Inspect for any fluid leaks and repair as needed.

Areas that need consistent maintenance include the radiator and the hydraulic oil cooler. While checking and changing the engine oil seems basic, often overlooked is anti-freeze. Keeping both the radiator and the hydraulic oil cooler clean and free of debris is also essential.

“If oil has entered the fins of the radiator and/or the hydraulic oil cooler, a detergent is needed to remove the oil film,” Olander said. “It is very important to remove any trace of oil from the fins because the oil attracts and holds dust. That dust acts as an insulator and can cause both components to run hotter than normal. Running hotter than normal is a warning sign that something’s not right.”

Physical Inspection

Physical inspections, according to Olander, involve getting up close and personal with the machine. “Check the tracks and track tension. Inspect the condition of the drill stem and drill stem joints. Inspect the vice jaws and vice linkage, as well as the condition of the sub-saver.

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Make sure all electrical and fluid connections are intact.  A small fluid leak can become a big one and then a big problem quickly. Also, check to make certain that mechanical and electrical controls are all in good working order before drilling begins.”

“Operators need to keep an eye on machine hoses,” Olander said. “Most drills have some sort of power track that carries the hoses from the stationary base of the machine to the drill head. Hoses last a long time, but the bottom line is they’re a wear item.”

The easiest way to keep the engine running at peak performance is to service it according to manufacturer recommendations.

On the Job

Once the operator is familiar with the equipment and knows what the capabilities of the rig are, staying within the correct and proper usage standards is key. “Pushing a machine past its capacity is a quick way to dramatically reduce its working life. That can lead to problems and some can be more serious than just equipment failure. Pushing tolerances can also put operators in danger,” Olander said.

One way to avoid situations that push a machine beyond its operating capacity is to do a pre-bore plan. This plan will help users avoid exceeding drill stem minimum bend radius issues, as well as keep thrust and pullback within machine tolerance. A pre-bore plan should also identify potential pitfalls and problem areas on the job site itself. This includes locating and identifying any and all adjacent utilities.

In addition, on-site checks of the strike alert system and equipment emergency stop switches are critical to safe operations.

Changing with the Seasons

“No matter where a contractor is located, eventually companies will reach a point in their construction season where they will schedule a drill to be down and come in for more in depth service,” Olander said.

“This usually occurs when its time to do some of the longer service interval work like changing hydraulic fluid for example. When it’s time to do that, it’s a good time do a more thorough inspection of the rig. For example, even though these are not part of a routine maintenance plan items like jaws, the vice inserts or the subsaver, often need to be replaced on an as-worn basis.”

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After the Bore

Post job inspections and proper equipment storage help keep machines running. Olander recommends disassembling, cleaning, and properly storing HDD location equipment. This includes recharging batteries as recommended by manufacturer. Cleaning and properly storing drill rod, the drill head, and back reamers will also pay dividends. Rotating drill stems to make sure they all get any even amount of usage is also recommended. And finally, cleaning the directional drill itself and practicing proper trailering techniques will add life to the rig.
Jim Schill is a technical writer in Mankato, Minn.