We have been telling you for years now to use “the right stuff” when it comes to horizontal directional drilling (HDD) drilling fluids. Our industry has designed fluid additives specifically to address challenges in the HDD industry. Most of you have embraced these products as part of your toolbox for successful job completions.
Then along comes supply chain issues. If you are as tired of hearing this term as I am then you will understand some frustration in my writing this article.
We constantly get the call, ”Well, I want to use the right stuff but what can I substitute for this product because I can’t get what I normally use?” I cannot speak to your entire supply chain, only to us and our ability to get a bag of bentonite or a bucket of polymer in your hands. How hard can it be to supply bentonite — you dig it up in your backyard and put it in a bag?
Let’s start there with COVID-19 quarantine restrictions and the loss of mining and production time. As all contractors are painfully aware lost production time can never be regained. We are considered an essential manufacturer but are still subject to COVID guidelines. One person tests positive on a five-person shift and all are off work:
- Processing the product requires not only production time but also additives and packaging. We recently heard from our bag manufacturer that empty paper bags are eight months out, yes you guessed it “supply chain issues.”
- GHS, NSF, and ISO requirements have changed the days when we could just put material in a plain brown bag if we run out of standard packaging. Additives used to enhance the performance of the clay also carry long lead times. Again, NSF and ISO certification does not allow for easy additive manufacturer substitution without going through a product recertification process.
- Wyo-Ben was proactive early on with additive inventory, which helped to keep us producing material with little interruption.
- Pallets and wrap have not been spared either with price changes coming every two weeks. Pallet pricing doubled from January 2021 through July 2021. Lumber prices filtered back to the pallet industry with home building going great guns and COVID restrictions on the logging industry limiting log supply. When lumber prices and availability settled a bit, a nail shortage and transportation costs crept in to create additional supply chain issues.
- Chemical and polymer additives are being affected by supply chain issues, as well. Some suppliers have limited our purchases and backorders. Certain products are ordered months in advance, with scheduled ship dates throughout the year. While much has been said about the container shipments from China, container congestion and cost are issues for all imports and exports. While we do little with China directly, the impact is felt on imports from other countries, we do business with causing supply chain issues. Often, pricing is determined at the time of shipment vs. when the purchase order was written due in part to these unknown extended costs. So do not be surprised by abrupt price changes from your distributor as new shipments arrive.
- Packaging is also in short supply with bucket pricing doubling in 2021. We have been forced to find alternate packaging sources for buckets and jugs due the resin shortage from the gulf coast chemical shutdown over a year ago. Another factor in packaging supply has been the e-commerce explosive growth. The boxes and bags we use need the same paper being used to make boxes shipped to your home.
Sometimes we make the HDD drilling fluid system we use more complicated than it needs to be.
Wyo-Ben and our competitors offer quite a few different products to the HDD industry to perform specific functions. Some mix designs are better suited to a jobsite chemist vs. the person mixing mud who has been in that position for the better part of two weeks.
I frequently ask contractors what they are mixing and why. Most are comfortable with an HDD drilling fluid system that keeps them out of trouble and allows them to finish the job in a timely manner.
What I have also found is the more products you have going into a drilling fluid mix the better chance you will be out of at least one of them. Understanding what you are adding and why is important for this very reason. Can I move ahead with drilling without the full slate of products, find a replacement or do I shut down and wait. When I receive the call asking what I can substitute for a given product, I will ask a number of questions, such as are you recycling the fluid, groundwater quality, site requirements (NSF), size and length of bore and formation type are all going into my recommendation.
Sometimes it’s a simple fix of moving from a liquid to a dry product that does the same thing or changing how much fluid is pumped. Having a conversation from time to time with your drilling fluid supplier is always a good idea to make sure we understand how you are using the product and if a simple tweak can make you more productive or just make your life easier. We are back to pretty much a normal travel schedule and offering training classes thru our distributors so even if you have your fluids well in hand take the opportunity to sit in and ask some questions.
With all that has been said, we have been extremely fortunate to have had a couple of pretty good years. Most HDD contractors have told me that business has been strong.