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Radius HDD: Looking at Things a Little Differently

Radius HDD wants to talk tooling with you. All day. Every day.

That pretty much sums up how a company that started out with five employees less than 12 years ago has expanded into one of the most respected businesses in the industry.

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Radius HDD (Radius) is a leading drilling tool manufacturer for the horizontal directional drilling (HDD) industry that started out small, found its niche in aftermarket HDD tooling, and hasn’t slowed down since.

“Part of the message we continue to push is that we spend more time with HDD contractors, talking specifically about tools,” says Radius president and co-founder Riff Wright. “We can talk rigs, mud systems, you name it, but our focus is always on HDD tools.”

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Radius HDD was founded by Riff Wright (left) and David Bullock initially as a tooling repair shop.

And all the while Radius is talking tools and making tools, it has retained its signature quirky personality and informality that its customers and the HDD community has come to know.

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“We can be an odd bunch sometimes,” says Wright, laughing. “Our culture is probably our biggest differentiator. I have never worked with a more passionate group of people. We love this company and the work environment it provides. Once you have that love of company, then the commitment to improve and make it successful is pretty easy to bring along.

“We don’t take ourselves too seriously and we insist on having fun,” he says.

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An HDD tooling manufacturer since 2006, Radius HDD was acquired by Charles Machine Works (CMW) in 2011, joining its family of companies that now includes American Augers, MTI Equipment, Subsite Electronics, HammerHead Trenchless, Trencor, DW/TXS and Ditch Witch. Under the umbrella of a pioneering HDD company, Radius now has the financial resources and internal support to expand its product line and customer reach.

Fast forward to 2018. Radius still calls Weatherford, Texas, home but has moved to larger, newly constructed 45,000-sq ft manufacturing digs.

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“We had the incredible opportunity to design and build a facility completely dedicated to manufacturing HDD tools,” Wright says.

Instead of a single product, the company has not only a full catalog of standard HDD tooling from the drive chuck to the sonde housing to rock tooling and reamers, but also a complete line of maxi tooling, as well. In addition, its workforce has grown 15 times over its starting size to 56 employees today.

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“We are fortunate to be headquartered in an area where HDD drilling have been consistently strong,” Wright says.

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Remaining in such proximity to its core customers allows Radius to keep their ears to the ground and to continue tapping into the wants and needs of drillers. However, Radius’ selling power isn’t just limited to Texas. The company sells across North America, Europe, the United Kingdom, India, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the Middle East.

“When Charles Machine Works acquired us, we set a goal, along with the rest of the CMW companies, for where we wanted to be by 2020,” Wright says. “Radius is very close to achieving that goal and we certainly owe a good bit of our success to the efforts of our sister companies. It is remarkable to see the how each of the companies in the family are contributing to the growth and development of each other.”

“We have recently begun working on our Beyond 2020 goals that will take our company into several new areas,” Wright says. “We certainly don’t plan to stop at the size we are now. We have some exciting stuff coming up in the next several years.”

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Getting Started

Radius actually got its start not in making tools, but repairing them. Wright and co-founder David Bullock had been working at a small HDD company and decided to strike out on their own in 2003. They found early success in repairing existing tooling. This niche market also gave them insight into how HDD tools were designed by what repairs were consistently showing up in their work orders. After a few years, the pair decided they had a pretty good idea of how to make the perfect HDD drill bit.

RELATED: Getting the Most Out of Your HDD Tooling

“We started to see specific shortcomings in various tools — and that’s not talking bad about anyone else’s tools,” Wright says. “That’s just saying that we noticed that a particular tool wore out in a certain spot and this particular tool always broke at this spot, etc. After seeing that repeatedly for a few years, we decided to design our own tool, designing around those weaknesses.”

What really pushed them over to the design and manufacturing side was a lawsuit filed by their former employer, demanding they cease and desist from working on any of their products, due to patent restrictions.

“That lawsuit really was the catalyst for us to start making our own tools,” Wright says. “What could have put us out of business, actually put us on the map because we had to make our own tool to simply stay in business.

Thus, the Radius Rock Bit came to be. One of its unique features is its design to allow for pullback, when not back reaming, without disconnecting — a feature developed after hearing from drillers in the field.

“We felt like we developed a geometry that optimized both steerability and control better than competing tools,” Wright says. “We also implemented a pullback feature into the rock bit that we patented in 2012 that was a direct result of a driller telling us, ‘We love that this bit can drill through hard, solid formations but we still have to take the time to disconnect it and put on a pulling device to pull back.’”

Radius found its niche in the upstart HDD market right as it was on the cusp of an unprecedented, explosive growth. Having just one product was unique, as Radius’ competitors offered a complete line of HDD tooling. Wright says that at the time, being a small company allowed Radius to focus on one tool and become experts at making it.

Twenty years ago, contractors were extremely brand loyal, with all their rigs coming from a specific brand or OEM and, in turn, so did their tooling. Today, that is not always the case, as contractors are now intertwining their fleets with different brands, which opens the door for companies like Radius.

“In the mid-2000s, with the advent of the Ditch Witch all-terrain machine, we started to see contractors cross-pollenating their rig fleet,” Wright explains. “As that happened, we started to see people who needed a resource that understood tooling for all rigs. That’s our niche. We stepped in and became the tooling connectivity experts from an aftermarket standpoint.”

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When CMW purchased Radius, it opened the door for the company to take a giant leap forward. Now Radius had the financial resources and support to expand its product line, while still offering the Radius Rock Bit as its core product. Radius has grown exponentially since the acquisition, in terms of size and product offering, as well as visibility.

“When we were introduced to the folks at CMW, we realized pretty quickly that we had the same vision,” Wright says, “and that’s equipping drillers with options to be successful. Options like availability, compatibility, performance. It wasn’t a hard decision. When we joined forces, we saw an incredible response from contractors.”

The partnership also resulted in a new tooling line for Radius that focuses on maxi tooling. One year after Radius joined the CMW family of companies, American Augers — a manufacturer of maxi size rigs, as well as auger boring machines —was purchased by CMW. In 2013, the Radius Max tooling line was born. Radius worked directly with American Augers to develop tooling and products for maxi rig contractors.

The key to the company’s continued success – Radius is still Radius.

“CMW sees the value in our culture and they encourage us to be true to our roots and foster the desire to be a bigger, better company,” Wright says.

“At Radius, we eat sleep and breathe HDD tools,” he says. “We have committed ourselves to being the experts in the field. We probably study tooling and connections more than anybody else in the industry.”

Wright goes so far as to say that the company’s knowledge of HDD tools transcends brand loyalty, with dealers, contractors and aftermarket representatives reaching out to them with questions when a tool or project has them stumped.

“Even if it’s something we can’t sell them, we have the insight to point them to the answer and help keep them drilling and making money,” he says.

HDD Market

Wright says the HDD market is in a really good place these days, rebounding from its lowest point in the mid-2000s when the dot com segment bottomed out. He attributes the market’s strength to the resurgence of fiber installation across North America, as well as the shale plays that drive the pipeline work.

“You combine those two things and it’s creating a pretty active HDD environment today,” he says. “I don’t think we will ever match what we got to experience in the early 2000s during the original dot com boom. But the last few years have been some of the strongest I’ve seen since that time.”

The evolution of the HDD tools themselves is always in a state of change and advancement with all companies working to improve existing products and develop new ones.

“We’ve seen the accuracy and durability of tools improve over time” Wright says. “Where you see the benefit of that is by combining the control and precision of new HDD rigs and the accuracy of electronics that are available today. You put all three of those together — rigs, electronics and the tools — and you’re starting to see drillers who can really thread the needle. They are working in tight easements and they’re going in more confidently because they can control and know exactly what’s going on underground.”

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As Radius continues to develop tools for the growing HDD market, Wright says the company will continue to rely on its core strengths, which is its ability to look at a project a little differently.

“If everyone else is moving this way toward an issue, we like to come at it from a completely different angle. We feel like it’s that eccentricity that really helps us to see things in a different light than our competitors. It’s a big component of our success.”

But for all the “eccentricities” that fuels its success, Radius’ No. 1 strength is the people who make the company.

“It’s really about the people,” Wright says. “We have a large group of people here who are making this work. Most companies say that but I mean it with a passion. It is the ability of our people to come together and work the way they do that has really gotten us to where we are and where we are going. I couldn’t be more proud of the company we have become.”

Sharon M. Bueno is managing editor of Trenchless Technology.

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