Tech Forum: Streamline Your HDD Operations with these Two Crucial Lean Principles

kyle robertson


HDD drillers are always looking for ways to streamline operations. After all, more efficiency means greater speed, safety, and profitability.


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“Lean” production principles aim to minimize waste of time, resources or extraneous processes that doesn’t add value to the finished product. This philosophy emerged from the Toyota Production System, which is an effective method for attaining maximum efficiency at every process stage and was popularized during the 1980s by the car company of the same name.

Today, drillers can benefit from these proven strategies to save money and time. In this article, we’ll show how to apply two important lean principles to our own operations and give you some tips on how to get started using lean in your HDD operations.

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Lean Principle 1: “5S”

5S (pronounced, “Five-S” or sometimes, “The 5Ss”) are five directives that keep a workspace organized, in order to achieve greater efficiency. The five Ss are: Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, Sustain.

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  • Sort – Sort through your tools, machinery and HDD equipment. Getting to know exactly what you have on hand makes you aware of equipment gaps and shows you where you have extra.

  • Set in Order – Arrange all your HDD tools and equipment in a way that makes it easier to access the most often used materials. Keep everything important close at hand. We use this idea at our own workbenches by drawing outlines of tools against a pegboard so it’s clear where all important tools are stored and it becomes obvious when a tool is missing.

  • Shine – Clean everything up. Repaint if needed. A clean, organized workstation is the backdrop for a smoother workflow.

  • Standardize – After establishing a place for every tool, standardize these set-ups across all your trucks, workbenches, etc.

  • Sustain – Not only should you sustain this organized behavior, but you should continue to improve upon these existing processes. For many, this is the most challenging part of the process.

HDD operations have a prime opportunity to use 5S when crews are idle. Run the 5S treatment to organize equipment on trucks or in the tool shed. Standardizing HDD tool boxes and equipment trucks means less time running back and forth from the truck to the pit to pick up forgotten tools and less stalled jobs while waiting for equipment delivery. As an added bonus, by handling and organizing tools to match their workflows, your crews develop a stronger sense of ownership over the job process itself.

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Lean Principle 2: “Kanban”

This idea refers to regulating your component supply to keep your operation running smoothly.

It means setting an upper limit of on-hand supplies while ensuring you always have access to what you need so you can avoid slowdowns while waiting for resupply.

For example, in the Melfred Borzall factory, we use many different bolts during the production of HDD tools. Running out of something as small as a bolt can have major consequences. In some cases, it can bring production grinding to a halt. Therefore, we always keep two bins of each bolt at the ready. The bin in use occupies the space at the front of the shelf, while the backup bin is placed directly behind it. When the first bin is empty, the engineer turns it over to the shop supervisor for reordering, then begins using bolts from the backup bin. When the original bin is restocked, we replace it behind the current in-use bin. This small adjustment makes for an uninterrupted process.

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When we visit HDD drillers in the field, we see drilling operations get stopped cold because crews run out of supplies or need replacement equipment. We get too many calls from HDD drillers asking us to rush-ship a new blade or adapter in order to keep their operation going. It’s not a big issue for us (we can overnight anything we have in stock), but drillers are forced to pay hefty shipping fees and wait for deliveries.

A Kanban system helps keep drillers drilling. For your most-commonly used tools, this idea would save you from expensive overnight shipping fees. If you normally carry five of a certain type of blade, make a rule that you reorder when you get down to two. This isn’t just a system for storage, either. You can use Kanban for your reorder process for any part of your operation. Bringing in used tools or empty bins tells your purchaser what needs to be ordered. An electronic bar code system eliminates time spent filling out request forms or re-order paperwork. The point is to make sure you never run out of the supplies you need to keep working.

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Lean principles can enhance every area of your operations, not just your actual job site. Apply these concepts to your tool shed, work trucks, back office organization, or any other area where you’re not achieving maximum efficiency.

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Kyle Robertson is industrial engineer at Melfred Borzall.

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