Digitized Rigs Can Benefit Operations and Workforce

Moving to digitization is vital to the future success of the industry.

By Craig Mayman

The water well industry has undergone significant changes in recent years due to an aging workforce, greater demand, and enhanced environmental regulations.

This change can appear volatile at times, but when examined through the lens of digitization, it is clear the industry is working to make many positive changes regarding its employees, infrastructure, and the environment.

Schramm Inc. has been at the forefront of the industry, exemplifying its dedication to innovation by bridging the digital divide in order to help customers overcome the fears and challenges that go along with the changes taking place within the industry. Though these changes require adaption and flexibility, they are vital to the future success of the industry and provide immense benefits that will be seen throughout the decades to come.

The cyclical nature of the industry is constant, but the recent downturn has revealed a deep need for innovation.

Schramm’s FURY 130 at a drilling site in Idaho. With 130,000 pounds of pullback capacity, the FURY 130 features a remote tethered operator’s station. Photo courtesy Schramm Inc.

The industry has long held a reputation for being slow to adapt to evolving technologies, which has hindered it in past downturns and made it slow to recover during upswings. This hesitation is largely industry-wide, especially as budgets are tight and the move to enhanced technology coming at a steep cost.

The move from antiquated traditional equipment to digitized equipment is a big step and often one companies are reluctant to make as it is such a departure from the status quo.

Making this shift requires patience and planning as well as an understanding of the financial commitment required and the value that will be gained. Companies need to understand what digitization means for operations, and more importantly, how it aligns with the company’s own business case.

Having traveled this road, Schramm is enthusiastic about helping other companies make this transition.

The volume and scale of value coming from digitization is specific to each company, but the presence of value is constant in all circumstances. This evolution is necessary to attract and retain top talent, ensure the safety of all workers and operations, and meet the demanding federal environmental regulations.

However, measuring this value is not solely based on dollars. Improved safety is an additional key benefit of digitization. These advanced and automated rigs are safer by design as they increase the physical distance between the driller and the mechanical and operating components, decrease the possibility of human error, and increase computerized safety responses designed to predict and prevent jobsite incidents.

An important area where this safety value add can provide a lasting and immensely beneficial return on investment is in attracting and retaining young, skilled talent. As the industry recovers, there is a narrower focus on the growing labor shortage. The industry currently holds a reputation for being mature regarding its aging workforce and traditional way of doing things.

This perception and reputation has had a negative effect on the industry’s ability to procure younger talent. In contrast to the oil and gas industry, which is known for its innovations and more alluring technologies, the water well industry has not kept up to par.

But enhancing automated functions on rigs make them ideal for inexperienced workers to learn on. Ultimately, this move to digitization will prove to be an effective way to invest in and build the next generation of drillers.

There has also been an increase in demand over recent years, which has spurred many companies to reevaluate their fleets as they recognize the need to replace aging assets.

Perhaps the most pressing aspect of the need for digitization is the recent push from a federal and social level to decrease the industry’s carbon footprint and continue to develop resources as responsibly as possible.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Tier 4 Emissions Standards were put into place in 2018. The new standards apply to everyone—including owners, operators, parts manufacturers, and even people performing maintenance.

Fortunately, there are many ways to meet emissions compliance. Two examples are by burning higher quality fuel or installing a reclamation system.

Regardless of approach, the new rule requires all Tier 2 rigs to be modified or replaced to comply with the Tier 4 Final requirements as part of the comprehensive national program to reduce emissions from nonroad diesel engines. Again, these upgrades provide unparalleled long-term value for drillers as they enable companies to meet both personal and regulatory standards for cleaner operations.

While this new environment will take some getting used to, there are companies already realizing the benefits of digitized rigs. Older assets are being replaced, and digitized rigs soon will be the “new normal.” Companies that make the adjustment now will be best positioned for success in the long term.

Craig Mayman is vice president of sales and aftermarket for Schramm Inc., a manufacturer of land-based
hydraulic drilling rigs. Mayman joined Schramm in April 2016 as director of sales for mining and water. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of South Australia and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Utah.