Keep ‘Em Turning to the Right

Published On: November 18, 2021By Categories: Business Management, Drilling, Features

Steps to implementing a preventative maintenance strategy in your company and why it’s critical.

By Dillon Sickler

When it comes to any drilling operation, one of the biggest headaches most can think of is unplanned downtime.

Photo courtesy David Baker, Apex Drilling LLC in Burley, Idaho.

“Rig down” is a term that nobody likes to hear. “Planned downtime,” on the other hand, is something we are far too busy for. It seems every driller I talk to has well backlogs like never before.

I often hear, “I know that this is going to be an issue, but I don’t have time to stop drilling.”

But not taking the time to shut down and make needed repairs before catastrophic failures inevitably will result in that “rig down” phone call.

Therefore, let’s dive into developing a preventative maintenance strategy, beginning with the everyday items and developing your list for planned downtime. As much as we don’t have time for any downtime, we need to understand that something small could potentially turn into a “rig down” nightmare down the road.

Developing the Checklist

First, you need to put together a daily, weekly, and monthly checklist for your rig. Make the list something that can be done first thing in the morning quickly and effectively prior to drilling, but detailed enough you could hand it to any driller and they can apply it to their rig.

To develop this list, take some time to walk around the rig and use tools such as the rig maintenance information that comes with your equipment, past knowledge you have of your machine, and knowledge your crew possess.

Your daily checklist will contain things like:

  • Check all oil levels.
  • Grease all daily grease points.
  • Do a visual safety inspection on items like cables and chains.
  • Look for loose nuts or bolts.
  • Inspect load path area to make sure you have no visible cracks.

If this is not the equipment you run every day, you want to make sure no safeties have been bypassed and make sure that all emergency shutdowns work as they should. Also take some time and carefully inspect all lifting devices.

Then start the rig and do a walkaround to make sure you have no leaks. It’s important to note that when reviewing the maintenance documentation that comes with your equipment, you also add any items it recommends to your list.

Your weekly inspection checklist might contain things like:

  • Inspecting hydraulic hoses for cracks, wires, or leaks.
  • You will want to take a deeper look at things like pins, pulleys, sprockets, tophead shaft endplay, and make sure you have no leaks on any of your gear boxes.
  • Checking rig hours to see if it’s time for oil samples, filters, grease, or fluid changes.
  • It might be good to check hydraulic pressures to make sure your pumps are building the pounds per square inch (PSI) they should be.
  • Checking main function speeds to make sure the pumps are flowing what they should.

Again, you should always refer to the maintenance documentation supplied by your rig’s OEM to make sure you are adding all the items to your checklist for review. They might have recommendations for monthly, yearly, or specific hourly inspections, so be sure to add them as well.

Also, it might be wise to take time to add your checklist into a computer format so you can easily print off copies.

Implementing a Process

Now that you know what to look for and where you’re going to capture the issues, it’s time to implement a process in your company that ensures the parts get ordered and arrive so you can repair the rig during planned downtime. Remember, our goal is no rig down nightmares.

This part of the process has now become more critical than ever in our country. It wasn’t too many months back you couldn’t find a roll of toilet paper on the shelf. Supply chain issues like that apply to parts that go on your drilling rig too.

We need to understand that something small could potentially turn into a “rig down” nightmare down the road.

You might have a part on your rig you know is beginning to fail, but you’re not too worried about it because last time you ordered it you had it the next day. The truth of the matter is that is not the case anymore and we have to start being more proactive on the parts we keep on the shelf at the shop.

We need to spend more time inspecting the rig to get parts we see starting to fail, or parts we know do fail, on order to prevent prolonged rig downtime.

Yes, it’s an investment, but with lead times on some items reaching six months to a year, it’s an investment you’re left with no choice but to make. It’s understood that having all the parts that keep your rig turning to the right on the shelf at the shop is not feasible. At that point you would just buy a spare rig. But it’s worth the time to review the items you have seen issues with in the past (the ones that could fail and be a showstopper) or you would like to rebuild soon, so it’s best to get the parts on the shelf now.

Each company is different. For some, the driller is the accounts receivable, accounts payable, marketer, and purchaser. Others have a maintenance shop that purchases all the parts with a service manager who takes care of inventory and ordering all the parts.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how your company is set up. What matters is you put a process in place that gets the needed items from your checklist fixed on the rig or required parts for planned downtime on the shelf and ready to go.

It’s worth a call to your parts supplier to review the items you have purchased in the past and items you are thinking will need replaced in the next six months or even the next year. Ask them is this on the shelf and what is the approximate lead time.


With the industry being busier than ever, workers next to impossible to find, and what seems like less hours in the day, let’s do everything we can to take care of our rigs and keep ʻem turning to the right.

Groundwater Week 2021 Workshop Will Cover Predictive Maintenance
Gerry Mead of Hub Group will present the workshop “Heavy Equipment Ownership: Annual Costs and Predictive Maintenance” from 1-2 p.m. on December 15 at Groundwater Week 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Failure to adhere to prescribed maintenance impacts your drilling and overall business operations and can even prevent your safely getting to and from the job. Technological advances in tires and low-sulfur and biofuels have altered some maintenance procedures and time frames, so reviewing the manufacturers’ suggestions for your “new” equipment is imperative as it could dramatically differ from previous practice.

Click here to learn more or register.

More on Preventative Maintenance
To learn more about this topic, check out the February 2021 Water Well Journal article, “Preventative Maintenance for the Next Generation.”

Dillon Sickler is a regional rig sales and service specialist for DRILLMAX. Holding a degree in heavy equipment repairs from Penn College, he began in the drilling rig business in 2007 as a service technician, eventually engineered drill rig designs, and now works with drilling customers in his current role. He can be reached at

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