3 Rules to Work By that Fly in the Face of Drilling Industry Challenges

The global economy is kind of like an elementary school playground at recess. Small groups of people huddle together to share their time, knowledge, and marbles. Ok, it’s 2016, maybe they’re not sharing marbles, but whether they’re sharing snacks, toys, or innovative techniques, it’s easy to compare this dynamic with that on a global scale.

For years nations all over the world have adopted trade agreements like NAFTA to facilitate international cooperation on the basis of mutually dependant goals while barricading trade with non-participating groups. 

Some trade agreements withstand the test of time and the politicizing of goods and services. Some agreements evaporate faster than a country can be shaken down for its lunch money.

New trade patterns are just one of the challenges the drilling industry and the oil and gas sector are faced with in today’s turbulent economy. What works one day might not work the next as corporations are forced to come to grips with fluctuating oil prices.

The other major challenges?

Read more about the oil industry’s challenges.

Drilling industry challenges aren’t a new development by any stretch, but the only way to succumb to these challenges is to let them control us. Well, we’ve got good news: you’re in charge.

Here’s three ways to keep working productively while the economy sorts itself out.

1. Work for Improvement, Not Wealth

The last thing on earth you should ignore during an economic downturn is your finances, right?

No, that’s crazy, what are you talking about?

Yes, you should worry about your finances, but there’s a lot of things at stake here if that worry threatens to take over. The quickest way to either drive yourself crazy or drive your company out of business is to focus exclusively on all the money you’re not making. Face it, the days of grossly overspending just to speed up the work are over. You’re not going to make as much money during this stretch, so stop worrying about the extra time you’re putting in and do the best you can to create the best work possible.

Time is often equated with money which makes our industry rush to get things done. Well, this is a great time to focus on making your product better rather than maximizing your return.

2. Invest in Growth

On second thought, while you’re not worrying about your finances, divert some of those finances into potential new growth. There are so many different ways to grow your company outside of selling your products or services.

  • Attend a conference
  • Boost your social media presence
  • Buy a new machine capable of new work
  • Combine forces with a related industry or company
  • Train yourself or your staff in new methods or new technology

Or, you can simply grow your team and do more work. This certainly flies in the face of the drilling industry’s challenges, and while we don’t want you to run your company into the ground, for some it’s beneficial to delegate responsibilities.

3. Borrow Perspective

One of the most important ways in which we’ve mitigated the impact of the economy’s struggles is by simply putting ourselves into our customers’ shoes. Just like strolling around a playground, the drilling industry is filled with hard-working men and women who are left to the whims of their environment. It can be frustrating, depressing, and downright scary.

The more you talk with others in your field, the more you’ll understand their specific challenges.

Why is that important?

Because the more you understand, the better equipped you’ll be to help out; and probably at a bargain, too.

Look, in all honesty, it’s impossible not to worry about your income, your company’s earnings or, ultimately, the roof over your head.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it.

How to Build an Ironclad Reputation in the Drilling Industry

If we could sum up the state of the global drilling industry in 2016 with one word, what would it be? First, sticking to one word is asking a lot of a blogger, but if I have to choose then it’s really not that difficult.


Every day we’re challenged to create products that help our customers solve problems. It’s a worthy challenge to build new things, and it’s an even worthier (is that a word?) challenge to make new parts that don’t cost an arm and a leg; figuratively and literally speaking, of course.

However, through the challenges with which we’re faced on a daily basis, we’ve actually managed to not only maintain a solid reputation, we’ve actually improved our reputation in the eyes of our customers, our colleagues, and, yes, our competition.

There’s two areas we focus on when it comes to building our reputation in the drilling industry.

1. Customers

Real Examples of Good Work. Not to be confused with testimonials (we’ll get to that), above everything else, the best way to create and maintain a rock solid reputation is to help people. Do good work. Solve problems. One of today’s biggest challenges for OEM’s and drilling contractors is to get the job done within a strict budget, so if we can help facilitate that process with an attachment that doesn’t break the bank, then the customer is happy and word travels. Which brings us to…

Word of Mouth. Do a good job and people will talk. This is where your testimonials live – on the tongues of satisfied customers who will return to your shop in a heartbeat if they need something else. The drilling industry is about tangible work done in physical locations throughout the world, but a lot of the talk happens in the digital market. This is why when we’re looking for content for the blog, it’s not that hard to find!

Read more about Thoroughbred Engineering or Dando Drilling International.

The Little Things. Alright, full disclosure: the little things count for a lot regardless of the industry you call home. In our industry, it’s always nice to work with OEM’s, contractors, and large corporations that value honesty, transparency, and approachability. Most of our work happens as the result of simply asking questions and making unique requests. In fact, that’s how our partnership with Dando began.

2. Recruits

Fulfilling Atmosphere. The oil and gas industry has always experienced a large degree of turnover. New recruits are hired, they learn, they excel, and then they move on to roles with greater responsibility. And like customers, men and women working their way up through their career will talk about former employers whether their experience was positive or negative.

Professional Support. One way to attract and keep skilled workers is to provide professional support and a good work/life balance. Your market might require seasonal work, so there’s a busy season and a slow season. Even if you’re working in South America or a location without a fluctuating climate, it’s important to provide resources and certification to employees so they can improve and, ultimately, help the company improve.

Creative Encouragement. People do better work when they feel a sense of ownership. Building pride into your career is important for employees to stay engaged with the work and, in turn, better work is created. This means that sometimes people will need to take creative risks in order to achieve success. Foster this. Encourage ambition, even if it means you’ll end up losing your employee to larger roles.

Because once they’re there, they won’t forget where they came from.

3 (Non-Financial) Ways to Attract Industry-Leading Talent to Your Shop

When we started Viking West a couple years back, one of the key elements in our mission statement was to save our customers’ money. Pretty standard, right? What business doesn’t want to save money? There are two key distinctions to be made here from our perspective.

Customization & Collaboration: we believed (and still do) that money could be saved at a higher rate by committing to a detailed customization and planning process. We talk to potential customers and build to specification.

The Economy: the sticking point, however, is that Viking was also created during a time of economic turbulence. Oil prices were sliding downhill and not only did was it crucial to save time and energy during the design process, we needed to be mindful that for many companies in the lower mainland and all over the world, never before had budgets been so constrained.

However, the work must go on. Today we’re talking about additional ways to save money. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the drilling industry, construction, or forestry, recruiting smart new talent will boost your company’s reputation through reputable, helpful work.

So, how do we recruit the best and brightest talent our industry has to offer?

1. Immediate Responsibility

New graduates armed with technical knowledge and theoretical training want to hit the ground running when they’re hired. Gone are the 90’s when oil soared past $100 a barrel and recruits were happy with a paycheque and as little responsibility as possible. These days, responsibility equals opportunity. So the next way to attract industry-leading talent?

2. Potential Opportunities

A chart explaining the hierarchy of the shop isn’t going to cut it. After all, if a new recruit believes the only way to climb the ladder is by taking your job, then chances are they’ll be looking elsewhere (unless there’s something you don’t know). A realistic opportunity is represented by an avenue that doesn’t exist yet. How can a new recruit push the operation to the next level? A new skill not currently employed? A new line of thinking? An opportunity that only exists if a new recruit is hired immediately grants a sense of empowerment and responsibility.

3. Innovative Machinery

Alright, the real meat and potatoes of recruiting industry-best talent to your company: give them something awesome to work on. A few weeks ago I was talking to Mike Schlender of Viking West about how cool it was to work on the specific heat cycle involved with heat treating precision gears. The passion for the work was obvious – it almost made me want to switch departments!

On second thought, maybe not. What would become of the blog, after all?

In addition to immediate responsibility and ownership over a specific area, potential opportunities to contribute to the company and work with innovative equipment is a big priority for new recruits. Hiring people with these three points in mind also builds in natural accountability, too. No matter who shows up at the interview, we all want to hire people who earn their paycheque at the end of the day, right? Your budget might not permit you to go on a hiring spree, so that’s why it’s so important to find intelligent people who represent value.

And hey, it’s a bonus if they’re enjoyable to be around, too. The good news is that’s a common trait for most people who work hard, are intelligent, and are passionate about bringing something new to the table.

4 Extreme Conditions Where Tooling Simply Can’t Fail

For the second week in a row we’re taking the loyal readers of the Viking West blog on a scenic vacation, one that promises memories to last a lifetime. Last week we journeyed to a muggy job site in the middle of a jungle. This week we’re on top of the world – higher, actually – atop the main body of an enormous wind turbine in southern Alberta.

A few months ago I was talking to Viking’s Mike Schlender about some of the unique locations in, atop, or under which our custom tooling products and precision gears have been used. He immediately told me a story about a custom order required for a combination bearing and gear mounted at the top of a gigantic wind turbine.

From way up here, gigantic takes on a whole new meaning. The conditions required for safe work are specific, and, it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway), important. The less time you spend climbing up and down a structure like this, the better your time will be spent. That’s why we outfitted the turbine with a large stainless steel ring that wouldn’t corrode. It was important for our customers to install the ring, take in the view, and climb down. Easy!

Here’s four more extreme conditions in which we’ve put our custom gears and tooling to work.

1. Slopes

We’ve got no shortage of experience working on topsy-turvy horizons here in British Columbia. The biggest challenge with slopes is that the measurements required to ensure a perfect penetration are so precise – if your angle is off or a gear doesn’t fit properly, then the entire project can be thrown off. Plus, sloped terrains are subject to the whims of the climate; weather or wind interference means today’s measurements might not be the same as tomorrow’s.

2. Cold

Like my Dad always used to say back on the flat prairie in Alberta, things just break when it’s cold. At home on the acreage, that meant the garage door, the truck, the water well or any number of items. When we create custom tooling and gears for cold weather applications, it’s crucial to apply the right type of treatment to ensure maximum wear and resistance. No one likes to work in the cold, after all, especially when it’s work that could be avoided.

3. Urban Jungles

Hot, cold, rainy, it doesn’t matter – the biggest challenge when working in the middle of a city is the accessibility. It’s why we modified our Double Wrench Breakout Table to be mounted on a mobile sled. It costs a lot of money to work in busy locations like intersections filled with annoyed drivers coming and going from work. If tooling breaks down and interrupts those jobs, then costs can skyrocket in a hurry.

4. Hard as a Rock

A custom bit isn’t worth it’s salt if it’s not strong enough to split the earth in search of all the riches contained within.

… which is a fancy way to say that the application of every product must be understood and tested for prior to drilling. What works on limestone might not work on thick clay, after all. Sure, the conditions above the surface might have an impact on the crew doing the work, but the conditions down below are what really matters to the equipment being used.

How to Prevent Failure in Precision Gears & Custom Tooling

It’s a hot, muggy afternoon that would probably be better spent on a breezy patio instead of the middle of a dense jungle.

But hey, that’s where the work is because that’s where the samples are, so it’s a hot and humid day on site.

That’s ok, because this project has been worth sweating through the intense jungle heat of central America. The work is tough, but the result will help a lot of people who live in the area, both with the work being done and the jobs being created.

And there’s nothing wrong with feeling relieved after a job well done. So all in all, it’s a good day and we’ll be done soon. Everything is going smoothly.

Until something breaks. 

There is so much to lose on large projects that are set back by failing equipment. That equipment can include large components like hydraulic drills or guard shields, which are both dangerous to both the work and the people involved, or failure can be blamed on the smallest pieces of the puzzle: tooling and gears.

Let’s be realistic for a second. Wait, we’re always realistic! Anyways, let’s be real about human error. It happens. It’s the reason we’ve built our company on finding hands-free solutions whenever possible. Human operators aren’t automated. People apply their skill, training, and intelligence to complicated situations in order to achieve the best possible results. Sometimes this means sweating through a difficult task in the middle of the jungle. It’s hard enough to keep your concentration on the task at hand in less-than-ideal conditions, but when something breaks down, even if it’s just a bit piece of the machine, it can be a frustrating reality to deal with.

Check out our custom tooling products.

Tooling & Precision Gears: Potential Failure

Wear and tear adds up. When gears and other components don’t fit perfectly with their machines, grinding occurs even at a microscopic level. Tooling breaks down naturally over time no matter how snug the fit, that’s why it’s so important to create as little friction as possible.

Here’s Viking’s Mike Schlender on the subject from an interview a couple months ago.

“It’s really all dependant on the job, or the conditions. Everything goes through a process to determine its viability in a particular environment. If you have a bearing or a gear in an application that isn’t meeting expectations for durability then we work to improve the specs.”

How Do We Avoid Failure?

Enough about problems, let’s find solutions, right? Right! Although, one of the best ways to find solutions is to pay attention to potential problems.

Anyways, in order to create custom tooling products or precision gears to a customer’s specifications, we learn as much as possible about the application for which it will be used.

Materials: fatigue resistance in unique conditions is the priority when it comes to selecting the right material to use.

Treatments: from surface treatments to coating to the controlled cycle of heat treatments, there’s plenty that can be done to improve either wear or strength.

Geometry: the strength of a gear or drive always comes back to the physical shape of the product. It’s important to pay close attention to the demands on a specific shape.

Check out Viking’s Precision Gears.

No project begins with failure in mind, but the best way to make sure that doesn’t happen is to predict potential problems. Every machine is built with a variety of components, large and small, that are all important to its success.

So the next time you find yourself deep in the jungle, make sure your gear is up to the challenge.