Lightweight Drills Take Off
February 27, 2009— Triton, Newfoundland and Labrador
Coastal Hydraulics Ltd.
Since quitting high school at 16 years of age, Jerry Jones has been quick to learn on the job. But Jones, now 40, will tell you two jobs, years apart, came together to change his life: building a small drilling rig for mineral exploration, and helping deliver heavy equipment by helicopter across the Canadian Arctic.
Together these experiences inspired the creation of Duralite Diamond Drills, which designs and builds light-weight, helicopter-portable drill rigs for the mining exploration industry. Fuelled by support from the National Research Council Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP), Coastal Hydraulics Ltd., based out of Triton, Newfoundland, is now selling them across Canada and around the world.
Image Courtesy: Greenland Mining Services
"From my experience with helicopters I understood what it means to fly heavy equipment into remote areas for mineral exploration," says Jones, president of Coastal Hydraulics. "What's expensive isn't the cost of drilling, it's the cost of helicopters and moving the drills."
This experience merged with a fateful phone call in 2005. A small Labrador drilling company, for which Jones had previously built a drilling rig, wanted a new rig — but constructed of aluminum. It would be a third of the weight of a conventional steel drilling rig.
"At first I thought 'no, I don't want to'," recalls Jones, who at the time was driving a truck in the Alberta tar sands. "But I knew I could do it."
So, on credit, he bought the supplies to build a 20-by-30-foot workshop behind his home and got to work. Thirty-six days later he'd built the drill rig. After it was in the field for three days, he got another phone call; the client wanted two more. Duralite Diamond Drills was born.
"We were a real shot in the dark," says Jones of his company. In three years Coastal Hydraulics has grown from three to 25 employees. They're now working in two large buildings that used to house Triton's shipyard.
What's all the more remarkable is that the company's dramatic growth has been pushed almost solely by word-of-mouth within the global mining exploration sector. Jones says the key to his drill's enormous popularity isn't just that they are 90 per cent made from aluminum and thus light, but their simplicity.
"Our customers don't just want a drill that's as light as possible. They need one that's reliable and simple to operate and move. So, it is how it's put together that's key. Our drills are unique in the way they can be quickly disassembled, and efficiently and safely transported under different-sized helicopters. These drills really fly well," Jones says.
NRC-IRAP support, says Jones, enabled the company to quickly undertake the R&D necessary to create their patented, innovative designs.
"Financial support and technical advice from NRC-IRAP gave us the confidence to attempt innovative drill designs that might not have worked," says Jones. "But it's been a success right from the start."
From building eight drill rigs in 2006, the private company's sales jumped to 22 rigs in 2007, with revenues of more than $6 million. The company nearly tripled its production in 2008, with orders ranging from Major Drilling, a TSX-listed New Brunswick company, to clients in Australia and Denmark.
"The company has continuously invested in itself, and the resulting improvement in productivity has been impressive," says NRC-IRAP Industrial Technology Advisor, Carl King, who has worked closely with the company since 2006.
The company has spent nearly $200,000 on employee training and invested heavily in upgraded and new equipment, which Jones says has significantly increased drill rig quality.
"The past three years have gone by in a flash," says Jones, who continues to learn on the job. "But there is no standing still. This is a rapidly changing industry and we've got to work towards continual improvement."
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