Top Notch

Warrior Manufacturing Services

Singer is known for its sewing machines, Oreo for its cookies. In a similar vein, in the world of oil & gas drilling, if you mention Warrior Manufacturing Services Ltd., people in the industry are getting to know this young innovative company for the state-of-the-art equipment it is developing.

For a small company, Warrior is steadily gaining a strong reputation alongside its competitors. President and CEO Darrell McGrath and Chief Technology Officer Allan Richardson spoke about the excitement surrounding the company’s pioneering new innovations in top drive technology and other rig pipe-handling components.

Oil rig equipment manufacturing company Warrior started operations in 2005 in an unlikely way. Darrell had a consulting business and made a lot of connections with people in the drilling industry. One of his contacts had a tremendous demand for specialized drilling rigs in northern Alberta for the oil sands. Four rigs were needed for the winter season and Darrell jokingly said that he could build them. Two weeks later, he was offered the job and the pressure began to build.

Darrell joined with an engineer friend of his and the two constructed a proposal of what the rigs would look like. “They gave us a contract to build four rigs and some cash to get it going,” he explains. “But we had no tools, no shop, no employees and a delivery date of four months down the road. That was the beginning of Warrior.”

It was a baptism by fire, building the drilling and service rigs, but Darrell and his partner Monte Wright knew many people who they had worked with in the past who possessed the skills they needed. The company’s first job succeeded with flying colours and Warrior grew from there.

Most of the people they employed all had prior top drive experience and had, in fact, worked for a company that was one of the early pioneers for land rig top drives. “So, we had all this knowledge in the background. As the rig business started to become overbuilt, we needed to change direction and our focus went into what historically we really understood and knew, which was the manufacture of top drive equipment.” This young company then went from specializing in building small trailer-mounted drilling rigs for shallow gas drilling to building top drives.

A top drive is made up of one or more electric or hydraulic motors that are suspended from a hook below the traveling block (also manufactured by Warrior), on the mast or derrick of the rig. Top drives use high horsepower motors that turn a shaft around which the drill string is attached.

Top drives provide a number benefits. The use of a top drive increases safety as it lessens the manual labour involved in drilling. It increases efficiency as it decreases the chance of stuck pipe, provides a method to better control/orient the drill string to more easily drill directional wells and allows drillers to more swiftly engage and disengage components. Top drives have been around for some forty years, first catering to the offshore drilling industry. On land rigs, it has become a standard piece of equipment in the last fifteen years, especially for larger higher-horsepower rigs.

Warrior’s core team has a strong top drive background, and though its first development of a hydraulic top drive was a leap forward, improvements could be made. However, what Warrior built was top notch and backed up with substantially better service and support than what was available elsewhere in the industry.

The next phase in the evolution of the company was in the development of an AC top drive. The Warrior team looked at what had gone well in the industry with this product and where improvements could be made. “We used our experience and knowledge from lessons learned, combined with input from customers to make step-changes to historically problematic components while also improving operational efficiency, safety, and serviceability of the top drive,” says Darrell. The first prototype recently starting working on an offshore platform in Cook Inlet in Alaska with very encouraging results.

The industry has always been challenged, to some degree, by the capability of both the manufacturers and the end users to keep up with the support and service of the product. “The industry is capable of building the product faster than the support side can keep up. We have put a very strong service and support group together, but that in itself is not enough.”

The second aspect is to give the customer a piece of machinery that has been taken to new levels of reliability and serviceability and one that is able to do what the competitor’s machines cannot. A handful of companies make electric top drives that work reasonably well, but are not as reliable to the end-user as desired. One of the measurements in the industry is downtime: the time that the rig is not producing results for the owner/user. Companies are often measured by their ability to drill a well in a certain time frame, so minimizing downtime is critical.

Warrior had done its research and knew the product intimately. Reliability is challenging for a top drive due to the nature of its job; it is a machine with a fair bit of complexity in a harsh working environment. The top drive is what Darrell calls a single point failure for the rig; unlike some other components on the rig, such as mud pumps, there is no redundancy. “When the top drive is down, the rig is down. The other issue is that the top drive is always moving or is way up in the air, so it’s very difficult to service and maintain routinely. It gets skipped and missed, so we are trying to make a change in reliability or uptime.”

The machine is made up of so many moving parts and something will eventually give out. Part of Warrior’s step-change in this new concept top drive is to develop redundancies within the top drive itself, so although the top drive itself remains a single-point failure for the rig, most of the major components on the top drive are redundant, significantly increasing the top drive reliability. There are four independent power pathways from the rig AC bus to the top drive quill, providing for no single-point sources of failure from rig generators to drillpipe.

Should a top drive motor or gearbox fail, the results can be fairly catastrophic with significant down time. To eliminate or significantly reduce this downtime, Warrior has gotten rid of the standard gear arrangement and replaced it with a simple belt-driven transmission. “It may sound basic, but it is revolutionary to make a 1,000 horsepower top drive with (4) 250 horsepower motors with belts driving the quill. The belt drive transmission is quite an eye catcher.” This simple to service system has received a lot of positive feedback.

“Another aspect is that there can be a lot of time consumed on a rig by equipment being limited to what it’s capable of doing. If you can provide a machine that is capable of doing more for the end user, then you have contributed to giving them more efficiency on their rig.” Cutting down on this non-productive time was a primary focuses of the company’s design. “With that in mind, we stepped out of a lot of comfort zones and developed what we believe is a very innovative and technically advanced machine.”

The company has also taken instrumentation to another level, using electronics for both operational use and diagnostics. Allan likens it to what the automotive industry has done in the last twenty-five years. “They have added complexity to the automobile, but in the process made it more reliable, and it performs better. We are doing that, and we have some dynamic graphic displays that will speed up operations – make things safer – and then we have diagnostic information which is linked back to or support group here, so we can diagnose from anywhere in the world.”

To complement its top drives, the company has developed other innovative products including power catwalks, tri-grip torque wrenches and control systems that will be introduced to the industry this year. It also designs, manufactures, repairs and services, drawworks, traveling blocks, and related support components. Drawing on quality components from its strong supplier base, Warrior Manufacturing is able to boast some truly robust and high quality end products.

Of course, the company faces its share of challenges. It is dependent on the state of the oil industry at any given time, and right now there is a bit of a flat period in the Americas. However, there is still a fair amount of activity going on in the Middle East, Russia and S.E. Asia, which bodes well for the future of the company.

One advantage for Warrior is its diverse range of products; another is its engineering team that thrives on challenge. This has enabled the company to develop a foothold in Australia and in the Southeast Asian markets where there is a need for innovative concepts and specialized components. This has led to expansion and the development of an office in Jakarta, Indonesia. Although Warrior does have a marketing group, many times, new business simply approaches the company directly.

“What tends to happen is a large degree of customer loyalty. When they find a brand and product with a good level of support, they will be loyal to that company. We try to make sure that our customer is feeling good about what we are doing whether it is the quality of the product or the support that we provide for them after the fact. We work hard to gain new customers and keep the ones we already have.”

The company, having gained a reputation for really working with the customer and customizing to their needs, sees growth as important but not to be done at any cost. “We want to grow through good quality products and grow the infrastructure to meet the demands that those products are going to bring to us. We do not see the point in becoming the biggest in the industry if it affects our ability to support our customers.”

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