Drillers field day

The slurry in mud tanks is abrasive and can cause excessive
The slurry in mud tanks is abrasive and can cause excessive

With the Albanese Government pledging to spend $2 Billion on supporting the Australian mining industry as it does more exploration and development, we can see Australia’s drilling industry will be flat out.

Albo’s promised Mr Biden that Australia will do it’s best to find Lithium, rare earths and similar products currently sourced for the world by China, will make for an exciting time.

Hydraulic drive mud pumps in production
Hydraulic drive mud pumps in production

How Aussie can help?

Australian Pump has focused a huge amount of its research and development work in the last 20-30 years on Australia’s mining industry. It’s no secret that most of the Australian population doesn’t know that its mining that carries this country.

They aren’t aware that only 260,000 people are doing the hard yards, from the original exploration work to the final shipping by huge bulk carriers for export to the world.

We know, and we devote substantial funds to product development. Right now our focus is on the drilling industry where we believe we can help!

Aussie’s easy drilling adventures

Traditionally engine drive mud pumpswere used as a portable option
Traditionally engine drive mud pumps
were used as a portable option

We didn’t know much about drilling 15 years ago when drillers started calling us to buy engine drive pumps. We originally supplied lightweight aluminium engine drive pumps without understanding the unique conditions and issues of remote operation.

We moved to suppling heavy-duty cast-iron self-priming pumps. Available in everything from 2” to 4”, these were built like tanks and used big open impellers, capable of handling some degree of solids in suspension.

They were also capable of not only high flows but high pressures as well. The first units we supplied were Honda petrol engine or Yanmar diesel engine drives. They were built into powder coated steel frames with sub bases and anti-vibration mounts.

Later, based on feedback from the field, we changed to a more heavy-duty stainless-steel frame with integrated lifting bar. We equipped the diesel engine drive pumps with E-stops and battery isolation. We even fitted a fire extinguisher.

Next drillers came to us wanting to know if these heavy-duty cast-iron pumps could be fitted with hydraulic drive motors. We already were supplying electric motor drive pumps 2”, 3” and 4”, with their big cast iron bodies and impellers and silicon carbide seals, to other industries like abattoirs, piggeries, effluent works and concrete batch plants.

All the applications have one thing in common. They are tough on equipment and there is an advantage in doing away with internal combustion engines as the prime power source.

Aussie’s learning curve

Fresh off the production line, a mud tank fitted with an Aussie GMP hydraulic drive pump.
Fresh off the production line, a mud tank fitted with an Aussie GMP hydraulic drive pump.

We understand that drilling is a hard, tough business. Hard on equipment, hard on people. The more we get to work with the industry, the more impressed we are about the resilience of the companies and their employees.

When cast iron impellers started wearing out regularly, we asked questions about the ingredients in the mud and tank sizes.

We wanted to understand what impact these had on the sizes and qualities of the pumps being bought. That taught us an awful lot and we started offering stainless steel impellers for our hydraulic drive pumps. The field results have been impressive with the abrasion issues we’d been seeing with cast iron equivalents virtually eliminated. Our spare parts sales went down, but the reliability in the field went up, and that’s what Aussie is all about!

Abrasion issues

Putting 316 stainless steel impellers into the pump slowed down the wear factor dramatically. By the time we get to 2024, all our hydraulic drive mud pumps will have stainless steel impellers as standard equipment.

Aussie’s compact 2” mud pump,cast iron but now featuring a cast
316 impeller for improved
wear resistance.
Aussie’s compact 2” mud pump,
cast iron but now featuring a cast
316 impeller for improved
wear resistance.

Coincidentally, we found that similar appreciation was given to that idea by people in other areas of the mining industry, i.e. concrete batch plants on mine sites and people doing gunite spraying.

The next step was to try to improve seal life. All seals will fail if they’re run dry but, on the advice of the industry, we’ve started supplying tungsten carbide seals to replace the silicon carbide.

We’ll wait and see what the life comparison is. It won’t fix the dry running issue as that will destroy any seal, no matter what it’s made of, but it is a harder material.

Service kits on site

We understand the value of having service kits on the site where the drilling is taking place. If a mud pump goes down, the operation stops. We have witnessed this, been blamed for it and have taken it on the chin.

We didn’t have enough application knowledge to realise how often seals burn out as a result of dry running and how often bearings fail due to overheating. We’re in the process of packaging what we call

‘Major Repair Kits’. The idea is to make it easy for the correct pump parts to be held on site, on standby when the drill rig goes into action.

When we started out with the rejuvenation kit idea, we thought it was just going to be components like mechanical seals, counterface, gaskets and O-rings. It didn’t take us long to realise that with mud pumps, if the mechanical seal starts leaking, the next part to go is the bearing and possibly even the stainless-steel stub shaft between the pump’s drive shaft and the hydraulic motor drive.

Requirements appear to be different from job to job. We’re watching carefully and listening to the industry to get more feedback. Every conversation we have with a drilling operator is an additional opportunity to learn more about how to better serve the industry.

At this stage, we think a major repair kit, which includes check valve, elastomers, mechanical seals, bearings, should also include a stainless-steel impeller and stub shaft.

We don’t see any problems with the cast iron bodies of the pumps, although one customer has asked if we could do a 316 stainless steel complete unit, so the body, impeller and shaft are all in 316 stainless steel. Since we do that for the Australian Army already (water for the troops), it wouldn’t be an issue to provide that complete unit to the drilling industry.

Compared to the downtime involved, the additional costs of the material are minimal.

What about the future

Hydraulic drive mud pumps are compact to install andeliminate the need for small engine refuelling and service.
Hydraulic drive mud pumps are compact to install and
eliminate the need for small engine refuelling and service.

Understanding how to keep drillers operating and minimising downtime are the key issues. We have moved on to thinking through the concepts of service exchange. It’s not new, but understanding that every minute counts, it’s been suggested that a “Mud Pump Swap Shop” could work. Standby mud pumps would be held on site ready to swap in the case of a failure.

Should the pump on the mud tank fail, instead of drama, it’s simply replaced with one of the standby pumps. For a fixed price, the failed unit is shipped directly back to Australian Pump in Sydney. We would then immediately dispatch a fully refurbished replacement pump out to the site to go on standby. The failed pump would then be repaired, refurbished and tested at the factory, ready for the next “swap out”.

One of our team raised the subject of “what if the pump that comes back is scrap metal”? We trust that drillers will know that’s a waste of everyone’s time and that if the pump is beyond repair, they will replace it with a new one. If we don’t have an equivalent, refurbished pump available we’ll dispatch a brand-new unit instead.

Understanding how many mud pumps are out there, what size they are and what size tanks are being used will help us immeasurably to better service the market. Our only aim at Australian Pump Industries is to understand the market in a way that we become partners with the drilling industry.

We know mining depends on the drillers, who in turn have the right to depend on us!

More info please

We know there is lots more for us to learn about drilling. We are your students. Please share your knowledge with us. We’ve learnt a lot over the last couple of years but are painfully aware of how much more we have yet to understand about the vital industry.

Whether it’s water well, diamond, foundation boring or vertical drilling systems, we know we can be better.

Further information on the Aussie Mud Pump range is available from Australian Pump Industries aussiepumps.com.au.

The article is contributed by Warrick Lorenz, Managing Director of Australian Pump Industries.