Innovating the future of drilling

Innovating the future of drilling

In 1990, Mark McKay formed McKay Drilling to provide high-end specialized drilling services to Western Australia’s exploration and mining industries. Today, with state-of-the-art drilling rigs established from Brazil to the Pilbara region, McKay Drilling continues its dedication to bringing innovation and new technology to the mining sector.

The McKay difference

What makes McKay Drilling a supplier of choice for Australia’s major mining houses? The company’s willingness and ability to invest in new ideas and technology, with the goals of improving both productivity and workplace safety. This is a desirable trait in any supplier, especially one in a section of the industry where change tends to come slowly.

“There’s quite a lot of innovation going on throughout the whole business, from small changes to the master changes in the drill rigs,” says McKay Drilling General Manager Brenton Wallace. Its latest fleet includes high-tech, hands-free drill rigs from Schramm Inc. and Boart Longyear that act as the ultimate in workplace safety.

“The Boart LF350 drill totally changes the actual way of handling drill pipe,” explains Wallace. “It removes the operator, as well as the drill assistants, away from any interaction with pulling and running drill pipe in and out of the hole, from commencement of the hole to finish of the hole. The operator and the assistants don’t need to touch a drill pipe. It reduces potential for hand injuries, back strains, and any crushing or caught-between accidents that can take place on drill rigs.”

McKay backs up the capabilities of its rig fleet with a battery of ISO certifications including ISO-9001, ISO-14001, and ISO-18001, proving that its equipment is up to the highest Australian standards. With the impending acquisition of ISO-55001 certification, McKay Drilling will be among the first Australian companies to achieve fleet and maintenance certifications to operate both in Australia and overseas.

The agility to innovate

Innovation has been a core value at the heart of McKay Drilling since its inception. With a lifetime of drilling industry experience, founder and managing director Mark McKay is able to guide the business with a true insider’s perspective. Focusing on this value over the years has enabled McKay Drilling to increase safety and make a true difference within its niche.

“McKay was one of the first companies 20 years ago to put hands-free operations and rod loaders on their drill rigs,” says Wallace. “Mark McKay has continually strived to look at different technology that sets McKay Drilling apart from other drilling companies and changes to the way that we operate in the field.”

Keeping McKay Drilling privately owned and operated has allowed the company to stay agile and keep innovation a top priority.

“In corporate structures or multifaceted businesses, the ability to change direction or change the way that you operate is a bit slower,” Wallace explains. “We can be nimble and change direction very quickly as the market deems, whether there’s a boom or a recession, and if there is a requirement for new technology we can interact with it very quickly.”

Growing against the current

While the industry has faced a downturn, McKay Drilling has continued to find success through diversification of the services it offers clients. McKay has historically focused on reverse circulation drilling, but now the company has expanded to include diamond drilling and hydro drilling in its portfolio.

“We have invested $23 million in capital expansion in the last 12 months. We’ve taken the opportunity to expand in the downturn and be ready for any upswing in the market that may come in the next 12-18 months,” says Wallace, noting that the company has made both large investments into new drill rigs and smaller investments into safety and capability enhancements for existing drills.

The results of these investments are substantial: over the past year McKay Drilling has increased its staff from 45 to 142, and is on target to increase its number of drills from 14 to 22 by the first quarter of 2016, priming the company for whatever opportunities may lie ahead.

 “It’s opened up the door for us to work for some blue chip clients, who are giving us an opportunity because of the reputation the business has for being focused on delivering,” says Wallace. “We’re branching into other areas systematically and at a steady pace, where we can control our expansion, but also bring new technology to the table as well.”

Looking forward

What does the future look like for McKay Drilling? Regardless of the state of the industry at large, the focus for McKay will be on growth, developing further relationships with junior and blue chip mining operations alike in Australia and Brazil.

“The business is moving forward, with expansion and consolidating our business with a mixture of blue chip and exploration clients. We’re focusing on diversification so we don’t have all our eggs in one basket,” says Wallace. “Within the next 18 months we hope to grow to a 25 drill operation.”  

But the company is not focused on growth alone—the key is controlled and steady growth while continuing to improve every stop of the way. “In the process of expanding, we are bringing the rest of our equipment up to the latest standards that are out there, to offer it to our clients,” he adds. “The aim is to reduce our exposure to injuries with the help of innovation and training our people.” 

Mark McKay