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Better safe than sorry

September 6, 2022

Time-consuming and sometimes hazardous work made Kent Well Drilling long for a custom hands-free rod loader. Epiroc took on the challenge and managed to deliver a simple, yet effective solution.

The challenge

Kent Well Drilling is a family-owned business based in Wrenshall, Minnesota, just outside of Duluth. The company has served the same area for over fifty years, drilling and repairing wells. In the past Kent Well Drilling has used other brands of equipment, where the normal procedure was for the driller to control drilling from a console while a helper manually handled rods by lifting overhead with a winch. In the fall of 2019, owner and CEO Bob Kent Jr. contacted Epiroc with hopes to streamline operations. “He expressed the need for the driller to be able to operate the rig by himself at times,” says Cody Green, Production Manager, Water Well Drills at Epiroc Surface division. “That would bring two advantages: the helper would be freed up to do other things, and safety would be improved. The less time the helper has to have a suspended load over his head while operating the rig, the better.”

The solution

Epiroc Diamondback DB40 - Kent Well Drilling

At the time, Epiroc had a prototype design for a hands-free rod loader in the works. This option, designed for the Diamondback series drilling rigs, facilitates the loading and unloading of drilling rods throughout the drilling process. Epiroc had already made vast improvements to the design by shortening the loader arm, making it more stable and reliable. “Having spoken to Bob Kent, we decided to make some custom changes just for Kent Well Drilling. We modified the driller’s console and also produced a hand-held control for the helper, so the helper can operate the rod loader out of harm’s way. As for the driller’s controls, the ultimate goal was to keep the hands-free rod loader moving in the background while the driller concentrates on drilling,” says Cody Green.


To improve safety, the drilling sequence was divided into three parts. At the push of the first button, the rod handler lowers into the rod bin, clamps a rod, picks up the rod to the vertical position, and then rotates the arm over to the rotary head. As a safety measure, once the rotary head threads on to the rod, the operator must push a release button to ensure it is now safe to release the clamps on the drill rod. Once the rotary head lifts away from the rod loader, the arm will return back to the home position, ready to pick up another rod. “SAFETY WAS THE highest priority on this design, as we wanted automated features but enough control from the operator, so he is aware of what is going on at all times,” says Cody Green.

The result

"It’s been a real partnership. Kent Well Drilling gave us feedback on the hands-free rod loader, and we were able to provide their company with a very valuable solution."

Cody Green ,Production Manager, Water Well Drills at Epiroc Surface division
Epiroc Diamondback DB40 - Kent Well Drilling

Kent Well Drilling is very pleased with the functionality of the hands-free rod loader. The device does exactly what it was supposed to do: reduce the need for manual labor and improve safety. “Cycle times are comparable to manual loading as the helper can perform other tasks while the hands-free rod loader is doing the heavy lifting. Kent Well Drilling is now able to complete a well safer and more cost effectively than ever before,” says Cody Green.


Once the system had been delivered to the customer, a local Epiroc service technician performed the start-up and trained Kent Well Drilling to use the hands-free rod loader optimally. Service provided from the Epiroc Milwaukee service center has been well received by the customer, and at the six-month mark, Epiroc representatives from the Texas factory paid a visit to Kent Well Drilling to perform a check-up and service the rig.

International North America well drilling rig Customer story Water Well drilling rigs Waterwell