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How Ulterra’s PDC Bits are Helping Mines Meet Sustainability Targets and Reduce Bit Changes

7 August 2023

This article was originally published in Australia Mining. For the original article visit

When it comes to equipment expenditure, it is often said you get what you pay for and it pays for itself over time, particularly when it comes to quality. This is especially true for mining industry operators, whose safety, reputation, and prosperity relies on the equipment they use. That is the ethos of Ulterra Drilling Technologies, a designer and builder of premium quality PDC drill bits that focuses on operator success.

“Our competitors typically look for high volume and low cost. We’re the complete opposite,” Ulterra’s Asia Pacific Director, Joey Mos, told Australian Mining. “We’re a small, specialized company offering the best drill bits on the market. We’re a Ferrari.”

Ulterra’s drill bits are engineered to meet sustainability targets and can be rebuilt, resulting in incredible mileage with no degradation. Ulterra can repair a customer’s bit within 48 hours at its newly commissioned facility in Mackay (Queensland).

“We’ve drilled millions of meters globally using PDC drill bits. With that history, we’ve really learned to understand and develop our technology to create the fastest and the most durable bit.”

Mos said.

Ulterra’s PDC drill bits deliver superior hole quality and reduced hole deviation, as well as significant reduction in redrill. The PDC bits also deliver an increased penetration rate, roughly 30-50% faster than roller cones. When coupled with Ulterra’s patented SoftDrive® drilling system, bit changes are further reduced to potentially every 30,000m. Every SoftDrive system has the potential to outlast several bits prior to it needing service.

“To go alongside our PDC drill bits, operators use the SoftDrive system, which eliminates rod rattle while drilling,” said Mos. “SoftDrive is filled with proprietary elastomer compound which gives a little bit of lateral movement to the drill. When the bit takes an aggressive bite of a formation and wants to stall out, rather than all of that impact being placed onto the critical cutting structure, that lateral movement soaks up the impact, preserving the bit.”

Ulterra’s mining manager in Australia, and the original SoftDrive patent holder, Nathan Brooks told Australian Mining.

With an investment in Ulterra’s product, customers can realize true cost savings.

“Our bits drill for longer and they drill easier,” Brooks said. “Rigs are running more optimally, consuming less fuel and spending less time on bit changes, which is significantly reducing operating costs. You’re also saving on repair and maintenance costs because you’re not running your rigs at their limit all the time. Our end goal is overall cost reduction.”

Fewer drill bit changes mean operators spend less time in contact with heavy machinery, helping keep them safe.

Ulterra’s manufacturing and design, as well as better fuel efficiency for rigs, helps mine sites cut carbon emissions. The company also prides itself on their responsive and tailored customer experience.

“Most of our customers have similar problems which can be solved by the PDC drill bits we already offer,” Brooks said. “We can usually sort out those cases within 48 hours.”

Ulterra’s engineers can deliver custom-designed drill bits, including bits designed for philanthropic water bores in north Africa, or a range designed specifically for autonomous drilling. For application-specific designs, Ulterra can prototype a new design and have it in the ground within three weeks. In addition, all of Ulterra’s PDC manufacturing is undertaken in its North American facilities. Powering this rapid turnaround is the fact that Ulterra has stock points across the country, a repair facility in Mackay, and offices and personnel in Mackay, Brisbane, Adelaide, and Perth. This allows Ulterra to hire the best in local talent to help support its growing footprint in the Australian mining industry.

Putting all these pieces together, it’s easy to see why Mos calls Ulterra the Ferrari of the drilling industry.

“The market in the last couple of decades has been focusing on cheaper and cheaper drill bits,” Mos said. “You talk to a lot of the drillers that have been out in the field for a long time, and they’ll tell you they used to get higher meters with their drill bits than what they do now.” Said Mos. “It’s about more than just the upfront cost. It’s the cost of drilling, it’s the cost of damages, it’s the cost of maintenance, and so much more.” He continued. “We’ve proven that if you flip that on its head and pay a bit more, you get a product that’s not just a bit better, but quite simply the best that’s out there and multiple times worth its cost.”