Awards 1993 Booker Tate Award for Small Businesses

Booker Tate Award for Small Businesses

Eureka UK Ltd.

A Sudanese villager's eyes lit up when he saw the lightweight rig brought in November by Peter Ball of Eureka UK Ltd. It promised the end of laborious, manual drilling for water in the bed of the Atbara river, each hole taking weeks.

The new rig drilled four holes in a fortnight, for drinking water, and the village of Dabbura celebrated with a feast. When all 50 communities along the Atbara have boreholes, the rig will be used for irrigation water, also.

Since the building of a dam upstream in 1964, the river runs dry for half the year. Villagers rely on manual drilling for irrigation water. For drinking they dig wells, which can run dry or be polluted with salt. Peter Ball was brought in by Hunting Technical Services, managers of a UN Development Programme project to help the villagers. The Eureka rig can dig deeper and its boreholes can be sealed against salty water.

Many people have bright ideas for equipment suited to developing countries. Ball is one of the few to turn such an idea into a viable business. His easy-to-use drilling rigs are now operated by Oxfam in Ethiopia, by Oxfam, Care International, the UN Development Programme and an Irish agency Concern in Cambodia, and by the New Britain Palm Oil Development Co. in Papua New Guinea. This is in addition to over 30 rigs sold in his initial market, Nigeria.

Mrs Ball keeps the books, and Eureka has been financed with an overdraft secured on their home. The drills are built by a small Sussex engineering firm. Peter Ball prides himself not only on delivering drills but on training people to use them.

He says that for New Britain his team drilled eight boreholes in two weeks to supply water people working on the oil palm estate. Drilling and equipment cost 3,000 per well, including the cost of buying the drill. Previously wells had cost 6,000. The company is to drill further holes to provide water in neighbouring villages. Ball has been involved in drilling since 1972 when, after an engineering apprenticeship, he went to Ethiopia with a team from Tear Fund. The drill bit got stuck in soft ground down the first hole, but in the harder rock of Tigray, they provided water for about 25 villages.

In the early 1980s he won for Hydreq of Littlehampton a contract for water for 44 villages in Kano state, Nigeria. The project took a long time and required three years to negotiate. Ball believed he could speed things up if he could get appropriate equipment into African hands.

He left Hydreq and spent six months designing his own rig. This initial design, with associated equipment, costs 18,000, half the price of conventional gear. But the big saving, he says, is in management time, operator-training and workshop back up. A crew can go off into the bush with a Eureka rig on a trailer towed by a Land Rover.

The rig is mechanical, not hydraulic, which makes it easier for operators inexperienced handling equipment. A Honda engine rotates the drill: the operators apply the downward force.

With a recommendation from Robin Temple-Hazell who has spent a lifetime prospecting for water in Nigeria, Ball got an order for his first rig from a World Bank-funded farm project in Bauchi state. The Nigerians wanted to see a videotape of the rig before they would pay the air freight. But it worked well and brought more orders from Nigeria though none from elsewhere. Consultants are conservative. Tenderers often want two competing quotes and Eureka had no direct competitor.

Ball was disappointed that most of his Nigerian rigs were used for irrigation rather than drinking water. Village water supplies are commonly provided by outside contractors who come and go. Ball argues that villages really need a rig to keep on drilling. One borehole with handpump can supply only 120 people.

He found it hard to interest aid agencies until Oxfam approached him. It had found a light rig built in Thailand more adaptable and less expensive in Cambodia than a conventional rig mounted on a lorry, which was heavy for precarious timber bridges and much more powerful than the soft ground required.

Ball's initial rig can drill an eight-inch hole 60 metres deep. Oxfam asked him to design a lighter six-inch, 30-metre version which could be used not just in Cambodia but elsewhere.

He designed his Port-A-Rig which sells for only 7,000-8,000 with equipment and has proved popular for drinking water. It has a mast capable of handling drill pipe up to a weight of 500 kg (Cambodia required only 200 kg). It can be assembled from the back of a pickup truck in only 15 minutes. It was a Port-A-Rig he took to the Sudan.

He comments: "Reducing the weight and complexity of basic drilling equipment and ensuring it is supported with appropriate drilling tools and well-lining materials simplifies an awe-inspiring display of technology to an understandable operation that can compete with the cost of digging wells by hand.

Sudan Resources