Upco Inc.

As a premier manufacturer of sucker rods, pony rods, polished rods, rod couplings, rod lubricant, pup joints and sinker bars for artificial lift and traditional beam pumping systems in oil wells, Upco Inc. continues to raise the industry bar on quality and consistency, which President Bill Ridenour says is already unmatched by its competitors.

The Claremore, Okla.-based company was founded in 1983 with an initial focus of providing customized services for the general manufacturing and aerospace industries. Upco then found an application for the energy market and started subcontracting work for a major rod producer. The company’s growth was catapulted when it launched its own product line in the late 1980s.

In 1996, Ridenour and his business partner bought out the company’s founder and, in 2000, embarked on a new mission to produce the highest-quality rods in the marketplace.

Upco has the numbers to prove it, Ridenour adds. “We are just within throwing distance of Six Sigma,” he asserts. “We are at about a 5.8 Sigma right now, but within five months, we will reach Six Sigma. At the moment, we have six defects on 1.4 million parts; in five months, we’ll be at 1.7 million, so we’ll have less than four defects per million.”

Facing Challenges
The fact that drilling companies are venturing into more complicated drilling scenarios to obtain oil is another reason why Upco has improved on its quality, Ridenour says. For instance, rod strength is integral for drilling high-viscosity wells and rod flexibility is important for drilling deep wells, but it takes a mixture of different grades of steel to achieve strength and flexibility.

There is a great deal of science behind mixing the grades of steel and ensuring their chemistries interact properly to create a high-quality, well-functioning rod, he says. “We have to understand how the elements of those chemistries interact and what that means to the heating and cooling cycles of our furnaces,” Ridenour notes. “It’s a much more exacting process than just heating up a furnace and running some steel through it, which is the way the world approached it 15 years ago.”

Another challenge is to maintain product consistency, which can be difficult to achieve when the equipment used to make the rods starts to mature and lose it luster. “In times of economic challenge, it’s easy to defer maintenance of a machine, but when you do that, you jeopardize the quality,” Ridenour stresses.

Traditional manufacturers delegate quality assurance to a specific department; at Upco, quality is everyone’s shared responsibility.

“We use our quality department to 1) help us improve processes and product flow and 2) make sure the operators are adhering to specifications and work standards that have been set for that job,” Ridenour notes.

Upco abides by the principles of lean and continuous improvement. “Every one of our people took the pledge to make daily improvements to our ability to deliver defect-free products to our customers,” he states, adding that he is optimistic about the future. “The industry is booming at the moment, and we are well-positioned to participate in some of the new and exciting oil production opportunities in the Texas, North Dakota and California areas.”