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Craig Berninger helped found Western Equipment Solutions four years ago. A long-time driller himself, it’s clear Berninger has the right credentials for the job.

By Mark Halsall

 

Western Equipment Solutions is a distributor for numerous leading foundation brands, such as TEI Rock Drills, Soilmec, Intric, PTC, Junttan and Leffer. The company’s sales manager, Craig Berninger, is a trained geologist with 20 years of experience as a driller and hydrologist – so when he’s discussing drilling options with clients, they know they’re getting the real deal.

“I was a driller for a long time. Believe it or not, that gets you a lot of street credibility. I guess you’d say because you’ve actually done it,” Berninger said. “It’s just kind of one of those things.”

Although, Berninger points out that blowing smoke at clients is something he won’t do. When he doesn’t know something, he won’t hesitate to say so.

“I’m not afraid to say, ‘I don’t know,’ because when you don’t, it could turn into bigger problems and [cost] more money down the road. It doesn’t matter how long you [have] been in this industry, you can’t know it all. You’re going to learn something new every single day,” Berninger said.

“The biggest thing for me is to be able to get answers and potential solutions to my clients as quickly as I possibly can.”

Berninger got his first drilling job in 1995, when he was a geology student at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Fla.

“The office of the Florida Geological Survey was at that time across the street from the geology department building,” said Berninger. “It was fairly commonplace for undergraduates to get part-time jobs there, working in the lab, doing core descriptions, cutting descriptions, permeability and porosity tests. I got in with the Florida Geological Survey just doing that kind of thing.”

During a summer break from university, Berninger was asked by his bosses at the Florida Geological Survey if he’d be interested in working on some drilling operations that were part of the in-house drilling program. You can guess his answer.

“That’s how I got involved with drilling. I started off just like everyone else, shovelling cuttings and worked my way up from there,” said Berninger.

He became a full-time driller at the Florida Geological Survey and worked there until 1997, when he was offered an environmental drilling position at Jim Stindham and Associates in Tallahassee. He worked there for a few years before rejoining the Florida Geological Survey. In 2008, Berninger moved on to take a hydrologist job at the St. Johns River Water Management District in Palatka, Fla.

In 2012, Berninger decided a career change was in order.

“I never had intentions of staying with working for the State of Florida as long as I did. But I kind of woke up one day and went, ‘Holy cow, I’ve got a lot of years in and, you know, I’m still young.’”

Berninger switched gears and joined the private sector as a sales associate for Champion Equipment Sales, a California-based foundation drilling equipment supplier. He also changed zip codes in the process, moving from St. Augustine, Fla., to Salt Lake City, Utah.

 

One-stop shop

In 2016, Berninger left Champion Equipment Sales to join business partners Steve Wilson and his sons, John and Matt, to form Western Equipment Solutions, which offers a full line of foundation drilling equipment and tooling to customers in Western Canada and the Western U.S. The company also provides expertise and support for customer jobsite logistics, as well as on-site technical support and drill rig operator training.

“We’re willing to work with you to get your project going,” said Berninger. “We’re available for consulting. We spend a lot of time looking at geotechnical reports and designing tooling systems to match the rig and the formations that our customers are going to be drilling in. We truly are a one-stop shop when it comes to the deep foundation drilling industry.”

Berninger says he loves being where he is at Western Equipment Solutions, which is based in Salt Lake City, and has an office in Nisku, Alta., just south of Edmonton. He jokes that sometimes people mistake him for being a third son of Steve’s and the reason for that might be that they all work so well together.

“It’s not one family, but it is a family business,” Berninger said. “We’re working together every single day. It’s a fantastic relationship and to me they are family.”

Berninger says what he likes best about his work is that he gets to interact with drillers.

“I think just by nature, they’re intriguing people. They’re doing an exceptionally challenging job and they’re great problem-solvers, which makes them interesting to talk to,” he said.

Berninger says it’s this problem-solving aspect that likely drew him to drilling in the first place.

“I think that’s probably what has always really kept me involved with drilling,” he said. “It’s coming up with solutions to problems, whether it was back when I was dealing with my own drilling issues or now, when I might have five drillers and superintendents and whatnot calling me about issues that they’re having. We talk through it and try to come up with some alternative solutions for them.”

 

Two types of drilling

Berninger acknowledges it’s been an adjustment switching from the world of core drilling/sampling to deep foundation production drilling.

“Core drilling is high speed, lower penetration rates, really feeling what the rock is, versus, just going in with a down-the-hole hammer or a big auger and just chewing it up. It’s totally different types of drilling,” he said.

Berninger points out drillers in the deep foundation industry typically face a different set of problems than those involved with core drilling – and they also have to deal with them a lot more quickly.

“When I was drilling for the Florida Geological Survey, I had deadlines, but I might have been working on a 3,000-foot core, which, quite frankly, could have taken me a year to do it, just to drill that one hole. But the goal was to collect the best possible data that I could,” he said.

“I never had deadlines like our contractors in the deep foundation industry have, where for them to make a nickel, they’ve got to be out there and they’ve got to be cranking.

“You don’t have a whole lot of time to step back and think about problems that you’re having. You’ve got to solve the problems on the fly and really keep moving. So from that perspective, it is really different.”

For Berninger, the ground conditions his clients face are also very different from what he dealt with as a driller in Florida.

“Florida has such an interesting geology that when you’re drilling in it, it’s very difficult drilling. You know, guys out here in the West may say, ‘Man, this is the worst drilling ever, I’m drilling in the hardest rock in the world,’” he said.

“My response is that in Florida, you can find yourself drilling somewhere where you have 60-foot cavities and you’ve got saltwater blowing back at 1,300 [to] 1,400 gallons per minute. I’d love to drill through homogeneous rock instead!”

Berninger says to succeed as a driller these days, it’s important to have some kind of mechanical inclination, and also be willing to get your hands dirty and learn from your mistakes.

“Drilling isn’t something that you can learn just by reading a book. It just can’t happen. You’ve got to go out and do it, you’ve got to live it. You’ve got to go out and make mistakes,” he said.

Berninger, who’s 50, lives in Las Vegas, Nev., with his wife of 23 years, Corinne. They have a son, Mason, who happens to be entering the same line of work as his dad.

“My son is 22-years-old and he’s just getting his start in the deep foundation industry. That’s exciting to me,” Berninger said. “What I’ve told my son is you’ve got to be willing to put the time in and work hard. It’s not an easy job. You have to stick with it. You can do very well in this business for the rest of your life, but you’ve got to commit to it.” 

 

 

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Piling Canada is the premier national voice for the Canadian deep foundation construction industry. Each issue is dedicated to providing readers with current and informative editorial, including project updates, company profiles, technological advancements, safety news, environmental information, HR advice, pertinent legal issues and more.