National Quarry Services evolves from one drill to a smart fleet

Strong alliance between contractor, dealer and manufacturer is key to the continued growth of National Quarry Services

In 2004, Chris Gifford, a 32-year-old from Upstate New York, quit his job with a heavy equipment contractor, cashed out all of his investments and bought a blast-hole drilling rig. He set up a drill and blast contracting company in Winston Salem, North Carolina. They began with just that one rig and a single customer.

Fourteen years later, National Quarry Services (NQS) is a full-service precision blasting, drilling and crushing provider with a fleet of over 70 drilling rigs and employing over 100 people. Its approximately 50 quarry customers represent some of the industry’s most highly esteemed, large-scale operations. Additionally, NQS routinely contracts and subcontracts its drill-and-blast services for industrial, mining and government customers.

As NQS purchased, leased or rented additional rigs along the journey, each went straight to a customer’s job to earn its keep. To keep the rigs in tip-top shape, NQS has its own fully equipped maintenance facilities, trained service technicians and a parts warehouse.

NQS has steadily increased in revenue 20 percent each year. “We keep our customers through our quality performance,” Gifford said. “In fact, we still drill for that first customer.” 

Changing with the times

NQS knows a rotation plan will be necessary because customers’ needs are changing. “More and more they’re asking if we have ‘smart rigs,’” Gifford said. “They ask about GPS capability and automated features.”  

NQS has expanded its work radius with jobs increasingly farther away from its facilities in Clemmons. “We do have plans underway to create additional NQS locations, but I realized we couldn’t build fast enough to keep up with our growth,” said Gifford. To support continued geographic and technological growth, “It was time to form alliances.”

Partnering with James River Equipment was an ideal solution to both equipment and location challenges. The dealership serves Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina and has been supplying NQS with drill rig tooling for two years. It is an authorized dealer of Epiroc and has access to the full line of Epiroc equipment.

James River is now supplying the high-tech Epiroc DTH and top hammer drilling rigs that NQS customers had been asking for, and will warehouse parts and consumables close to NQS job sites.

Gifford also wanted a firm relationship with the manufacturer. “Relationships are just that important to me. I need to know who I’m partnering with.” The NQS Epiroc contact is Greg Ayers, District Manager Southeast agrees with Gifford’s emphasis on relationships. “We’re all in this together,” he said.


With its new, rock-solid alliances with James River and Epiroc USA, Gifford expects NQS to continue growing at 20 percent per year over the next three to five years. Epiroc operated under the trademark “Atlas Copco” prior to January 1, 2018.

‘We take no shortcuts’

NQS also has its own in-house driller training program and may purchase Epiroc training simulators. “Drilling is a demanding job,” Gifford said. “Not everyone is cut out for it. The only way to know is to train them and let them experience it. We’ll do everything we can to find the right match for our employees.”

For NQS driller Michael Elliott, who has been with NQS for seven years, drilling was a perfect fit. NQS gives him incentives such as production bonuses and reliable, productive equipment to achieve them.

Elliott had just finished a 33-hole pattern of vertical, 6 ½-inch holes with 14 by 15 burden and spacing that when blasted would neaten up the bench face with a new Epiroc FlexiROC D60 down-the-hole rig on 3M’s Pittsboro, North Carolina, quarry. The holes were 52 feet deep with 5 feet of sub-drilling.

The rock is hard here, Elliott said, but the rig sets up fast on holes and the bits give him “above average bit life” compared to what he had been using before the switch to Epiroc.

NQS is currently advertising for additional drillers to meet its goal of doubling production in the next five years, increasing its current staff from 100 employees to more than 175.

The plan is based on good relationships with NQS clients and its people, the ability to mobilize rapidly and a commitment to performing the highest quality work. “We take no shortcuts,” Gifford said. “We’ve got the best operators, all trained in the industry’s best practices to get a customer’s work done on time and without incident, safely and efficiently.”


Drill rigs delivered to NQS go straight to work on a customer's job. Driller Michael Elliott stands next a new Epiroc D60 down-the-hole rig with the NQS logo. Epiroc operated under the trademark “Atlas Copco” prior to January 1, 2018.

Looking to the future

To support its continued annual growth, NQS turned to high-tech computerized tracking. In 2016 the drill and blast contractor developed its own in-house software for compiling daily drill reports. Hosted on NQS servers, all NQS employees, not just managers, can produce daily reports of data gathered from the operations, such as hours worked vs. drill footages, drill downtime and rig availability, which is being reported in real time. The information is also integrated into the NQS maintenance program, used for tracking engine hours, scheduling repairs and consumable drill tool performance straight from the field.

Epiroc rigs come with Certiq, a telematics package that allows this data to be communicated in real-time from the rigs themselves. “We are integrating Certiq into our maintenance program to self-report engine hours and maintenance warnings,” said Gifford. “We’re continuing to explore its capabilities as part of our technology integration.”

Good planning and good relationships explain National Quarry Services’ steady growth to a 70-drill company. NQS drill purchases are customer-driven, says Gifford. The Epiroc FlexiRoc D60 down-the-hole crawler rig is a good example of the “smart rigs” clients have been inquiring about. It has an electronic operating system based on the latest Epiroc Rig Control System (RCS V), supporting automated rig and drilling functions as well as Certiq telematics. Life-like rig simulators are available to safely speed up training to proficiency in the NQS in-house drilling training program.

Gifford’s vision for NQS has helped the company seize opportunities and make the most of relationships. To see continued success, NQS has been building strong partnerships to best serve customers near and far. They’ve found those alliances and Gifford said he expects to continue growing at 20 percent for the next three to five years. “That suits us,” Gifford said, “Our name is, after all, ‘National’ Quarry Services. Expanding means we’re just living up to our name.”


Strong alliances between contractor, dealer and manufacturer is a key component to NQS's continued growth. Left to right: Greg Beck, James River account manager to NQS; Greg Ayers, District Manager Southeast; Chris Gifford, owner, National Quarry Services.

About the author

Mila Armer is the Marketing and Communications Manager for Epiroc USA. With expertise in strategic marketing within a global matrix organization, Ms. Armer’s main focus areas are brand activation in B2B environment, public relations, content marketing, and demand generation. She holds an MBA in Marketing as well as various certifications related to media arts, broadcasting and journalism. In addition, she has a vast experience in manufacturing, energy and infrastructure sectors, including oil and gas, LNG, chem/petrochem, power generation / geothermal, underground and surface drilling, construction, as well as motor-vehicle, offroad, robotics, IT/engineering.