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Ray Roussy

Location: Surrey, BC

Award: Innovation Award

Category: Industry

Year: 2010


The Sonic Drill - enabling faster and more environmentally friendly drilling. Read the News Release and Media Backgrounder for additional information.

News Release

BC Inventor Wins Manning Innovation Award for Speedy Sonic Drill

Sonic Drill Makes Waves with Environmental Applications

CALGARY, AB - (September 8, 2010) Ray Roussy, a mechanical engineer from Surrey, BC, will take home a coveted $10,000 Innovation Award from the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation for developing one of the fastest drilling systems in the world. Roussy’s sonic drilling technology, which he began developing in his own backyard nearly three decades ago, is in use on six continents and gaining worldwide recognition, especially as an environmentally-friendly alternative.

Today, Roussy’s sonic drill is commonly used to quickly install geothermal energy loops, provide continuous core samples for environmental investigations and explore possible mineral deposits.

“There is a critical need for more innovation in Canada — Canadians need to create and commercialize innovations to compete in the global economy,” says Bruce Fenwick, Executive Director of the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation. The Foundation, which is named after the former Alberta Premier, has provided over $4.2 million in awards, celebrated 225 adult and youth award winners and has had over 2,500 nominations in its 29-year history. Adds Fenwick, “the Foundation’s laureates are role models who inspire Canadians.”

Unlike a traditional drill rig, the sonic drill uses high-frequency mechanical vibrations to easily cut through earth formations and bedrock. Not only is the sonic drill at least three to five times faster, it can also bore through tough terrain that typically stops other rigs. As a result, it is often used as a “rescue rig” where traditional drill rigs have failed.

“I think its versatility is what makes the sonic drill a leader in its field,” says Gary Whitesell, owner of Alberta company Crater Lake Drilling Ltd. “It is the most multi-functional piece of equipment I have ever seen in the drilling industry.”

Roussy is president of the contracting company, Sonic Drilling Ltd., and US-based Sonic Drill Corporation. He is also co-owner of the manufacturing company, Sonic Drill Systems. Combined together, the companies employ more than 50 people in Chilliwack and Surrey, BC. Overall company revenues are $8-10 million annually.

Roussy will receive his award in Ottawa on September 17th, in front of an audience of Canadian innovators, elected officials, educators and business leaders at a gala hosted by Senator Pamela Wallin, OC, Preston Manning, CC, and Bernard Lord.

The Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation (www.manningawards.ca) recognizes the importance of Canadian innovation in strengthening our nation’s capacity to compete in the global economy. The Foundation annually supports and celebrates Canadians with the imagination to innovate and the stamina to succeed.


For broadcast quality video clips and B roll of Ray Roussy, go to http://rcpt.yousendit.com/942968377/88a72cb79fcfe4b7334ab519f0a9c340&rcpt

For photos, go to


For media backgrounders, go to



Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation

Bruce Fenwick, Executive Director





The Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation recognizes the importance of Canadian innovation in strengthening our nation's capacity to compete in the global economy. The Foundation supports and celebrates Canadians with the imagination to innovate and the stamina to succeed. Visit www.manningawards.ca for more information.

Media Backgrounder

$10,000 Innovation Award

Ray Roussy

The Why and How of Sonic Drilling

When mechanical engineer Ray Roussy couldn’t secure funding to develop a sonic drill, he built one in his own back yard.
More than 26 years and numerous patents later, Roussy has developed one of the fastest drilling systems in the world. Unlike a traditional drill rig, the sonic drill uses high-frequency mechanical vibrations to easily cut through earth formations and bedrock.


  • Mechanical engineer and inventor Ray Roussy, P.Eng, was the first person to commercialize the sonic drill and, today, he is the sole patent holder on several refinements to sonic drilling technology and methods.
  • Roussy is president of the contracting company, Sonic Drilling Ltd., and US-based Sonic Drill Corporation. He is also co-owner of the manufacturing company, Sonic Drill Systems.


  • Roussy has won a $10,000 Innovation Award from the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation for his series of innovations in sonic drilling technology.


  • Sonic Drill Systems’ manufacturing plant is in Chilliwack, British Columbia.
  • Sonic Drilling Ltd. provides drilling services for clients in the Vancouver area of British Columbia and also tests and demonstrates equipment.
  • Roussy’s sonic drills are used for various applications in Asia, Europe, Australia, South America, North America and Africa.
  • Sonic Drill Corp., based in Bellingham, Washington, markets sonic drilling equipment to the United States.


  • Roussy struck out on his own in 1980 to continue work he had started at Hawker Siddeley developing sonic drilling technology. The sonic drill head and rig that he finished building in 1986 is still in operation in 2010 along with numerous other rigs that are in operation worldwide.
  • Roussy founded his contracting company Sonic Drilling Ltd. in 1979.

A Green World of Opportunities

In 1980, when Ray Roussy set out on his own to develop a commercial sonic drill, he knew it had great potential but he didn’t imagine the wide range of jobs it would eventually be used for. Today, Roussy’s sonic drill is the tool of choice for installing geothermal energy loops, conducting environmental investigations and boring through terrain that no other drill can manage.

At least three to five times faster than conventional methods, Roussy’s sonic drill makes it economically feasible to complete drilling projects that might otherwise not be possible. Geothermal installations, mineral exploration and drilling in ecologically sensitive areas are just some of the applications for his sonic drilling technology, at present boring and coring its way through Asia, Europe, Australia, South America, North America and Africa.

At home, in Surrey, BC, Roussy’s company, Sonic Drilling Ltd., is installing geothermal energy loops for the new Law Faculty building at the University of British Columbia. Only the sonic drill was capable of drilling through the challenging soil conditions found on the site for the new building. The environmental initiative to use geothermal energy for heating and air conditioning has the Vancouver campus “abuzz” with excitement.

With several patents and three companies now established, Roussy is being honoured with a $10,000 Manning Innovation Award for his achievements. It means “recognition for all the effort we, as a company, have put in,” he says. It’s been a long road but his perseverance has paid off.

The Stamina to Succeed

As Roussy stands next to his refurbished Navion plane, his face shines just as much as the lovingly tended vintage aircraft. Ever since childhood, Roussy remembers wanting to fly. But fulfilling this dream seemed impossible, he says, until the early 1990s when his sonic drilling business finally started to take off.

Growing up in a remote part of northern Ontario, there wasn’t money for luxuries, Roussy says. “My parents were normal people raising a family of six on one income,” he explains. But Roussy wanted more for himself and his family. “I quickly learned that good things don't usually happen to someone by themselves. One has to be proactive and make them happen,” he says.

A curiosity about all things mechanical pointed Roussy in the direction of his future career. “I often wondered, who were the people that were responsible for the things around me and how did those things get there?” he recalls.

Even so, aptitude alone wasn’t enough to overcome all obstacles. He and his family were strictly French speaking and, until he was halfway through high school, all of his education had been in French. Though he would later grow fluent in English, as a teen, the language barrier and distance to a big city like Toronto made getting a university education seem out of reach. “It felt just too overwhelming for an unsure kid from a small town,” Roussy says. And, in any case, his parents didn’t have the money to send him to university.

Instead, Roussy attended the Northern Ontario Institute of Technology in Kirkland Lake, paying his way through college with part-time work, summer jobs, student loans and money earned from fixing and re-selling cars. In 1969, he graduated with a diploma in mechanical technology. One of his college professors had started an engineering consulting company and gave the new graduate a full time job. “I learned a lot during my time there and really liked the work,” notes Roussy. “This was the real world,” he adds, “not just the theory that a student learns in school. I owe a lot to that man, as he gave me a really solid background in practical equipment design which was to serve me well later on.”

When the consulting company moved away from drilling and mining equipment and into heating and air conditioning systems, Roussy was itching to move on but, by now, he had his own family to provide for. On the advice of his boss, he applied to the two-year fast track program at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. “I applied and got accepted,” recounts Roussy, “so I sold the house, packed up the family and moved to an apartment in Thunder Bay.”

After graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1974, Roussy took a position with the Canadian Car division of Hawker Siddeley. The fact that the aerospace company had made history with their World War II aircraft made the opportunity all the more interesting.

It was Roussy’s job to develop sonic vibrating technology for pile driving and later, drilling in the ground. As it turned out, the early sonic drills were utterly unreliable. “At that time, it was not uncommon to have the machines stop working after a few minutes of operation in a shower of sparks and a puff of smoke,” Roussy says.

In 1976, Roussy’s development group was relocated to the Vancouver division of Hawker Siddeley and he and his family headed west. By then, the company’s willingness to invest in sonic drilling technology was already waning. Roussy, however, wasn’t ready to give up. “I was fortunate enough to take this machine and go test it in various applications,” he says, “and I could see that it had a pretty good market potential.” In 1980, he left Hawker Siddeley to pursue the technology on his own.

Months later, the world entered a severe economic recession. “I could not believe how fast economic activities could come to a screeching halt,” says Roussy. “It was a heck of a lesson.” Determined not to let the sonic drilling technology die, he searched out a source of funding while making ends meet by servicing old Hawker Siddeley sonic drill heads and rigs and taking unrelated day jobs.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

It was difficult to convince anyone that, as one man on his own, he could achieve what a large company, like Hawker Siddeley, could not. Unable to secure a government grant or bank loan for his innovative work, Roussy approached venture capitalists but the only ones interested wanted 95 percent of the business. One told him, “this sounds like an interesting project, but I'm not in the business of making anybody else's dream come true.” “It was another harsh lesson,” admits Roussy.

Out of options, he took out a home equity loan and cashed in his retirement savings, hopeful that he would someday make the money back. He used the funds to buy equipment and materials and, drawing on his past experience as a designer, draftsperson, welder, fabricator, machinist, painter, mechanic and more, went to work building the world’s first reliable sonic drill.

By 1986, Roussy had the drill head and rig built but then ran out of funds to finish the project. He moved the rig from the shop where he’d been working into his backyard. “As you might expect, I then became extremely popular with my wife and my neighbours,” relates Roussy. “The rig sat there covered with tarps for three years,” he says. Working by day as a service rep for a truck manufacturing company, he considered going public to raise capital on the stock exchange, but a stock market crash in 1987 ended that idea. “Meanwhile, I can't tell you how many times I looked at that machine and wondered if I had not committed the biggest blunder of my life,” he says. “I considered selling the equipment many times and moving on to a different career path — but thank goodness I didn't.”

One reason Roussy stayed hopeful was that one of his clients in the United States was having success using Roussy’s sonic drill to obtain continuous core samples for environmental investigations. Then, in 1990, Roussy received an advanced contract from the Geological Survey of Canada to drill core samples for climate change studies. The funding allowed him to buy the tooling that he needed to complete his sonic drill rig and fulfill the contract. He hired full time employees for his fledgling contracting company and soon they had enough work to keep them busy day and night.

Commercial success supported further development. Along with Tom Savage, Roussy started the manufacturing company, Sonic Drill Systems, to sell the sonic drill rigs worldwide. In 2002, he licensed his technology to Japan’s Toa-Tone Boring Co., Ltd. to serve the Asian market.

In the mean time, Roussy had also found room for another passion: flying. “Somehow, things are always easier to deal with after some quiet meditation in the sky,” he says. He joined a formation flying group, the Fraser Blues, and has since performed in numerous airshows with them in his 1946 Navion warbird aircraft. “There is no time to be thinking about drilling-related problems while flying within a few feet of another airplane and maneuvering close to the ground,” says Roussy.

Today, Roussy uses the Navion not only for pleasure but also to visit clients throughout North America and to commute to Sonic Drill Systems’ manufacturing plant in Chilliwack, BC.

A Drill Like No Other

At first sight, a sonic drill might look like any other. The drill rig includes all the machinery needed to bore into the ground, including an engine, a tower which holds the drill head, a hydraulic system and, of course, the sonic drill head. But, unlike any other rig, the sonic drill head vibrates and rotates a long drill pipe and drill bit at its tip, pushing them into the ground.

To accomplish this, the sonic drill head uses an oscillator that moves the drill pipe and drill bit up and down with high frequency vibrations. These vibrations are transmitted to the surrounding soil, sand and rock, allowing the drill to slice through the ground with ease.

Apart from making drilling projects go quickly — 27 minutes to drill a 60-metre (200-foot) hole in one recent project — the sonic drill has many environmental benefits. Compared to conventional drills, Roussy’s sonic drill uses significantly less horsepower and consumes less fuel. In 2009, Sonic Drill Corp. came out with a mini-sonic drill rig, which fits in a 6-metre (20-foot) shipping container.

Sonic drills produce about 70 percent less physical waste than traditional drills, which reduces clean-up costs and environmental impact. Water or air, instead of drilling mud, can be used to pick up cuttings made by the drill bit and flush them to the surface.

When working in ecologically sensitive areas, such as a lake bed, a clean process is critical, explains Roussy, since spilled drilling mud would kill fish. And because vibrations from the sonic drill do not travel very far, drilling does not disturb the surrounding ground or ecosystems. This is an important consideration when drilling in sensitive Arctic terrain, for example, or in unstable or contaminated ground. Another benefit to the technology is reduced noise pollution – much appreciated in urban environments or sensitive areas.

Shane Hughes is the sales director for Miller Drilling Co. Inc. in Tennessee. “Our sonic rigs are scattered all over the country,” says Hughes. “What impresses most people is the ability of the sonic rig to drill dry — because it is so much less intrusive, particularly when you are talking about dam remediation,” he explains. “Everyone is concerned about hydro-fracturing or getting high-pressure air into the formation.”

Roussy’s sonic drill is also making it easier to introduce geothermal energy systems to Canada due to its unique ability to drill, case, insert the geothermal loop and grout – all in one operation. The sonic drill is the only rig in the world able to do this.

“Eventually, it will come to the point where the world will have to look a little more closely at alternatives for heating buildings,” says Roussy. Geothermal energy loops could be used to heat and cool buildings almost anywhere, he explains. The loops simply need to reach a depth where the ground temperature remains fairly constant throughout the seasons — often around 90 metres (300 feet). In winter, fluid in the geothermal loops transfers heat from the ground, a heat source, to the building. In summer, the process reverses and the fluid transfers heat from the building into the ground, which is now a heat sink.

Because of the unique abilities of sonic drilling technology, geothermal energy is now more affordable for the home owner, developer or municipality. Terrain has often been an obstacle to choosing geothermal energy, but not for the sonic drill. In these cases, it can allow geothermal energy systems to be installed in areas that were not suitable using a conventional drill.

Geothermal energy can also be used in other applications. Roussy’s technology, licensed to Toa-Tone Boring Ltd. in Japan, was used to set up a geothermal highway grid to keep ice off of a steep road in the Shirakami mountain range. To drill each of the 28 geothermal holes, the sonic drill had to buzz its way through 100 metres (325 feet) of volcanic rock — a testament to the amazing capabilities of this Canadian technology.


The Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation (www.manningawards.ca) recognizes the importance of Canadian innovation in strengthening our nation’s capacity to compete in the global economy. The Foundation supports and celebrates Canadians with the imagination to innovate and the stamina to succeed.