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drilling tools & services Automated rig could take a bite out of the drilling industry An Alberta-based team of industry veterans is hoping to take drill rig automation to a new level By Lee Toop, Editor W hen it comes to punching holes in the ground, it’s often hard to distinguish between one piece of equipment and the next. In a lot of ways, a drill is a drill is a drill, and the same can be said for drill rigs. The same gear goes together in similar ways from one to the next, a hole gets drilled and off it goes. While the status quo might be fine for most drillers, one group of industry ex- perts in Alberta is looking at ways to move the technology of the drill rig forward. While their concept is still in the early stages of engineering, there are high hopes for a new approach to long-established drilling equipment standards. Drilling rig technology has been static for some time, according to Reg Layden, a veteran of the oil and gas industry. “When you look at the state of drilling rig technology right now, we really feel the rig itself has been ignored – optimization surrounding the rig design hasn’t changed in probably a lot longer than 20 years,” Layden said. “The last big improvement would have been the top drive, in my opin- ion, and that’s been used for more than 30 years now.” That’s not to say there haven’t been advances in the downhole side of the drilling business: in fact, there have been plenty. The problem is that such research and development has taken place mostly underground and out of sight. “In the big picture, bits have come a long way. Drilling technology, directional drilling and horizontal technologies – everything below the surface has moved forward by leaps and bounds. Compared to the drilling rig, most other industries have moved forward,” Layden said. “The drilling industry has done a good job of mechanizing, I would say, but not neces- sarily automating.” Much of the work being done on the rig floor has moved towards mechanized opera- tions, Layden pointed out, but it still requires multiple workers to get the job done. “Instead of men physically touching the tongs, for example, they’re hydraulic now. We’ve come a long way in getting the men out of harm’s way or get them off the rig floor, but the same number of people are still needed,” he pointed out. Next generation drilling rig Those observations drove Layden and several other industry experts to rethink the work done by and around the rig. “We feel that there is a lot of room for improvement, and wanted to take an existential look at how the rig did its core business to see where we could add some optimization and find efficiencies,” Layden commented. The answer was to dig deeper into automation and take another approach to “ The Raptor Rig concept saves time, and at the same time provides greater safety for the rig crew by removing many of the necessary employees from dangerous parts of the equipment. automated drill rig operations – and the result is Raptor Rig. While still early in the development process, Layden and Richard Havinga, two of the co-founders, feel the direction is unique and will bring new life to the drilling business. “Generally, other efforts have tried to automate very complex tasks, but we took a different approach,” related Havinga. “Our theory was to make the process very simple and straightforward, very factory- like, and make the automation extremely robust. That’s what differentiates our automation from anything that both Reg and I had done in the past, and what other people are doing.” The Raptor Rig concept is still in devel- opment, but Layden said the company’s ap- proach revolves around finding efficiencies in the connection process and ensuring non- productive time on the rig is minimized, keeping the bit on bottom making hole. “When we looked at the rigs avail- able today, they all have efficiencies, and what popped out for us was the efficiency surrounding how they make connections,” Layden said. “We combine making the most efficient connection with automation so that it can happen continuously, robustly and sim- ply, thus cutting out non-productive time.” The idea is to remove steps from the process, Layden said. “For argument’s sake, let’s say there are We Facilitate Protecting Lives & Mother Earth “It’s a known fact today if you take preventative action it’s substantially less costly than corrective or remedial action after the fact, in other words, what you have spent to prevent a spill is much cheaper than the clean-up cost down the line, in fact we use for business case analysis that’s 10 times greater cost to do remedial clean-up fix up work than to do it right at the start. Believe that Katch Kan’s an example of really thinking at the preventative level”. Find out how, call Gordon Lambert, VP Sustainability Development, Suncor Energy Inc. 1.800.840.2877 or visit Worldwide Patents/Patents/Patents Pending North America: 1-800-840-2877 International: 1 (780) 414-6083 20 Oil & Gas Product News n November/December 2015 @KatchKan 10 to 12 steps in a connection that every driller must follow – what we’ve done is taken 90 percent of those steps out of the critical path so that it’s pre-made and ready to go,” he said. “When it comes time to switch out, the automation required to finish the last couple of steps takes a matter of seconds. At the end of the day, the drilling is nearly continuous, the tripping is nearly continuous, and you’re eliminating that non productive time.” The Raptor Rig concept saves time, and at the same time provides greater safety for the rig crew by removing many of the necessary employees from dangerous parts of the equipment. Layden said the rig design requires three people to operate, down signif- icantly from today’s rig, and they’re moved off the cluttered and dangerous rig floor. Innovative automation solutions In addition, the system allows for greater integration of SCADA systems and remote access opportunities that will allow operators to improve the overall operation of the rig. “Parameters can come in from Calgary to tell the rig directly what the operators want to do, further reducing the number of people required to do directional drill- ing or even managed pressure drilling,” Layden said. The system will be set up to ensure that any erroneous entries can’t cause prob- lems, Havinga noted. “The idea is that anyone could input something into the rig, but it would stop because the inputs are wrong. It’s an intelligent rig that ensures you won’t do anything dumb,” he said. Raptor Rig’s research has indicated the automated system could have significant financial benefits for operators. Modelling has indicated savings of at least 30 percent – and possibly more. “The cost of extraction is the first thing on any operator’s list right now, and that’s where we can help,” Layden said. “With the automation, you get the benefits of safety and reduced downtime, and with the real-time monitoring of the systems we can competitively take care of any issues that arise. At the end of the day, safety comes down to money for the operator too.” Raptor Rig is hoping to commission its first rig within 14 to 16 months, but inter- est in the concept is already strong. “The majors we’ve spoken to are just waiting for us to get a prototype up so they can physically take a look,” Layden said. “The drilling rig industry isn’t well known for being early adopters, but in this case the acceptance has been better than we’d hoped.” OGPN