Drilling Software As a Renewing Process

It is said that every 7 years, we have a whole new body, because daily our old cells are dying off and being replaced with new ones. As the New York Public Library’s Science Desk Reference (Strongsong Press, 1995) notes, “There are between 50 and 70 trillion cells in the body. “ Each type of cell has its own life span. Colon cells die off after about 4 days. Red blood cells live for about 4 months, while brain cells typically last an entire lifetime. Therefore, there’s nothing special about a 7-year cycle, since cells are renewed all the time.

In a similar way, software has its own life-cycle, from 1st version to a mature product. Functions are dropped or upgraded. Window platform changes. Development tools evolve. Even developers switch. Users want better graphics with faster calculation. All these facts contribute to the ever-changing software. Our TADPRO (torque and drag model), since its 1st appearance in 2005, now is in version 7.1. If we account both major and minor version upgrades, we must have had more than 20 releases.

We have never compared how many lines of code in version 7 are still the same as those in version 1. It is definitely getting more mature as more drilling engineers start using TADPRO every year. They are the users, testers and judges. Together with them, we nurture TADPRO from a caterpillar to a beautiful butterfly.

Our body is designed to be regulated and maintained. When we don’t, we pay the price, in terms of sickness. If people do not get enough sleep, they may get accident or more serious disease; if we do not get our back well supported, we get backaches, and so on.

Engineering software like TADPRO is also a living product, demanding support from both users and developers. As drilling technologies advance and computer operating system evolves, software needs to be upgraded or turned to fit into the new environment.

Some people may think software, once purchased, works wonder forever, or think technical support, upgrade and maintenance plan is unnecessary or expensive. But think about the backaches without support or the ease of engineering work with well-supported software, you might have second thought.

Smaller, Smarter & Stronger

Technology consumers want more powerful tools in smaller packages. They also want these packages to withstand physical abuse. This is especially true for drilling professionals concerning the equipment they rely upon.

Everyday devices show the smaller, smarter, and stronger trends. Cellular telephone manufacturers race each other to bring out smarter devices in smaller packages. Computer makers chase accelerating technology in an almost free-fall market for their smaller and smarter computing devices. Over decades of development batteries have slowly increased useful life and charge capacity. Their goal is to pack more punch in smaller volumes that adapt to person’s needs.  Smaller, smarter and stronger are the trends.

Advances in drilling technology parallel advances in other tech-intensive businesses. In fact, the instrument package that gives the driller insight and control over the downhole assembly could not exist before the solid state circuit was practical in equipment. Solid state technology is essential to many current consumer and commercial products. The earliest instrument packages to accompany the bottomhole assembly consisted of connected single-gate (And, Nor, Not logic) components. These first circuits were much larger than today’s microscopic imprints and carried the limited intelligence of early 1960’s cutting edge technology. In perspective, it was similar technology that allowed the United States to go into space.

Down in the borehole, delicate circuits shattered under the vertical acceleration (about 100 gravities) created by a drilling bit in action. Researchers immobilized the electronics in a solidifying gel. This solution protected the package contents. As drilling tests continued through the 1970’s, electronics development made packages more capable of sensing and recording data in the same or smaller space. Current instrumentation can measure these greatly expanded factors:

*                Formation properties and content

*                Borehole direction

*                Casing wear damage

*                …and for directional drilling, the instrument let the driller steer the downhole assembly.

Batteries presented their own difficulties for instrument designers. The heat and violent vertical acceleration of the bottomhole assembly shortened battery life. So, instrument designers used mud motors developed in the 1980’s and early 1990’s to power the electronics package. The mud motor is a form of turbine rotated by the forced flow of drilling mud down the drill pipe. The mud motor’s primary purpose is to power drilling bit rotation and power the directional steering motors of the downhole assembly.

When people see footage of the first Red Stone and Atlas rockets spectacularly exploding on launch, they usually don’t appreciate that it is these failures that were the hard but necessary steps to later successful launches. Mud motors like instrument packages had a tough beginning. The mud motors which now function for days operated only for 20 minutes when first deployed.

People tend to forget the not-so-glorious uphill struggles that precede success. It took 20 years to develop a stable and reliable dowhhole instrument package. The mud motor took a few years less. Drilling professionals and researchers work through the failures and marginal successes to find better designs and more reliable tools that will be smaller, smarter, and stronger.

Software: Drilling Engineers’ Eyes

Oil well drilling is one of the most fascinating engineering collaborations I have ever come across. It requires efforts from drill bits, tubulars, motors, mud and the list goes on. Most impressively, all of the drilling processes take place under the ground, probably tens of thousand of feet, maybe horizontally, away from the rig.

To keep drilling operations under control, people have developed many technologies that incorporate electronic, magnetic, and radioactive methods in order to understand the formation and downhole conditions.

The following picture shows a giant, floating iceberg. For a typical iceberg, only 10% of its mass is visible above the water. The remaining 90% is immersed in the deep blue.

It is difficult to estimate its underwater shape; hence, we say “tip of iceberg“ meaning the starting sign of problem.

Similar situations exist on rig floors. Drillers have limited information, which include hook load, surface torque, etc. However, they do not know the axial force along the string, whether the pipe is buckled or not, or if the torque on the pipe connection exceeds the makeup limit. Experienced drillers may sense the downhole problems through the combination of brake vibration, noise or pump pressure, etc., but what we need is something to bridge the gap between what we can see and what we cannot see.

Drilling software servers as this bridge!

Over the past 20 years, drilling engineering software has become an indispensable engineering tool in design phases, real-time monitoring and post job analyses. Using known operation parameters such as ROP, RMP, mud weight, drilling string configuration and well path trajectory, software like TADPRO can predict pipe buckling, hook load, surface torque, etc.

In other words, software is becoming drilling engineers’ eyes. Equipped with software, we can not only understand what we see (why certain hookload, surface torque), but also see the otherwise invisible happenings.

Do you have “eyes“ for your next well?