The Drillbotics tests for 2016 have now been completed. Judging the entrants this year has been extremely difficult. The ten Phase I submittals included innovative concepts from each school, but we had to reduce the field to only five finalists for Phase II. The finalists built great rigs with new features, both at the surface, and downhole. The judges had to balance a number of factors: safety concerns, understanding of engineering and control principals, construction techniques, recognizing drilling dysfunctions, and planning for the unknown. Students also had to interact professionally with each other and share their domain expertise in a multidisciplinary environment. And of course, they needed to drill a straight hole as quickly as practicable.
This year, the winning team was West Virginia University. They drilled the 10.5 inch thick rock sample in a record time of 27 minutes and the wellbore was fully vertical. They included interactive drill-off tests to select optimal drilling parameters in near real-time.
The WVU team included Tawfik Elshehabi, Zachary Cox, Gbolahan “Bugzy” Idowu, Cody Smith, and Rachael Richard. Dr. Ilkin Bilgesu, Faculty Advisor, will be hard pressed to replace them next year.
All five schools designed and built drilling rigs that handled the mechanics of the drilling process exceptionally well. The surface electrical systems were well designed. Several universities had downhole or along string tools and sensors that encountered problems due to water ingress. This is an area for improvement for next year. Some schools constructed their rigs like prototypes without much consideration for the routing of wires, and they had issues from electrical noise/interference. Others carefully separated power, sensor and signal circuits, which worked much better.
Every team drilled a straight hole and only a few had minor deviations near the surface. They all had a long, packed BHA, many with a rotating sleeve stabilizer. DSATS will need to restrict the length of the BHA or introduce new surprises to make next year’s test more challenging.
The contest is all about automated drilling, which means careful attention must be given to sensors, calibration, data handling and computation. Only a few schools addressed sensor calibration before the test. Everyone seemed to have a different depth datum. Some teams measured vibrations but did not include the measurement in their control algorithms. There was a wide variety of control techniques: some teams used a near real-time drill-off test to choose the optimum drilling parameters for the current formation. Others conducted series of drill-off tests for a variety of formations in the weeks before their test, and they used ROP calculations to estimate the formation type and adjusted their parameters accordingly. The latter technique had some issues with the transitions between formations due the time it took to update the ROP estimate.
Next year, teams need to pay closer attention to the rig controls, control stability, data sampling rate and control response rate. Algorithms that feed the control system in real-time are preferred. Data presentation should be simple/clean and intuitive.
The ingenuity of the Drillbotics competitors has been outstanding. The students passion surrounding this project is apparent to everyone who sees them at work. To the oil and gas industry, please take note of these engineers with a depth of understanding that often exceeds that of their fellow graduates. Congratulations to everyone involved!