Automated, hands-free handling of rods used in drilling operations improves the safety of rigs because the most common injuries involve dropped rods and hazardous equipment, says drilling specialist Boart Longyear product manager Craig Mayman, adding that automation enables operators to stand further away from the rods and reduces their risk of injury.
There is an increased focus on safety from mining com- panies and this client-driven demand for improved safety on rigs is also driving automation and computer control, he says. Clients also want information from operations to be streamed to them in real time, and to be categorised and trended so that operators can make informed decisions on site.
“Further, clients want core sample results as quickly as possible,” he says, adding that sample results and real-time information from drilling operations can be accessed remotely through the Internet as part of the function of the automated rig.
Live information from drilling operations means that operators can monitor drill performance. The system can monitor different parts of the rig, such as torque and bit weight, and operators can then adjust operations to improve the performance of the rig. The real-time information means that drilling companies can possibly invoice clients based on the performance information of the rig, Mayman says.
When building a rig, it is important for a company to offer a proven mechanical system that can be automated, and computer control and assistance that are reliable, to their clients, he says. Boart Longyear is developing these technologies on a prototype rig, which is currently being tested and has automated rod handling and computerised controls.
The company focuses on developing equipment for mineral exploration companies, which have shown significant interest in automated and safe rigs in the development stages.
“Currently, there are no rigs available that meet all the requirements of these companies. Until we have a rig out in field and proving its merits, it is difficult to predict how quickly uptake of this technology will occur. But, I suspect that uptake will be quicker compared to other technologies, because it is being driven by client demand,” Mayman says.
Research and development is mostly done internally by the company, which is also a member of Australia’s Cooperative Research Centres Association, an organisation formed through collaborative partnerships between publicly funded researchers and users of the research.
Another significant issue that will shape drilling in the medium term is the improved safety of operations, he says. Well-trained drill operators are important as part of this drive. Computer-controlled rigs also aim to enable practical on-site training of operators and apprentices as qualified drillers. Expert drillers can then oversee a trainee’s inputs and commands and can teach the trainee what to monitor and how to improve the operation of the drill, he explains.
Boart Longyear is currently working on a standard rig platform and aims to ensure that the system is robust and reliable, and can be easily integrated with other technologies. The company is focusing on providing a rugged platform that can be built onto and expanded as needed, and is flexible to include different equipment requested by customers, Mayman says.
“We need to introduce our new platforms into the field so that customers can realise the potential. We can also improve the system to include more equipment as we receive feedback from customers. If Boart Longyear can be the first to offer this equipment, huge opportunities, such as a large market share, lies ahead for the company,” he says.
The company also offers drilling contract work, which provides the opportunity to demonstrate its technology to clients, and provides its contracting division with a competitive advantage over other drilling contractors, he explains.
Boart Longyear is currently developing a rig, the SC9, which it claims will be the first truly hands-free rod handling system on rig and the first controller area network, or CANbus, technology for self-monitoring and efficient rig operation. The SC9 will be a fully automated exploration drilling system and it will be introduced in the next 6 to 12 months, he concludes.