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What do Directional Drilling customers really want?

I had a great time last week at the IADD Targeted Technology Series MWD Forum. It was great to catch up with some of our friends in the industry, make some great new friends, and hear some of the really innovative ideas the industry creatives are exploring.

One thing that never changes is what customers of directional drilling service providers want. It is almost timeless at this point.

  • More Reliable Tools
  • More Data, Faster
  • Less Cost Overall

Better. Faster. Cheaper. Sound familiar?

It sounds too simple to be true, but it is! The hard part is executing on all three at the same time. You can often make a tool far more reliable with faster data but increase the overall cost to build and operate the system. You can also often lower the cost but end up cutting back on core functionality. One sure-fire way to fail is to cut cost by cutting corners. However, the downhole environment is unforgiving and you will soon be found out.

We spend a lot of time trying to think of the next big thing in the industry, and no doubt there are some great ideas out there, but perhaps what we should consider is trying to figure out how to do what we're already doing right now in a radically different way such that we can take a step forward without taking a step back.

I appreciated being on the panel with my industry peers in Chris Ely of Janel, Ron Dirksen of APS and David Switzer of Inpetro Energy. I would say that Chris really challenged us on what the future might hold, Ron truly reminded us that there is a lot more to the world than just U.S. land, and Dave and his team shared what's truly possible when you go back to the drawing board and start with a clean slate.

I presented on two concepts we at Erdos Miller have been working on as two ideas we would like to put forward in the future.

 

How can we shrink a 30-foot MWD system to less than 10-feet?

We have worked with one of our great customers for the last few years to build and commercialize what we most would consider a Measurement While Drilling micro-assembly. Basically we have been able to take what in the past was roughly a 30 foot long assembly and reduce it to just around 8' feet overall.

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Our customer has reported that their tools cost less than $5 USD per circulating hour to operate while drilling.

We pulled a few tricks out of our sleeve to achieve this:

  1. We used publicly available modern electronics manufacturing techniques - Modern PCB assembly techniques allow us to create incredibly dense boards packed with parts. This means more functionality in a smaller space.
  2. We made the system ultra low power - This allowed us to double the run life of the tool while cutting the battery size in half.
  3. We used MEMS sensors - Make no mistake, a MEMS revolution is coming. Countless companies are pouring countless dollars into MEMS sensors every year. The demands of the automative, aeronautical and consumer industries are enticing companies to produce ever smaller, ever more precise, and extremely low cost sensors.

We built these tools using mechanical packaging techniques that have been around in the industry for at least a decade. If we were to revisit the mechanical packaging I have no doubt that these systems would get even smaller and we might end up with an assembly that is around 4-feet. Now that would be something to see!

 

How can we reduce the cost to design downhole systems?

We spend a lot of time in the industry talking about operating costs and tool purchasing costs. What about the engineering cost of development? All of the money spent on R&D needs to be recouped at some point. One thing that frustrated us as designers is that for our customer projects we spent about 80% of our time and effort building a platform on which to innovate and only about 20% of our time innovating. In order to flip this ratio around we developed a standardized commercial off-the-shelf down-hole electronics package that is user customizable and user programmable. Think of it as a down-hole iPhone.

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What would happen if we lower the cost to design and deploy new downhole systems? Not only could we decrease costs for our customers to develop and own new down-hole systems but we could also allow even more innovators to get on board and start developing new systems.

What could this industry look like if we took projects that used to be only for big teams and big budgets and gave smaller teams the tools to innovate and bring new technology to the field? What would this industry look like if we didn't?

How can we communicate between downhole tools in the future?

Erdos Miller has designed, built and deployed both surface and downhole technology on behalf of our clients for the last 8 years. When building surface equipment we have the luxury of using the WITS protocol for communication or real-time data at the surface. WITS is by no means a sophisticated protocol. It is as simple as it is down-right ugly. However, it certainly gets the job done.

We were recently asked by one of our clients to integrate a Rotary Steerable system to a Measurement While Drilling system from two different companies. The tools were designed by different engineers, with different tastes in technology ,and clearly no real thought had been given to networking. Integrating these two tools for our customer was going to be a big job!

Mixing and matching can be extremely powerful. In this industry or any really it is very hard for any one company to bring to the table all of the equipment needed and even harder for all of the equipment to be the best-in-class. I believe as an industry we can deliver more value to customers if they are able to pick the best sensors, the best motors, the best MWDs, the best LWDs or the best rotary-steerables for their application.

We as an industry need a downhole protocol and specification for the networking of downhole tools. We should be able to mix and match between all the best products out there to create a truly effective bottomhole assembly for the well and the client. A protocol based on the CAN bus might be the right solution.

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How can we encourage greater change in our industry?

I will leave you all with one final note of encouragement.

I would encourage you to try a few more crazy ideas. Do something that isn't guaranteed to have an outcome that will affect the bottom line.

The majority of engineering in our industry is targetted to creating a revenue-increasing or cost-decreasing effect 6 to 12 months from the start of the project. That is clearly desirable and understandable, after all, we are in business to take care of our families and to make a living. However, I encourage everyone to once in a while mix in a project that seems like a great idea but perhaps there really isn't a near-term business justification. When you take these bigger leaps you detach yourself from the past and give yourself a chance to truly change things.

My business partner Abe and I began our work with MEMS sensor technology in 2010. You read that right, it has been seven years since we first began planning for and designing directional sensing technology around MEMS sensors. It has been a long and difficult road but I believe it has been well worth it. Not only have we created great designs that our customers have enjoyed but everything we learned along the way has been invaluable and will serve us for a lifetime.

If you are interested in reducing your MWD costs or working with Commercial Off The Shelf downhole technology contact us below.