In late November, Nabors Drilling, the largest land drilling rig contractor in the world, invited a few members of Rockwell Automation staff and the media down to Houston, Texas, to see the latest innovations they’ve made in drilling automation to improve drill time, accuracy and efficiency while enhancing worker safety.
Our tour included a look at the services Nabors provides to support rig operation remotely, new software solutions Nabors is engineering to automate drilling navigation, and a visit to a rig build site to tour a SmartRig™.
The first stop on our tour was the Rigline 24/7™ operations center: a glass-walled area where expert technicians remotely monitor the status of hundreds of drilling rigs in operation all over the globe.
The technicians can view KPIs like rate of penetration, directional path, weight on the drill bit, torques, fluid flow rates and various other parameters throughout all phases of the well construction process.
They watch for alerts of rig issues, answer phone calls from rig operators who have questions, and intervene if a "red-status" is created. The Rockwell Automation FactoryTalk® suite of information solutions is used to capture all the rig data in real time, and contextualize and display it as useful information.
The level of expertise the staff can provide from afar is impressive – some of the rigs are even equipped with video cameras in key places to provide visual insight in addition to the data coming in from the controllers on the rig. This allows experts to operate the rig remotely from Houston, if needed.
Next, we stopped down in the software simulation area to learn about the software Nabors has developed to automate navigation, including directional drilling. Nabors sought to fix an industry issue that was causing extra expense and downtime during the drilling process: the need to bring an experienced directional driller on-site when it was time to execute a slide, and the variability associated with relying on human operation.
In the software simulation area, Nabors has a full drilling operator station set up so engineers can test the constraints of this new software, and also to allow for operator training on how to use it. We got a peek at the ways Allen-Bradley PACs and motor control centers are powering the drilling equipment and feeding data to the software to help automate control of the rig equipment and enable this more efficient and accurate drilling.
Finally, it was time to drive 40 minutes over to Crosby, Texas, to see a Nabors SmartRig in person. The rig stood an impressive 90 feet tall, with the platform, operator cab, and e-house standing 45 feet in the air.
The rig we saw was a walking side-saddle design, with automated pipe racking capability: which means the pipe can be racked without any human intervention off on the side of the rig.
When drilling a multiwell pad, the entire rig can be walked in any direction to drill the next well without needing to disassemble or move the racking equipment out of the way.
The modular rig design allows Nabors to rig down and move all the equipment to the next drilling site in as little as 36 hours. Nabors next iteration of the SmartRig, which they’re branding as the iRig, will have a robotic arm that completely automates movement of rig floor equipment and pipe through Rigtelligent™ controls, powered by Rockwell Automation.
It was interesting to see the innovative ways Nabors has leveraged the capabilities of MCCs, PACs and software to automate the well drilling process. The industry is taking giant leaps forward, and we’re getting closer to seeing completely automated, remotely monitored drilling rigs – which opens up a ton of additional possibilities to reduce drilling cost, improve drilling operations and safeguard workers.
For more information on the work Nabors is doing, visit their website. And to learn more about the ways Rockwell Automation technology is supporting greater efficiency and innovation in the oil and gas industry, visit the oil and gas section of their website.