To Find Oil, You Have to Drill
Part 5

Date: 07/28/2011

Engineering for Reliability—Learning from Others

About one-fifth of the total time spent drilling a well today is nonproductive. While natural events such as adverse weather are partly responsible, equipment failure and human error also contribute. And while remote support centers help improve the latter, improving the reliability of the technology deployed can also increase performance. This is a significant prize: one-fifth of the time translates to one-fifth of the cost, and with operating budgets in the billions of dollars, the money at stake is huge.

Technology increases performance

But the development of technology demands many different inputs and considerations that are not necessarily specific to the exploration and production industry. It is therefore instructive to consider techniques that can be adopted from other leading industries as we seek to create a step change in our own performance.

Family car versus drilling rig

The functions of today’s family car, for example, are monitored by ever greater numbers of sensors. Dashboard computers track performance, measure efficiency, and warn of impending problems. In contrast, the monitoring of a drilling rig and its equipment is much more limited—with sparse instrumentation on the drawworks, drillpipe, bottomhole assembly, and drillbit.

Automotive industry stakes its claim

But beyond monitoring and automation, the automotive industry has also been a leader in engineering and manufacturing methods dedicated to improving reliability and ensuring repeatability. With the drive toward improved drilling efficiency, similar changes in oilfield technology can be achieved. While a quality rating of 97% may seem acceptable, it corresponds to 30 hours lost in every 1,000—or about a day a month.

New organization turns the page

Toward achieving a step-change improvement in technology performance, Schlumberger is establishing systems, processes, and standards across product development and manufacturing centers worldwide. The creation of a new Engineering, Manufacturing and Sustaining organization in 2007 has already brought a strong focus on equipment reliability, manufacturability, and maintenance. The result has been a major evolution in the way the company works and is leading to faster commercialization of more reliable products, more efficient industrialization of innovative ideas, coordinated development of enabling technologies, and stronger operational support.

Improving on what works

The most visible first improvements have been achieved through improving existing commercial product quality and reliability—while reducing cost and managing obsolescence. At the same time, what has been learned in sustaining has been applied earlier in new product development. Physically testing of the limits of new designs in different ways builds greater margins into field equipment to make it more robust and more reliable. For example, it is no longer enough to test new designs for resistance to shock or vibration at surface temperatures. Those tests must also be conducted under temperatures and pressures that replicate downhole conditions.

New record

One example of the difference sustaining efforts can make is illustrated by the PowerDrive 475 rotary steerable system. In 2009, this technology attained a record average mean time between failures of 1,390 hours—representing an increase of 695 hours over the previous year’s 694 hours—a 100% improvement. This step change in reliability was achieved through a combined effort involving field locations, technology center efforts, supply chain management, and cooperation with a number of customers.

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