Students Compete to Design an Automated Driller

Source: Getty Images.

Student teams from around the world are competing to build an automated drilling system in a first-ever competition created by SPE’s Drilling Systems Automation Technical Section (DSATS).

Over the past semester, multi-talented groups from about 20 universities in Austria, Germany, Norway, and the United States have each been working on detailed plans to build a machine capable of drilling without remote operation. Once the rig begins drilling, it should function autonomously.

Eight finalists will be chosen to compete by showing what they can do by drilling through a cube that is 60 cm on each side, using systems they have designed and built and a miniature diamond bit provided by the technical section, whose members will observe and judge their work.

The samples will be created to mirror the unpredictable nature of making hole out on a true drill site. “There will be unknown materials within the sample,” said Fred Florence, who is leading a group of 35 individuals from more than a dozen companies who have initiated the competition. “Their design must be adaptable to the unknown ‘downhole environment.’”

Finalists will write technical papers about their drilling systems, and the winning team will deliver its presentation at the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition (ATCE) in 2015 in Houston.

The contest was designed to encourage teams with members from various engineering and scientific communities to create a final product capable of accomplishing the end objective. “The students need to form an interdisciplinary team to design and build a drilling machine,” said Florence, who is director of advanced drilling technologies at NOV. “They probably need engineers specializing in drilling, mechanical and electrical engineering, instrumentation and controls, modeling, and software.”

Phase I of the competition started at the beginning of the 2014 fall semester, and teams have been creating plans and documentation of their projects for ­judges. This documentation must include engineering drawings, control system plans, a cost estimate, and a short summary video. All entries must be submitted by 31 December.

The five teams selected in January 2015 to move on to phase II will receive grants, funded by DSATS and corporate sponsors, to construct their de­vices for competition. To emphasize creativity and cost effectiveness, the suggested budget for each project is no more than USD 10,000.

Judges will evaluate each project based on multiple criteria, the three most important being performance, quality of wellbore, and data handling and visualization. DSATS will pay for the winning team to attend the 2015 ATCE where members will present their paper during the conference. Second- and third-place teams will receive transportation and accommodation to attend the DSATS Automation Symposium prior to ATCE, where they will be able to present papers on their rigs.

Organizers are hoping to use the contest to attract talented students and connect them with the companies backing the competition. “Ultimately, we hope that the students will come up with new tools and processes that will revolutionize how we drill wells to make it safer, cleaner, cheaper to drill, and more productive,” said Florence. “And all of our sponsors will surely want to hire these creative and talented students to help lead our industry into a new future.”

For more about DSATS or the competition readers can visit

Students Compete to Design an Automated Driller

Jack Betz, JPT Staff Writer

01 December 2014

Volume: 66 | Issue: 12