What Kind of Innovations Are There in Drill Pipe?
I read the drilling magazines. I read articles that interest me, and these are the ones about the drilling and drilling tools. (Sorry, pump and mud people.) Drilling stories interest me, not because I am a driller, but because I want to learn about drilling and what is out there in the marketplace. I also read the advertisements. I especially search for anything related to drill pipe, as drill pipe has always been in my product range. The last 15 years or so, it has been my only product.
I want to talk about drill pipe. Here in the East, they are called drill rods. In other parts of the country, it is called drill pipe. Go to Europe, and they’re drill tubes. During my first 20 years in this business, it was drill rods. It reminds me of the terminology for carbonated beverages. Are we drinking pop or soda? Being from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, it was always pop. It stayed pop until I moved at 40 to Kentucky with a soon-to-be wife from Philly. The first time “soda” slipped out, it was like I had broken a loyalty pledge. It was the same when I started to say drill pipe instead of drill rod. So, bear with me as I use the terminology “drill pipe.”
I read through the ads from suppliers — rig suppliers, hammer suppliers, tricone bit suppliers — and at the end of the list of products they offer, you can find “drill pipe.” Everyone sells drill pipe. It never fails: A company decides to manufacture drill pipe, only to find it is not as simple as they think. After all, manufacturers have not made many changes in the 45 years I have been involved in the industry. I am talking industrial drill pipe used in water, mining and construction. There has been plenty of innovation in oilfield drill pipe. Specialty steel grades and proprietary connections are popular — products designed to better withstand more difficult drilling conditions. A friend of mine, Cain Pacheco, holds a patent on one such high-strength specialty connection. But not much has happened recently with industrial drill pipe.
There have been tweaks, like loading up blasthole drill pipe with hard surfacing, the use of higher-grade materials, specialized connections and even field-replaceable tool joints. The last major innovation was probably the development and introduction of the BECO connections. (I discussed these in an earlier article on Drilco Industrial.) I just saw an ad on Facebook for a clamp from Epiroc to use instead of welding the top sub to the drill head. The design was different, but IR put out a clamp in the early ’80s that served the same purpose. Maybe “new” isn’t always a new idea, but a better design for something old. Yet it can still be a great idea.
Look at the advances in drill rigs. Compressor sizes have grown. Drill pipe handling systems have been added. Computer controls and monitoring are becoming common, especially in mining operations.
Down-the-hole hammer makers have been improving all along. We have deep-hole hammers, RC hammers, HDD hammers and hammer drilling under water — all with more power and higher penetration rates. Just read the advertisements in this edition.
For those of us with machine shop experience, the popularity of PDC bits was not a surprise. We have been using similar inserts to cut steel, so why not rock? Now they are a key tool in directional deep-hole drilling, and gaining ground in other applications.
Drill pipe in industrial applications has not really changed much. I just listed some of the efforts to get it to last longer. There have been efforts to make the weld area stronger. It has been just about 50 years since a fellow named Ake Ronnkvist first inertia welded water well and mining drill pipe. Since then, there have been attempted tweaks, from using thinner-walled, stronger tubes to specialty threads. It seems like the only must-have attribute for drill pipe is that it not fail.
Then I saw a new drill pipe advertised designed to enable operators to reduce drilling time and be more fuel efficient. I looked at this “innovation” with my side eye. Is this really real? Even though it was a product I could end up competing against, my first thought was, “About time.” It was about time someone took the initiative to put out a different product, one not based on a gimmick or tweak. I had to find out more about this eX-Flow drill pipe.
I did not know how it met these claims, but I was certainly interested in finding out. I was very familiar with the manufacturer, Driconeq. Sometime in the mid ’90s, my wife, Randy, and I went to Sweden as guests of Atlas Copco. They wanted help deciphering the U.S. market for drill pipe. We met in Fagersta and I discussed the various aspects of the drill pipe market, while Randy sampled various coffee and sweets shops.
They then drove us to the town of Sunne where we visited Lovab, an Atlas Copco company. I toured the facility and saw their operation. I was truly amazed and wondered why we weren’t making our drill pipe like that in the United States. Here in the U.S., water well and mining drill pipe came out of the oilfield drill pipe industry. We used their material specs, connections and techniques. The Europeans developed their drill pipe away from the oilfield influence. Their methods and materials were different. I liked it. In many ways, it was a superior product.
Lovab somehow morphed into Driconeq. When I was looking to start our own company, Kingsland Drill, I wanted to offer a drill pipe like the drill pipe made in Sweden. U.S. manufacturers weren’t interested, so I turned to Driconeq and worked with them for several years marketing their product here in the U.S. I had success and customers liked the product.
One aspect of working with offshore manufacturers is dealing with exchange rates. If the product cost $500 and if the U.S. dollar weakened, the new price in U.S. dollars could become $525. I often wondered, when this happened and I paid more in U.S. currency, if the factory got the same in Swedish currency. Who got that extra 25 bucks? Exchange rates forced me to move away from Driconeq.
When I saw the ad, my trust in the Driconeq brand made me want to believe the claims. I still wondered how they did it. Was it because the tubes weighed less, or had larger air/water course? I had some thoughts to narrow down the possibilities. I did some research and later confirmed it: The drill pipe was designed to reduce the amount of time to repressure the drill string after adding a drill pipe.
This concept is not unlike that of some high-mpg automobiles, like my Prius. The engine shuts off instead of idling at a red light. It restarts when you press the accelerator. You save a little at that traffic light but the advantage builds with all the stopping we do when out driving.
If you lowered a camera down the inside of a string of flush-joint drill pipe, you go from a smaller ID through the tool joints then open up to a larger ID through the tube section. This happens over and over for each piece of drill pipe. When you add drill pipe, you lose pressure and have to restore it to start up your DTH hammer. The question is, how long are you sitting idle, repressurizing, burning fuel and paying your operator?
As you add drill pipe, this wait time increases. How long does it take? We may scoff at maybe a minute or two saved per drill pipe addition, but 30 to 60 minutes on a job could be a 10- to 20-percent savings. This lowers the cost of the rig and operators, and the cost of fuel, as well as saving wear and tear on your compressor. I could see larger daily savings on, for instance, a big geothermal project where the rig racks up more drilling hours per day than, say, a single water well project.
Driconeq did several tests to look onto the savings and found the eX-Flow pipe did, indeed, save compressor running time during drilling operations. I saw one study where the compressor produced over 22 percent less air when running ex-Flow versus standard drill pipe. That lower air comes from less compressor time, and that means less fuel, less operator time and less money spent.
When you think about it, it isn’t rocket science. After all, elevator-shoulder drill pipe has been doing that for mud drilling forever. But to do it for air is innovative. Will it save you money? It depends on your drilling costs and any extra cost for this drill pipe design. There are no special connections and it should be compatible with your existing drill pipe.
This is odd. I am writing about a competing product. I feel like Santa sending a mother to Schoenfeld’s for that toy fire engine. Sellers talk about customer service. To me, part of customer service is letting your customer know that there might be something better for his application. Do you have the confidence to answer your customer’s questions regarding a competitor’s product if it might suit him better? I’m not saying you should direct your customer where to buy something that costs less, because you have value as a seller with your experience and knowledge. When I had a customer ask me about eX-Flow, I explained the product as I knew it and suggested that, if they thought it might be good for them, to look into it. I want customers to ask for my opinion.
As for me, I get excited about innovation. Not just the innovation itself, but the courage to take a new idea, do the research, put your name on it and then market it. Kudos to Driconeq and their eX-Flow drill pipe.