Space–Saving Ex Remote I/O Cleverly Stowed: Automation in Confined Space for Deep Drill Operations

Author / Editor: Jan Rieks Zonderman / Dominik Stephan

While deep drill operations reach far down underground, the space at the well –head is confined and costly. A huge problem for control systems in the operator cabin. So why not integrate them into the only piece of furniture that has to be there anyway — the operator’s chair? This is exactly what a cooperation of a drill specialist and an automation supplier for Ex areas came up with.

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Sky high and deep underground: While the borehole reaches down over 1000–meters (3280–foot), the place on the wellhead is small and hazardous.
Sky high and deep underground: While the borehole reaches down over 1000–meters (3280–foot), the place on the wellhead is small and hazardous.
(Picture: Bartec)

Every inch in the operator's cabins of deep drilling systems is precious. In contrast to conventional control units, where large flameproof enclosures are a must, the explosion–proof remote I/O system Antares made by Bartec is considerably more compact. To be precise, it requires no additional space. Bauer Deep Drilling has simply concealed the system in the pedestal of the operator's chair. Another compelling feature is its flexible system approval: unparalleled in the market, it allows modifications at any time without time–consuming and costly re–certification.

A touch of the Texas oil industry is in the air above Schrobenhausen, Germany. The name of this small city is normally associated with what is locally known as "white gold" rather than its black counterpart — After all, the Bavarians are best–known for their exquisite white asparagus. Schrobenhausen, however, is also home to the Bauer Group, which entered the deep drilling rig business for oil, gas and geothermal energy in 2007. The international construction and machinery manufacturing conglomerate has over 110 subsidiaries and employs a staff of more than 10,000 people in about 70 countries, generating sales of 1.45 billion Euros in 2012.

Deep Drilling Rig up Close

The Bauer Deep Drilling subsidiary is specialized in high–tech rigs with extensive automation. "We operate in the deep drilling range of 100 metres (328 feet). It's the same general field, except we drill a little deeper," smiles Lothar Schirmel, Head of Design and Development Electronics Deep Drilling at Bauer Deep Drilling. The big difference: the price point. Standard drilling rigs cost between 2 and 3 million Euros, while customers have to dig deeper into their pockets for deep drilling rigs. They are available for around 20 million Euros.

"Anyone investing this kind of money will not make a purchase sight unseen. The customer wants to see that the rig works. You can't sell this kind of equipment solely on paper," Schirmel adds. And so the Bavarians set up their latest model, the TBA 440 M2, on their premises in Edelshausen for demo purposes over a 1000–meter (3280–foot) borehole. Franz X. Both, Project Manager at Bauer Deep Drilling, explains what is key in this industry: "This demo allows us to simulate the installation and removal, referred to as drip–in / drip–out, and show the customers that the automatic pipe handler is able to smoothly install and remove the rods at high speeds — up to 550 metres (1800 feet) per hour."

Time is Money for Deep Drilling

Naturally, the mantra that time is money applies here as well: When drilling to depths of as much as 5,000 metres (16,400 feet), installation takes accordingly long. The faster the installation and removal can be accomplished, the better. The rigs cost a lot of money to operate every day. Being able to save customers time is a powerful selling point.