Drilling automation is the control of the drilling process by automatic means, ultimately reducing human intervention to a minimum. The concept of automating the drilling process has generated considerable interest, yet there is a lack of agreement on exactly what it is, what it entails, and how to implement it. As with industrial automation in the 1990s, the adoption of open standards enabling automation will have a significant impact on the underlying business model. In the oilfield-drilling industry, the business model describes the relationship between operator, drilling contractor, service company, and equipment supplier.
The goal of drilling-systems automation is to increase productivity and quality, improve personnel safety, and effectively manage risk. Principal drivers of drilling automation include well complexity, data overload, efficiency, repetitive well manufacturing, access to limited expert resources, knowledge transfer as a result of the exodus of skilled employees, and health, safety, and environmental concerns. With so many drivers, and their potential economic benefits, it is understandable that there are many automation-related initiatives within the industry.
Drilling through geopressured, possibly erratic, lithologies to a remote and possibly poorly defined target in a safe manner is not a simple task to automate. It is challenging. Drilling automation focuses on the drilling system and drilling operations, which entail combining various subsystems, including the downhole bottomhole assembly (BHA) and its measurement and active components, the drillstring, fluid, and drilling rig and its subassemblies. Operations include conventional overbalanced-, managed-pressure-, and underbalanced-drilling operations, and their various procedures, such as tripping and making connections.
This paper examines and defines drilling-systems automation, its drivers, enablers and barriers, and its current state and goals. In particular, the paper looks at the vision of drilling-systems automation, and the role played by open, collaborative initiatives among all segments of the drilling industry. Although commitment to automation by the drilling industry appears by many to lag behind the level of commitment in other major industries, there are segments of the drilling industry that have reached a high level of automation on a commercial basis. There is also significant collaboration among interested parties in creating a standardized, open environment for data flow to foster the development of systems automation.