Down-the-hole hammer drilling

March 9th, 2012 | Posted by in EDGE

Down-the-hole hammer drilling is a high-tech business

There is occasional ribbing between drill rig salesmen and tooling salesmen: what’s more important for making a hole, the drill rig or the rock drilling tool? In reality, it’s like the chicken and the egg question. You can’t have one without the other. On whichever side of the argument you fall, it’s clear that Atlas Copco has the most advanced engineering departments for both drill rigs and rock drilling tools.

Atlas Copco’s Secoroc Rock Drilling Tools (RDT) division separates its engineering teams by product lines: Down-the-Hole, Rotary and Top Hammer. In total there are 80 engineers around the world focused on making tooling better, so drillers are more productive and the cost per foot is reduced.

The Secoroc down-the-hole (DTH) hammer engineering group has 25 engineers at facilities in the US, Sweden, China and India. Being close to these local markets is a key strength of the DTH group, while having the ability to collaborate with engineers from around the world infuses global knowledge and perspective into each project.

It’s this close-to-the-market communication that’s driving the innovation in DTH products. Global collaboration and communication is critical to ensure that know-how and knowledge is shared. For the customer, it’s this global effort that offers solid results.

Computer advantage and practical testing

A core competency at each of these four engineering centers also ensures best practices are shared with all groups. For example, the research and development laboratory located in Roanoke, Va., continually exchanges knowledge with the simulation technology group located in Fagersta, Sweden.

The computer simulation of DTH hammers working in virtual reality allows engineers to test the hammer concepts using tens of thousands of combinations and variables before the first prototype is ever made. The addition of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) allows DTH engineers the ability to simulate the wear and performance changes to hammers and bits. Another computer-aided function shows cutting removal and how it affects overall product performance.

Finally, the use of Finite Element Analysis provides engineers with information about expected loads on parts to maximize the life and ability of the tools.

Atlas Copco’s DTH R&D laboratories are unique to the industry. The DTH labs provide practical testing of all new percussive products. The ability to test hammers ranging from 2 inches to 30 inches in diameter in a lab environment is critical to each product’s success.

Physical testing is used to validate the simulations when developing new products, but also to benchmark the competition, increase knowledge about applications, troubleshoot problems from the field, and, most importantly, ensure the products meet the customer’s objectives.

The Secoroc Materials Group also supports all Secoroc product development and gives DTH product development an edge over the competitors. Atlas Copco has long been known for its quality carbide and wear-life found in Cop Gold, Quantum Leap and Total Depth tools. Now much more advanced processes and materials are working their way into DTH products.

An example of this would be the CarbidXD diamond button bit, introduced last year for the oil and gas market. Drillers can be assured all parts of the hammers and bits that leave R&D have been thoroughly tested and studied and they are getting the best materials.

Project Focused Growth

At any one time, 10 to 15 projects are going on in the RDT engineering department. To make it to the final project list, concepts are studied for their market value and benefit to the local and global markets.

An example of that is Secoroc EDGE, a product that is coming out during 2011. EDGE is focused on increasing productivity in DTH drilling applications. Another is the PARD hammer, introduced in 2010, which combines knowledge from the DTH group and rotary drilling engineering team to make a down-the-hole hammer with a rotary cone bit for mining applications.

The percussive device — down-the-hole hammer — hasn’t changed much since the 1930s. It’s the little things that have made it better. Customers can be assured Atlas Copco will continue to work at the little things to help them be more successful and profitable.

A driller’s EDGE

A driller with years of experience can tell you what his bit and hammer are doing at the bottom of the hole… almost. Up until now, there has been no way to quickly know how the bit and hammer are reacting to fractures, voids, influx of water and other changes in the formation.

If a driller could see what is happening at the bottom of the hole, he could react faster and continually optimize drilling performance.

In 2011, Atlas Copco will introduce a new product for down-the-hole hammer drilling that transmits information to a computer at the driller’s station. This product, called EDGE, shows the driller — in the form of a simple graphical display— what is happening with the hammer and, therefore, the bit at the bottom of the hole.

This real-time driller’s assistant will allow the driller to optimize the penetration rate, maintain good flushing and reduce the chance of over-extending the tools, leading to breakage and costly delays.

Testing of EDGE is underway now by experienced drillers. The feedback coming from these seasoned drillers is that EDGE makes them more efficient by increasing drilling performance and decreasing the time to complete a well. This has been described by one driller as having a 6th sense.

Company owners say it equalizes the production at a higher level from one driller to the next and decreases the training period for new drillers. EDGE also allows companies the ability to move drillers to locations unfamiliar to them, bringing them up to speed on the local geologic for-mations and their specific drilling characteristics instantly.

T.J. Plunkett, Atlas Copco’s Engineering Manager for Secoroc DTH Products, said “Around the world, experienced drillers use Secoroc tools because of the advanced technology and productivity.

Yet, because of lack of training or experience, some customers are unable to benefit from the full value engineered into our products. The Secoroc EDGE drill monitor provides the driller the ability to squeeze every dollar out of our tools.

“The EDGE tool provides an innovative leap in DTH drilling technology that will reshape the way you drill,” continued Plunkett. “Forget about where you set your limits and prepare to draw a new line. We look forward to drillers reaching new goals that weren’t even talked about before.”

Plunkett and the DTH engineering group have many new innovations in the works, all focused on increasing productivity and tool life. Plunkett said, “We realize our customers invest heavily in us, and we want them to know we are investing heavily in them, too.”

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