Drilling operators face constant pressure to operate more safely and efficiently with smaller budgets. Environmental concerns also come into play, especially in areas that have zero discharge regulations in place. All these factors have led to solids control being increasingly recognized as a vital step during drilling process.
High turnover is a challenge that all managers in the oil field must overcome. Demand for qualified operators is growing at an exponential rate. Experienced, qualified operators are being spread thin, leaving a large gap. On rig sites, turnover rates can be as high as 25 to 30 percent. Many factors cause high turnover rates, including industry expansion, industry changes, site-specific issues and personnel burnout. Managers must constantly train new employees to operate equipment. Often, operators cannot afford the time they must spend training new personnel. Solids control equipment manufacturers recognize this issue and have begun to design user-friendly equipment to ease this burden. Specifically, manufacturers have developed equipment that includes onboard sensors to indicate when the machine needs to serviced, if trouble occurs, or when other attention is needed.
More system providers are being asked to provide auto-run capabilities. One manufacturer has integrated this technology into its line of centrifuges and shakers. Many companies are more likely to choose classic technology that has been enhanced. For instance, onboard centrifuge controls have begun to use touch screen technology. This real-time monitoring enhances operation levels. Recent shale shaker innovations include developing variable frequency drive panels that allow the operator access to both balanced elliptical and linear motion. With both setting options, operators can adjust the equipment based on the type and volume of solids being processed. High G-forces are excellent for sticky reactive solids or high flow, but constantly operating at this level will damage shaker components, such as screens, and increase operation costs. Solids Control Advantages Safety is always a top concern on job sites. Although stringent safety regulations should always be followed, equipment can also help make rig sites safer. By employing solids control equipment, operators can safely lower waste generation and waste treatment. Smarter technologies that include onboard sensors to alert operators when trouble occurs or if proactive attention is needed also aid in safety efforts. As smarter technology use has grown, equipment requires less manual operation, which reduces risk for the crew. Solids control equipment also reduces contact between personnel and the fluid and cuttings, further reducing risks. One company with a focus on safety designs equipment that contains no loose parts. Their centrifuges do not allow lids that can open during operation, which reduces the risk of injuries and accidents. The equipment also features Occupational Safety and Health Administration standard guards and explosion-proof control panels. Environmental regulations are becoming increasingly stringent. For example, many operators now require equipment that allows for the safe and efficient disposal of solids. Cleanup and haul-off can be difficult for many operators because both processes can be expensive and dangerous. Once proper solids control equipment is installed, cleanup and haul-off hazards can be significantly reduced. Protecting Investments Rig site managers must operate within their budgets. Efficient and safe solids control equipment can improve drilling rates and reduce costs. Along with their budget, managers should also analyze the overall investment. Buying solids control is like buying any other piece of capital equipment—a large investment that requires thought and planning. Operators can protect capital equipment by investing smarter. Recent research and development efforts focus on usability. Sensors have been included so that the equipment can protect itself from overloading conditions and the occasional operator error. This added technology also reduces the personnel required to operate the equipment. New sensory array features can adjust the centrifuge’s performance relative to the rotating speed or its feed based on specific parameters, such as torque and temperature. These features help prevent equipment damage and overloading. Durability is another key consideration when purchasing solids control equipment. Equipment should be rugged and able to withstand harsh conditions for many years. Maintenance can also help preserve an investment. Proactive and preventive maintenance helps prevent equipment breakdown and failure, reducing downtime on rig sites. Proper maintenance also extends equipment life. Remote locations, crew schedules, frequent changes in personnel and continuous operation with little planned downtime can complicate maintenance routines. Improper maintenance procedures, such as improper grease types and maintenance schedules, can also be problematic. These common rig site difficulties prompted the development of new features that clearly indicate when maintenance is absolutely necessary. This will help eliminate confusion and limit human error. Some equipment manufacturers use smartphones and tablets to alert operators when maintenance is required. Industry Changes For the industry to continue to grow, smarter solutions are necessary. These solutions must address personnel limitations provide safety and environmental issues. The equipment should maintain durability and value for a long service life.