DEA-159 – Implementing Plug and Play for Computer Controlled Drilling Equipment

Implementing Plug and Play for Computer Controlled Drilling Equipment

Date submitted: October 15, 2004

Sponsor: BP, Mike Payne, (281) 366-2848
(alternate is Cheryl Stark, (281) 366-7604)

Title: Implementing Plug and Play for Computer Controlled Drilling Equipment

Submitted by:

Submitted on behalf of the Athens Group by
Keith Womer, KW Technology Services, Inc.
936 Blue Spring Circle
Round Rock , TX

The Athens Group
4201 Southwest Freeway, Suite 220
Houston, Texas 77027
Phone: 713.960.5094 x117

Principal Investigator:

Don Shafer, Chief Technology Officer

For the DEA Project 159 Participation Agreement in downloadable PDF format, click here.

For an updated presentation of DEA Project 159 with more information on the JIP deliverables, click here.

Business Impact:

Schedule delays, cost overruns, operational problems, and potential safety issues have plagued the installation, commissioning and start-up of large, integrated drilling control systems.  A root cause of these problems is that the software interface between the computer controlled equipment (like Top Drives, Pipe Handling Equipment, Drawworks, and Iron Roughnecks) and the integrated control systems (like Cyberbase, V-ICIS, and DMCS) is not standardized.  That puts the onus on the integrated control system to resolve any differences in the location and meaning of the various software interface points.  Since there can be anywhere from 2000-8000 such points, the potential for errors are great, and the time to discover and resolve the errors can be long.  Worse, these errors are often only be detected when the equipment is physically integrated together at installation time.

In contrast, using an example familiar to our industry, standards for grading drillpipe and classifying types of connections assure that drillpipe, regardless of manufacturer, can be effectively and safely integrated at the rig site and be fit for the purpose intended.  There is no equivalent standard for drilling equipment.  This situation is most acute when multiple vendors are used, but even exists when one vendor is used, since internally one vendor may have many product lines, and multiple products within those lines.

The development of standards equivalent to those developed for drillpipe would address many of these issues.

Other industries, notably the automotive and semiconductor manufacturing industries, wrestled with exactly the same situation 10-15 years ago.  In response, the semiconductor industry has developed a set of standards known as SECS(SEMI Equipment Communications Standard)/GEM (Generic Equipment Model)  to allow fabrication equipment from multiple vendors to integrate seamlessly on the factory floor.  These standards were developed from similar standards which were developed for the automotive industry.  SECS/GEM standards implement functionality familiar to computer users as “Plug and Play”.

An excerpt describing the functionality of GEM-compliant equipment demonstrates the potential applicability to drilling equipment:  “All GEM compliant manufacturing equipment share a consistent interface and certain consistent behavior. All may communicate with a GEM capable host using either TCP/IP (using the HSMS standard, SEMI E37) or RS-232 based protocol (using the SECS-I standard, SEMI E4). Often both protocols are supported. Each piece of equipment may be monitored and controlled using a common set of line management tools defined by GEM. When an equipment has has GEM interface, it takes just minutes (or even seconds) for factory GEM host software to establish communication and begin monitoring the machine’s activity. This means that equipment manufacturers may spend more time and money improving the machine’s quality by providing a common interface to all factories. It means that factories may spend more time and money improving production and processes, rather than setting up communication to the machines.” Cimetrix, An Introduciton to the GEM Standard,

The Athens Group has experience in developing and implementing SECS/GEM standards and software tools for the semiconductor industry.  In our industry, they have consulted on several major rig construction projects involving integrated drilling systems, verifying the proper function of the integrated software systems, and identifying software and software development process problems.

Based on their experience in these industries, the Athens Group believes that SECS/GEM standards can be effectively applied to computer controlled drilling equipment and their networked control systems.  Like Plug and Play commonly seen on Windows PC’s, this will allow standards-compliant equipment to integrate easily on the rig floor, regardless of vendor.

The benefits to the operator and drilling contractor are a major reduction in risk during all phases of major rig construction projects and particularly in installation, commissioning and start-up.  Potential safety issues arising from improper integration (such as a misreading of important alarms) would be minimized.  Equipment vendors benefit from a clear standard to which they can manufacture their equipment.  This minimizes miscommunication between buyer and seller regarding equipment functionality during the contract or implementation phases, which can lead to warranty issues later on.  Further, tests such as FAT’s and FMEA’s become more meaningful and consistent when the equipment can be tested to an established standard.  Personnel required for installation and commissioning would be reduced, benefiting everyone.

The potential monetary impact per rig project could clearly be in the millions, the savings in time in months, and the avoidance of potential safety issues incalculable.

Technical Objectives:

1.     Phase I: with equipment providers, contractors, and operators as consulting partners, Athens Group to assess the technical feasibility of applying the SECS/GEM standard to the drilling industry

2.     Phase II: if feasibility is demonstrated, have major equipment suppliers develop software interfaces compliant to the standards developed in Phase I to demonstrate inter-operability at the software level.

3.     Phase III: if interoperability is demonstrated, create a committee to develop a set of standards based on those demonstrated in Phase II for the drilling industry.  This phase could be sponsored by the DEA, API, or a “coalition of the willing” as was done for WITSML

4.     For all phases, as progress is demonstrated, communicate and evangelize the standard both internally (equipment suppliers, drilling contractors and operators through workshops and demonstrations) and externally (in professional journals)


The work would be organized in three phases.  Each phase results in a deliverable which the DEA can review and as appropriate fund the subsequent Phase.

Phase I

1.     development by the Athens Group of a feasibility model of a SECS/GEM equivalent system for drilling, demonstrating potential solutions for the pain points of computer-based drilling equipment integration.  See further description under “deliverables” below.

2.     consult with key equipment developers to determine the most meaningful short set of equipment commands to be modeled in the feasibility model.

3.     consult with key drilling contractors and operator-participants to insure that the proper installation and commissioning pain points have been identified

4.     demonstration of the feasibility model at an Athens Group-sponsored workshop for operators, contractors, and equipment suppliers.

Phase II

1.     Athens Group to lead a “coalition of the willing” of equipment developers like NOI, Varco, (or NOI-Varco), MH, and Weatherford.  They would independently construct software-only interfaces compliant to those developed for the model for key pieces of drilling equipment for 2 theoretical rigs.  The equipment suppliers would be supported in this effort by funding from the DEA.  Athens Group would provide technical leadership and project management.

2.     Demonstration of the integration of the models at a workshop.  This would dramatically demonstrate the inter-operability and ease-of-integration features inherent in the standard.

3.     Evangelization of the effort at SPE events and in articles

Phase III

1.     Development of the standard for drilling based on the learnings from Phases I and II.  This may be a DEA sponsored project, an API activity, or another “coalition of the willing” like WITSML.

2.     Evangelization of the standard

3.     Optional “early adopter” program while standard is being developed.  For example, NOI, Varco, or Maritime Hydraulics may want to take the lead to produce Phase II-compliant equipment for a rig package


Phase I

1.     feasibility model of a SECS/GEM equivalent system for drilling, developed by the Athens Group, demonstrating potential solutions for the pain points of computer-based drilling equipment integration.  Specifically, the feasibility model would include models for a Top Drive, a Pipe Handler, a Drawworks, and an Iron Roughneck, along with a Cyberbase-V-ICIS.  The model would demonstrate solutions to installation issues, such as automatic discovery, miswiring resolution, capability changes, automatic alarm mapping and reporting.  Consultation with drilling equipment providers would be included to make the number of data points and commands limited, yet realistic to make an assessment of suitability

2.     Athens Group-sponsored workshop for operators, contractors, and equipment suppliers to educate about the SECS/GEM model and to demonstrate the feasibility model

3.     Report from interviews with major equipment vendors regarding issues in applying the standard as well as commitment to participate in Phase II.

Phase II

1.     A feasibility model of a Phase I compliant system constructed of independently developed Phase I compliant equipment interfaces (i.e. software only) for key pieces of drilling equipment for 2 theoretical rigs.  The interfaces would be provided by a “coalition of the willing” of equipment developers like NOI, Varco, Maritime Hydraulics, Weatherford, and/or BJ Services.

2.     Demonstration of the integration of the models at a workshop

3.     Articles in SPE or other professional journals

Phase III

1.     A set of standards based on the learnings of Phases I and II applicable to computer controlled drilling equipment

Startup Date:  Immediately upon JIP approval

Project Duration:  Phase I: 3 months

Project Cost:

Phase I: $80,000

Phase II: dependant on the number of drilling equipment participants, roughly $200,000-$300,000

Phase III: Nominal if anything. Primarily support for standards development

Cost per participant: $20,000 for Phase I, based on 4 participants

Comments:  Other optional projects would be:

1.      development of a self configuring Zone Management System in either or both of Phase I or Phase II.  If chosen, this should be deferred until after Phase II so that all issues having to do with relevant equipment are addressed.

2.      Development of a feasibility model (software only) for a piece of test equipment designed to test a standards-compliant piece of drilling equipmnet.  This would make Factory Acceptance Tests during project development significantly more meaningful.

3.      Demonstration of integration of post-commissioning equipment into a pre-existing network system, using either the Phase I or Phase II feasibility model systems.  For example, integrate a standards-compliant Casing Running Tool into a standards-compliant Cyberbase system.

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