OU Drillbotics Team Takes Second Place in International Competition

Written by: Jack Borer

The University of Oklahoma is proud to announce that its 2018 Drillbotics team has been awarded 2nd place in this year’s Drillbotics International Student Competition. Ten teams from four countries (Canada, Norway, Germany, and the United States) participated in this year’s challenge, which tested the wit and determination of all those involved. The teams included:

  • Th University of Oklahoma
  • Missouri University of Science & Technology
  • Texas A&M University
  • Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
  • University of Stavanger
  • West Virginia University
  • Clausthal University of Technology
  • University of Louisiana Lafayette
  • University of North Dakota
  • University of Calgary

The goal of participation in Drillbotics is to drill through 20 inches of an unknown sample that simulates the conditions faced by engineers in the real world. Unlike the real world, however, the rig must do this completely autonomously with no operator interference. This was the challenge presented to the 2018 teams.

OU’s team was diverse, drawing team members from four very different places: India, Pakistan, Oklahoma, and New Jersey. The team was made up of students from both the Petroleum and Electrical Engineering departments and was led by Dr. Ramadan Ahmed of the Mewbourne School of Petroleum and Geological Engineering.

The team included:

Patrick Dolan – BS PE + MBA 2018 – MVP and Mechanical Lead

Syed Ali Mehdi Naqvi – MS PE 2019 – Drillpipe Engineer

Chad Meadows – BS PE 2018 – Network Architect

Aditya Sharma – MS ECE 2018 – Electrical and Instrumentation Engineer

Jack Borer – BS PE 2018 – Controls and Team Captain

Soon after the semester opened in the Fall of 2017, the team got word from Dr. Ramadan, who had been selected to represent OU for the 2018 Drillbotics season. We were summoned by email to the Well Construction Technology Center (WCTC). Little did we know that soon the WCTC, with its roaring compressors, noisy power tools, high pressure flow loops, and, last but not least, dust, would become a second home to us over the course of the next eight months. Nor did we know that our new teammates, who we awkwardly made eye contact with across the table on that first day, would become some of the most outstanding people, both technically and personally, that we would meet during our time at OU.

The rig itself was already built, the concerted effort of the last three years’ teams. As we quickly learned, however, there are many different levels of “built.” After we got a tour of the rig from the previous year’s team and found the rig to be literally “up on blocks,” we realized that there was a significant amount of building left to do. With Dr. Ramadan’s full endorsement, we spent the Fall 2017 semester designing a complete retrofit and rebuilding of the rig. The list was lengthy and included a new, taller derrick, modified top drive rail system, complete retrofit and redesign of the pneumatic system, entirely new electrical system and philosophy towards wire management, brand new control architecture, drillpipe connections, and circulation system, to list a few. No stone was to be left unturned, and by the end of the entire process, no original piece of equipment except for the motors, DAQ, and frame was to remain. The fact that we could have opted for a less rigorous work load and simpler redesign, but chose not to speaks volumes about the caliber of my teammates and the zeal with which we approached the project.

Upon returning to OU from winter break for the Spring 2018 semester, the team began in earnest to rebuild the rig and implement the design of the previous four months. I could write at length about the implementation of the redesign, but I will spare the reader the minutiae. In summary, however, by the end of the fall semester, the pneumatic system had been rebuilt or modified almost a dozen times, the electrical system had been completely disassembled and reassembled twice, an entirely new network and camera system had been installed, three different iterations of drillpipe connections had been machined and tested, a reliable downhole torque sensor was installed, and a dozen or more iterations of the control system had been built, tested, and implemented. These efforts payed off in late May when the competition was held. Even after a major sensor failure the rig was able to drill through the sample in 17 minutes, a new record for OU, and at the time of the competition a new record for the entire program.

Drillbotics pushed our critical thinking acumen, both as a team and as individuals, to new levels that few other experiences in college have. Three things that we learned are as follows:

1) The practical difference between quality and tolerance – often the most precise, highest-quality answer is not the most practical engineering solution.

2) How to bridge the gap between intent and implementation – no answer is right the first time; the correct answer is the product of many iterations of thought and design.

3) To question is not to condemn – a critical aspect of teamwork is the ability to speak objectively about project goals and implement other people’s designs without ego or vanity.

The team would like to thank Dr. Ramadan Ahmed for his technical guidance and jovial attitude, Jeff McCaskill for his electrical, pneumatic, hardware, and fabrication knowledge, Curtis Mewbourne and Dr. Chandra Rai for their sponsorship of the team, Dr. Catalin Teodoriu for his very nice bandsaw in addition to his engineering advice, Druv Sharma for his AC power system advice, and finally Fred Florence for his time and effort which makes Drillbotics possible.

One thought on “OU Drillbotics Team Takes Second Place in International Competition

  1. AWESOME! Way to go Sooners! Sounds like the journey was more rewarding than the result. A+++ in my book. Especially since the result was stellar. Congratulation guys and…


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