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Estimating Rock Bit Li fe


There are two aspects to bit life: cutting structure and bearings. They are related for example, a bit with a
destroyed cutting structure will quickly suffer a failed bearing but these elements are also partly
Cutting structure life, although complex to predict, is generally simple to detect rate of penetration first
slows, then stops. In contrast, if we estimate bearing life inaccurately we will pull the bit too early (thus
creating a high cost per metre) or too late, with the risk of junk in the hole. Hence bearing life is the most
critical of the pair and is often what is intended when engineers or drillers talk about bit life.

Factors Affecting B earing Life

Let us examine the key influences on bearing life. This will show why it is so difficult to predict bit life.

The weight on bit and bit R.I.P. has a primary effect upon bearing life. Higher weights and rotary speeds
will reduce bearing life. There is a broadly linear relationship between bearing life and applied weights and
rpm, when these are in the middle of the operating range for the bit. This relationship disappears or is
greatly altered when values close to or above the recommended maximums are used. High weights in
combination with very high rpm may be especially damaging.
The direct wear and damage to the bearing are the central issue here, but bearing life may also be curtailed
because inappropriate parameters wreck the cutting structure so that abnormal and fluctuating bearing loads
are generated.

Directional drilling places additional stresses on bits, affecting the cutting structure, bearing and seal. Side
loads are generated because of hole angle and the steering of the bit. A steerable assembly with a bent
motor housing or bent sub will tend to drill an oversize hole when turned from surface, thereby placing
additional stresses on the bit. Therefore the following factors tend to limit bit life in directional wells:

Ben t Mo tor Ho usin g: Bend angle and bit to bend distance. Bearing life will reduce as each increase.
S liding versus Ro tati ng: % of each. (Rotating is commonly more damaging). Frequent changes are
Direc tion: Hole angles, build Rate, dog leg severity. Generally as these increase bearing life will reduce.

Arguably the largest influence on bit performance, and the least predictable, is the formation the bit will
drill. While the hardness or derivability of the rocks, together with their abrasiveness, have a marked
influence on cutting structure they also effect the bearings. Establishing and maintaining a good bottom
hole pattern will help the bit to run smoothly and so to last longer.
In this respect it is important whether the formations are heterogeneous or homogenous. Rocks that are
inter-bedded on a fine scale will disrupt the smooth running of the bit as it transits from one formation to
the other. (Remember that only rarely wills the bedding plane is normal to the direction of travel of the bit,
so it will not encounter the new formation evenly).

Bit Life Estimation Page 1 Reed-Hycalog

May 1999 An Overview Ian McMillan
Our primary interest in the mud relates to its effect upon the seal and hence we are concerned with the
mud chemistry. Oil based and synthetic muds may cause deterioration of the elastomers used in seals.
(Even metal face seals have elastomer elements.) This generally occurs over a much longer time period
than the bit will be run for, but may be a factor for re-running bits.
The life of the seal will be reduced if the solids or sand content is high as they will tend to abrade the
seal and sealing surfaces. In unsealed bits, or sealed bits after seal failure, the remaining bearing life
will be determined, in part, by the sand and solids content.

Re aming
Bits are not designed for reaming and so are likely to suffer accelerated wear when reaming or back
reaming. Bit loading in these circumstances is quite different from that found during conventional
drilling the conditions for which the bit has been designed. Therefore, we need to know how much
reaming a bit is expected to do and how severe this will be. Some light reaming over a few metres at a
couple of points when running in with a new bit will have a negligible effect on the bits life. Several
hundred metres of reaming, with high weight applied is another matter: in these circumstances an hour
of reaming is quite likely equivalent to two hours of normal drilling.

Vibr ation
This may be a dominant influence on bit life. Torsion, axial and longitudinal vibrations may occur
singly or in combination. Such vibrations may damage both cutting structures and bearings. There may
be little or no evidence at surface that the vibration is occurring.
This area is very poorly understood by the industry, with several conflicting views held. What is
agreed is the importance of vibration and the large impact it can have on bit performance and life.

Ra nge of B it Lif e
This example illustrates how one or more of the elements reviewed above may be the governing factor
in a given application. The table below shows the maximum run length, in hours, achieved by 8
Reed-Hycalog EHP bits. All were run on a steerable motor assembly in horizontal, extended reach

Location Maximum Maximum Maximum Bearing Formation

hours KRevs B.P.R. Condition
Middle East 140 1,200 21.0 Effective Soft, buggy carbonate
Southern England 62 750 19.0 Effective Abrasive sandstone
Norway 26 450 14.0 Effective Hard, siliceous sandstone

In each instance the EHP bits delivered consistent performances in these applications and were superior
to any competitor bits that had been run. Although the seals and bearings were effective they were
close to the end of their lives. The pronounced difference in performance is due to the different
lithologies and the effect they have on bearing wear.

Mea sur e s of Bit Life

The traditional measure of bit life has been hours, though this has always been complicated by what the
hours were tallying on-bottom hours, in-hole hours, circulating hours, drilling hours etc. Tracking
the total revolutions the bit has made gives a better gauge of the bit life. Where weight on bit varies a
lot within an application then Billion Pound Revolutions (Total Revolutions x Average W.O.B.) gives
further insight.
Other variables have been considered, such as Specific Energy, but all are subject to the same
restriction, that they will vary with the particulars of the application: there is no single figure of hours,
billion pound revolutions or specific energy that applies universally to one bit size and type.

Bit Life Estimation Page 2 Reed-Hycalog

May 1999 An Overview Ian McMillan
Estimatin g B it Life
There are two approaches that may be used. The ideal method is cautious and conservative, and
involves a step by step, progressive approach towards an accurate solution. It is consequently low risk.
The pragmatic method, in contrast, delivers an estimate arrived at in a single attempt and is
correspondingly high risk. Here is a simplified overview of each method.

Ide al
1. Take a conservative estimate of bit performance based upon available offset.
2. Closely examine the first run and bit dull condition, including disassembly of the bearing.
3. On the basis of the observed dull condition modify the duration of the next run.
4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 as often as necessary.
5. In parallel with steps 2 to 4 identify the factors having most influence on bit life in this application.
6. Identify the best measure of bit life in this application and how this is modified by variations in the
factors identified in step 5.

Pra gma tic

1. Characterise the application in terms of formation, directional elements, interval length etc.
2. Identify a comparable, known application.
3. Establish the significant differences between the two applications.
4. Adjust the estimate of bit life on the basis of the kind and magnitude of these differences.
5. Read a book on Chaos Theory and understand its application to this situation!

Bit Lif e Ind ic ators

Whatever the extent of experience with a bit in an application it is vital that we monitor its performance
for signs of wear and failure. Again, this will be from two viewpoints: cutting structure and bearing.

Cu tting Structur e
This is simple:
The Rate of Penetration Drops
The Rate of Penetration Stops
In order to avoid false or misleading indications we need to be conscious of the many other factors that
may cause rate of penetration to decline: for example, changes in formation, weight, rotary speed, mud
weight, hole angle and so forth. We should also be aware that changes in these variables tending to
increase R.O.P. could mask a decrease caused by a failing cutting structure.

Be ar ing
There are four main indicators to monitor:
Rate of Penetration Drops
Torque changes
Torque Increases
Torque becomes more erratic
Torque spikes occur
Steering character changes
Deterioration of MWD signal quality
Each of these may change for reasons other than a bearing failure. Judgement must be used in as sessing
the likely cause of suspicious values. Early in a bit runs we might look for clear indications from at
least two of the four before seriously considering ending the run. In contrast towards the end of an
extended run, beyond the norm for the application, we might pull the bit at the first hint of a change in
one of the variables.

Bit Life Estimation Page 3 Reed-Hycalog

May 1999 An Overview Ian McMillan