Drilling Systems Automation and Management

Signs of maturity in drilling systems automation are evident in the success stories filtering out of technical conferences and in the attraction of top university talent to an annual, international, drilling-systems-automation contest.

This international university competition is focused on designing an automated (push-the-button) drilling rig. It is sponsored by the SPE Drilling Systems Automation Technical Section and is referred to as Drillbotics ( It is not only about automating equipment, however. The system must drill a quality hole in a block of unknown composition. The competition has raised awareness of drilling systems automation in academia and now shares space with an elite group of university competitions, among them Shell’s Eco-marathon and SpaceX’s Hyperloop.

Drilling-systems-automation products are now being released commercially. These are primarily focused on drilling optimization and wellbore positioning. Several approaches are being considered for the latter—automated placement of the wellbore in 3D space—including automated slide drilling and automated use of rotary steerables. The benefit of these systems is becoming obvious as demanned and even unmanned directional-drilling operations are starting to take hold in the US land environment.

A couple of upcoming drilling-­systems-automation sessions are of interest. The first is at the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, 24–26 September, in Dallas addressing “The Automation of Well Placement.” The focus is on the successful integration of multiple technologies to allow the next steps in automated directional drilling: geosteering and reservoir navigation. The second is a session on the “Digital Twin for Drilling” at the SPE/IADC Drilling Conference and Exhibition, 5–7 March 2019, in The Hague. As described by the conference, “a digital twin integrates real-time data with both physics-based and data-­driven models of a physical asset to create a dynamic understanding and optimization of its design, operation, performance, and maintenance.”

As you can see, significant progress is occurring in drilling systems automation, and I hope you can participate in both sessions guiding systems automation for drilling and as a Drillbotics volunteer guiding the talent for the future of the industry.

This Month's Technical Papers

Probabilistic Drilling-Optimization Index Guides Drillers To Improve Performance

New Geosteering Work Flow Integrates Real-Time Measurements With Geomodels

Real-Time Advisory System Mitigates Drilling Vibrations in a Lateral Section

Recommended Additional Reading

IADC/SPE 189653 Reducing Stick/Slip by Avoiding Autodriller-Control Dysfunction by Derek Adam, Occidental, et al.

IADC/SPE 189691 Automated Directional Drilling Software and Remote Operations Centers Drive Rig Fleet Well Delivery Improvement by Colin Gillan, Nabors Industries, et al.

SPE 187447 Challenges and Lessons From Implementing a Real-Time Drilling Advisory System by Benjamin J. Spivey, ExxonMobil, et al.

John Macpherson, SPE, is senior technical adviser for drilling services for Baker Hughes, a GE company. He has been in the oil and gas industry for more than 40 years, much of that time with Baker Hughes in the upstream oil and gas industry. Macpherson spent the first 7 years of his career in operations in South America before transitioning to applications research. His technical interests include measurement-while-drilling (MWD) systems, drilling measurements (especially drilling dynamics), signal processing, MWD telemetry systems, enhanced-geothermal-system technologies, and drilling systems automation. Macpherson has held various research-and-development management posts, has published extensively, holds several patents, and has been a committee member for SPE conferences. He is a past chairman of the SPE Drilling Systems Automation Technical Section and was an SPE Distinguished Lecturer. Macpherson holds a BS degree in geology from the University of Glasgow. He is a member of the JPT Editorial Committee and can be reached at

Drilling Systems Automation and Management

John Macpherson, SPE, Senior Technical Adviser for Drilling Services, Baker Hughes, a GE Company

01 September 2018

Volume: 70 | Issue: 9

No editorial available



Don't miss out on the latest technology delivered to your email weekly.  Sign up for the JPT newsletter.  If you are not logged in, you will receive a confirmation email that you will need to click on to confirm you want to receive the newsletter.