2021Drilling Rigs & AutomationMay/June

Formalizing communications could lead to better decisions at wellsite

Industry looking at how to better structure language around tasks and commands to provide more clarity, assist with future automation efforts

By Stephen Whitfield, Associate Editor

Much of the communication that goes on at a rig site – whether it’s between the wellsite supervisor and the driller, or if it’s a service company communicating instructions to a rig crew, or analysis coming in from a remote operating center – is unstructured. It is delivered in an ad-hoc manner and laden with shorthand. 

While people are often adept at understanding unstructured communication, there is a level of ambiguity that can sometimes lead to mistakes in executing a task. In addition, as companies rely more on remote operations centers and wireless devices to facilitate the delivery of instructions to the people on the rig, communications is only becoming more complex. 

There are a number of tools to help codify unstructured communication in automated systems, but those tools primarily deal with human-machine interactions. At the IADC Drilling Engineers Committee’s 24 March Technology Forum, Pradeep Annaiyappa, Senior Director of Digital and Automated Technology at Nabors Drilling, discussed the possibility of structuring communications in an automated system to help reduce ambiguity in decision making on the rig. 

“With unstructured communications, obviously there are a lot of areas where things could fail. The driller did not understand the instruction, or they weren’t able to follow the instruction,” he explained. “How can we provide some kind of a structure to the unstructured communication that’s happening?” 

Mr Annaiyappa proposed the concept of an automated database of tasks and commands that can formalize corrective actions and codify standard work procedures, best practices and mitigation procedures. The database, which he referred to as a “dictionary,” would give drillers a better understanding of why a task needs to be done.

The dictionary would not be a physical document, but rather akin to a semantic data model, which captures additional meaning for various terminology within an application in order to enhance its effectiveness. It would outline clearly defined tasks within an operation, along with execution procedures and expected results. 

A driller would still receive informal instruction on a given task, and the system would follow up by delivering formal instructions from the dictionary that a driller could follow. The system would then measure whether those instructions were followed and, if not, the driller could provide feedback as to why those instructions were not followed.

All of that information would then be incorporated into the dictionary. In future instances where drillers receive instructions for similar tasks, they would have the contextual information from previous executions.  

3 types of communication  

Building a system that effectively structures unstructured communications requires an understanding of three different sub-classes of communication: informative, implicit and explicit, Mr Annaiyappa said. Informative communication describes actions that could be done, implicit communication describes actions that should be done, and explicit communication describes actions that must be done. 

Informative communication typically involves some level of background knowledge that a driller or subject matter expert obtained to reach a given conclusion. For instance, a driller would need to have some justification for determining the optimal differential pressure in a given hole section. Mr Annaiyappa noted that one of the challenges in building an effective system would be codifying how much of that background knowledge should be included in formal instructions passed between the driller and the expert. 

Implicit communication involves more detailed procedures, with a series of instructions that generally need to be followed in some order. Codifying this communication is more straightforward than with informative communication. The instructions essentially form a plan that has been prepared ahead of time. The expert is control of managing the plan, the driller is in control of executing the plan, and the expert monitors the performance and makes adjustments to the plan. 

Explicit communication builds on implicit communication and is applied to specific scenarios. For instance, implicit communication could be an expert based in a remote operating center coaching a driller on the correct procedures for executing a slide, while explicit communication would involve the remote center instructing the driller on executing a slide in a specific well.

An effective system categorizes tasks and objectives within each of these subcategories – tasks for creating the plan and tasks for executing the plan – so that only the necessary information is passed along to each individual. 

Mr Annaiyappa said he is engaging with industry colleagues to discuss forming a workgroup to investigate the feasibility of this dictionary. DC

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