The bond of
music | In
the nick of time
the heart of Texas, at least a billion barrels of oil wait to be found.
Associate Prof. Stephen Weis and undergraduate assistant Brad Beadle '97
engineered a way with Rockbit International to make drilling for that
black gold more efficient.
By David Van Meter
BITS the world over bite through clay, limestone, shale, whatever, in
search of the next Spindletop. Problem is, the temperature even 1,000
feet below can become a toasty 350 degrees, the pressure upon the bit
40 times greater than gravity, the torque enough to twist wildcatters'
dreams into nightmares.
kind of odds, oil companies could always use another ace in their holes.
And that's what engineering Associate Prof. Stephen Weis, along with undergraduate
assistant Brad Beadle '97, dealt, thanks to a grant from Rockbit International.
MWD system, that is "measurement-
while-drilling," Weis' device could also be called a fiber optic modem.
Instead of getting information across the Internet, however, this modem
tells those "uphole" about what the drill bit is facing "downhole," gauging
up to 30 different environmental factors.
is not new, said Rockbit CEO Marvin Gearhart, but the technology and performance
level is. Current devices transmit information uphole at about two bits
per second. Weis' and Beadle's modem is 150 times faster, "and that's
not even pushing it," Weis said. And as Gearhart points out, horizontal
drilling efforts, where this modem will be used, use more than 20 sensors
measuring temperature, pressure, torque, direction, rock type and other
factors. "Steve's fiber optics research will allow us to get all the real-time
data we need... at the time we need it, so that we can drill more efficiently."
also believes the modem will reduce the time to process the reams of data
from two to three years to less than six months.
5675674 now belongs to Weis, at least the patent it refers to, but that's
not what pleases the modest professor most.
student he saw become an engineer before his very eyes. "I approached
Brad as a freshman to see if he was interested in what I was doing," Weis
said. Beadle was, and as a senior worked five six-hour days a week to
make the fiber optic modem a reality.
is as much Brad's as mine," Weis said. "Now, certainly, MIT is not shaking
in its boots, but I do think we have something here that is unique. We
really do have undergraduates making significant contributions in our
research. And the proof is in the pudding."
graduated Beadle is now studying mechanical systems at Georgia Tech. Only
half-joking, he calls the work he did under Weis "management by abandon."
"Dr. Weis didn't stand over my shoulder, and he taught me that the devil
is in the details," Beadle said. "I've gained an engineer's intuition,
that gut feeling into what will work.
it seemed like I was fighting my way out of a paper bag. But then you
realize that the task is really to find a new paper bag. And I did. I'm
a problem solver." Beadle and Weis' modem will soon undergo field testing
to see if it will hold up under drilling conditions, but for now, as it
applies to Beadle, Weis would argue that his new fiber optic modem has
already hit paydirt.