A week at the RDTC Transcript


00:20 Michael Gaines: Hello and welcome to NOV Today. I'm your host, Michael Gaines. It's a crisp cool fall Monday morning in the countryside of Southeast Texas. With a slight breeze from the northeast, the sky is clear as the sun rises early over the still sleepy Navasota, Texas, located about one hour northwest of Houston.

00:47 Chuck Wright: I tell you what, that view never gets old.

00:50 Michael Gaines: I know.

00:50 Chuck Wright: It's like a postcard.

00:52 Michael Gaines:
I know. I was thinking about it this morning driving in, like "Man, this is solid."

00:56 Michael Gaines: While the 7000 inhabitants of this rural community just begin to greet the dawn, one group of individuals has already been hard at work for hours at NOV's Research and Development Technology Center or RDTC. One of those individuals, Chuck Wright, has busily been darting around for more than an hour coordinating with dozens of people in, what would amount to, conducting a logistical orchestra. And for Chuck, his Monday morning symphony usually sounds something like this: 


01:28 Michael Gaines: Head from the main building to the shop warehouse for the daily 7:00 AM meeting. Go from the safety meeting back to the office to confirm the day's activities. Get another cup of coffee. Go from the office to the warehouse to try and unexpectedly source an 8 3/4-inch drill bit for the day's work. Check in with the NWD team to confirm the tools are ready to go. Head from the warehouse to the simulator room to update the NOVOS team on the day's activities. Head from the simulator room and update the automation team on the equipment changes, simultaneously resolve a communication issue between two testing groups on facilitating the receipt of materials for the testing for that day. Take a coffee break and then some more of the same.

02:00 Michael Gaines: With such an ability to conduct an orchestra of advanced testing, engineering coordination, and cross-functional communication, you'd think that Chuck would have to be versed in advanced nuclear engineering or something. Well, in this case, that's actually a true statement. As a bonafide US Navy Nuclear Engineer, Chuck has drawn on his more than two decades of military and industry experience to prepare him for his current role. And just in case you are wondering, Chuck has a lot on his mind nowadays, and may sometimes forget small details, but we won't hold it against him.

02:34 Chuck Wright: Chuck Wright with the RDTC. I'm the, oh crap, I forgot my title.


02:45 Michael Gaines: I can make one up for you if you like.


02:49 Chuck Wright: R&D Strategy Manager. I'm sorry, I just drew a blank.

02:51 Michael Gaines: Yep, no worries.

02:53 Chuck Wright: Well, my background was, I was prior military, got out, worked for Caterpillar Solar Turbines, did a lot of consulting overseas. I got tired of traveling and was hired on by ReedHycalog when they were still under Grant Prideco's NHD pressurized drilling laboratory, which at that time was downtown Houston. We moved it up to Conroe and NOV purchased Grant Prideco right at the end of 2007, I believe. And then we became part of NOV and because we were a research lab and we were in the downhole business segment, the research lab went from drilling primarily bit technology to expanding into different areas to help the other aspects of the NOV business that did not have the luxury of having a research lab. As the research strategy manager, what I also do is try to look ahead at business needs. Because some of these resources here may take a year to two years of design work to get ready to test. So I have to try to stay ahead of the needs of the business, which means I stay in touch with all the different groups, listening to what their development strategies are, what pieces of equipment are coming out, so that the RDTC can continue to be that resource and allow them to test in the proper way.

04:21 Michael Gaines: So, is it beneficial then for groups as they're looking at or considering developing technologies that maybe we don't currently have the infrastructure to test to maybe at least wave a flag or at least let you know the path they're headed so that we can support in the future? 

04:43 Chuck Wright: Exactly. One of things I always tell them is, "Give me your deepest, darkest desires." And then what I also say is, I always tell them, "Do not filter, just say what you want, and then we'll work and find some way to do something now and then we'll work towards what you really need." Because what typically happens is an engineer may think, "Okay, they can't provide that, so I'm not gonna ask for that." But if it's never asked for, it's never considered, it's never planned for, it's never budgeted, then it's never gonna execute. That's kind of the overall philosophy of the RDTC.

05:17 Michael Gaines: Over the next several months, we'll be following Chuck around the RDTC, and spending several episodes exploring what it is that goes on at this 392 acre, $64 million facility, and how that impacts NOV as a whole. Each episode will focus on a day of the week, and how this typically plays out at the RDTC.

05:40 Michael Gaines: For the majority of us, a case of the Mondays can often mean a slow start to the week or the schedule not going according to plan. For the team at the RDTC, any deviation from their schedule means watching a ripple effect materialize over a three-month planning window. If things get too bad, the team has to completely scrap the entire testing schedule and start from scratch. It's enough motivation for the team to have a thorough process in place. And on this Monday, Chuck lays out what the plan is.

06:13 Chuck Wright: So this morning, we're gonna have a safety meeting with both test groups: NOVOS, DDS. Actually, more than both, Toltech, since those are the major elements and players. We'll go over the drilling plan, pick the bit and build the BHA, go to bottom, we expect to be on bottom somewhere around noon, then we'll take two to three hours to condition the well since it's been open for a long time. And then from that point, we'll transfer it over to NOVOS to recommence testing. So this is all re-planning from the Hurricane Harvey event. So last week we were just flow testing because no groups could get to site. Even though the site was ready to drill, people couldn't get to site, tools couldn't get to site, projects couldn't get to site, so we took a week of just, "Let's do flow testing and cause a break." So this is now transitioning back to full-scale drilling ops. So that's what we expect.

07:15 Michael Gaines: We'll be following this test in our RDTC series, to see how this week fairs for the groups involved. Be sure to stay tuned.

07:24 Michael Gaines:
For the RDTC, this facility represents a place where NOV tools and technologies can be tested and field-proven before they get into the hands of our customers. To learn a bit more, I called the woman who's leading this facility, Rium Tapjan, to get some history on the RDTC. And also, to understand what our business looked like before its arrival.

07:47 Rium Tapjan: Hey, Michael.

07:48 Michael Gaines: Hey, Rium. For those folks really, generally, but specifically inside of NOV, if you were to help them understand the RDTC, how did it even come to be? How did this facility originate? What would you share with them? 

08:09 Rium Tapjan: It was fate, I would say. [chuckle]

08:11 Michael Gaines: Fate? It was just meant to be? 

08:13 Rium Tapjan: So what happened was, in 2011, the fall of 2011, there was a meeting being held with the higher-ups. The CEO at the time was Pete Miller, and Hege was sitting in there as the CTO. And they were discussing plans for OTC for 2012, so May of the next year. And so, the corporate marketing at the time was talking about, "Okay, we're gonna show automation. We're gonna have a rig at Galena Park and then we're gonna have our NOV booth set up at Reliance, and we're gonna be drilling from Reliance and controlling the rig that's over in Galena Park, and we're gonna drill down to 5000 feet." And they were going on and on about what the plans were.

09:07 Michael Gaines: Right.

09:08 Rium Tapjan: And then Pete stopped this immediately and says, "Wait, whoa, whoa, whoa! We're drilling down to 5000 feet?" And she actually meant to say, I believe, 500 feet. There was just kind of a slip-up. [chuckle]

09:22 Michael Gaines: Sure. Just one next to zero, it's not a big deal.

09:24 Rium Tapjan: Exactly. It's not actually a big... It's not a big deal 'cause you just round up, it's not a big deal. After that hiccup and that blow-up, Pete said, "Well, why don't we have the ability to drill down to 5000 feet? Why don't we have a place where we can drill that far? And we should be able to test and we should have our own equipment, our own rig that we're operating for testing." So he said, "Hege, build us a test facility with a drilling rig." And so before he could change his mind, Hege took off running with the idea. [chuckle]

09:56 Michael Gaines:

09:56 Rium Tapjan: And so that's how that all happened. But I'm sure there has been plenty of discussion around the entire company through the engineering group, I would say, throughout the company for years that have wanted a test facility. And so I would say Hege jumped on the opportunity and here we are.

10:20 Michael Gaines: And I'm thinking back to part of my product line days, is it used to be whenever you had a prototype or a product you wanted to test, it was knocking at the door of our customers saying, "Hey, I know you have an active well or an active rig that you're working. Can I test this in there?" And so what we're now saying is, "Hey, we don't have to fail in front of the customer. We have a purpose-built facility to test that." Right? 

10:44 Rium Tapjan: Absolutely. Yeah, and it's a beautiful thing. In addition to that, like you said, we don't fail in front of the customers. But the beauty of this facility in comparison to... The individual manufacturing facilities and test facility, I'll put it that way, throughout NOV, the difference here is that we have an integrated testing environment and a real live drilling environment. So, I think NOV is accustomed to testing our technologies and new equipment at the place where it's built usually, and you're just testing that piece of equipment, let's say.

11:22 Michael Gaines: Right.

11:23 Rium Tapjan: But out here, we're able to integrate all of our technologies and test them together, which is, I believe, where the market is headed, I guess. I don't have a crystal ball or anything, but what I'm noticing more now is that NOV is pushing, not necessarily products and equipment, but system to our customers. So in order to be able to test a system, you need to have an environment at which you can simulate how it'll be operated in the field. So that's where RDTC comes in, which it's a really cool thing.

12:03 Michael Gaines: So looking at the facility, obviously we've got a... What is that? Ideal Prime Rig? Is that right? 

12:10 Rium Tapjan: Right, right. It's the Prime One, it's the prototype.

12:14 Michael Gaines: That's right, number one. So, when you look at it...

12:17 Rium Tapjan: Number one.

12:17 Michael Gaines:
When you look at it, I guess, it's not a rig facility or a wellbore facility. This is a shared resource for the entire company, right? 

12:28 Rium Tapjan: Absolutely. And thus far, our biggest customer, I would say, our repeat customer would come from Wellbore Technologies. A majority of the tools that we're testing are downhole tools, but rigs is a very close second, well becoming a very close second actually with all the testing for NOVOS that we do. But even now with Wellbore Technologies, if it's not just the tool we're testing downhole, sometimes it's a new app, and these apps need to be able to work on the NOVOS platform, so they're testing together. So those are the two main business segments that we've been able to test for so far.

13:09 Rium Tapjan: Currently a project that we're working on in expanding the facility is the west pad. Right now, if you've been out to the facility, the south pad is where the Prime Rig fit and that's where we do our testing. But we're developing the lowlands or the pad that's to the west of the mud building there. And we're doing that primarily so that we can test for the CAPS business segment. So, I would say in Q2 of this year, we would have drilled a single well, we call it a post-hole 'cause it's shallow, it's a thousand feet depth. And we'll be able to test artificial lift systems equipment, that's the primary goal for that well. But I know there's been talks of how we can test fishing tools and such as well later on. In addition to that, we'll have a concrete burned area where we can test wellstream processing equipment as well. That also falls under the CAPS business segment. This year, all three business segments will be out on site able to test, so it's an awesome thing. And I guess, a "business segment" we kind of forget about sometimes is corporate. So I know Carl Fehres' group, I think you did a segment on that for the Max platform, right? 

14:41 Michael Gaines: Right.

14:42 Rium Tapjan: They're constantly testing out here, because we're pushing data over to the Max platform and they have all this data to work with. And then Hege's corporate R&D team in Norway, they developed a comprehensive model, I think we're calling it the "Digital Twin" now. But that's something that we use in our Prime simulator that's also on site as well. So it's really come one, come all. It's the entire company that's able to test out here now.

15:10 Michael Gaines: If you were to talk to employees today and you could only leave 'em with one or two items, what would be the major things that you want the NOV community to know, and maybe more specifically, maybe the engineers who are salivating over the capabilities and opportunity that we have there? What would be some of the takeaways you'd wanna leave them with? 

15:38 Rium Tapjan: I would say, whatever is on your mind that you want to test, to come and work with us and let us know what you're thinking on in there, because we have our own local mad scientist, Chuck, whom you've met. [chuckle]

15:53 Michael Gaines: Yeah.

15:54 Rium Tapjan: And so, something that we rarely do, we very much try to avoid is the word "no." So, if ever there's a new fangled idea out there that needs to be tested, as nervous as I get, I don't jump to "no." So we always do try to figure out a way to accommodate. Chuck says this all the time. I can't believe I'm quoting him, but he always says to the engineers, "What are your deepest and darkest desires?"


16:29 Rium Tapjan: And we'll figure out how we can accommodate. It is in our nature to try to accommodate. We are a service to the rest of the company, so if there's anything that we need to do as far as expanding the facility, adding more testing capabilities, if there's a technology that years down the road that maybe we need to put the infrastructure in place out here to be able to accommodate that kind of testing later on, let's have at it. Come and tell us and let's work together. That's the cool thing about being out here as well. There's a lot of efforts, I believe, through the company that are trying to knock down those silos and those walls and we're seeing a lot of collaboration across the business segments. There's a lot of discussions of that all taking place. But here, it's the brick and mortar, where that actually happens, where you actually see people huddling together and planning their test together and executing their test and problem solving and that kind of thing. And that's what we want out here. And we have a lot of office space. If anybody wants to sit out here, come visit with us. [chuckle]

17:38 Michael Gaines: Yeah, and it's great. I always enjoy the drive out there and seeing the cows and all that stuff. It makes for a fun visit.

17:45 Rium Tapjan: If you come, you'll be part of the family and then you'll have to stay.

17:50 Michael Gaines: That's right. Wow! 

17:50 Rium Tapjan: So we'll just warn you there. That's the warning.

17:52 Michael Gaines: I've gotta put in my transfer request to have a remote office out there, 'cause it is great.

17:56 Rium Tapjan: Exactly. We'll feed you and we'll keep you.

18:00 Michael Gaines: That's right.


18:11 Chuck Wright: The hardest part about this is every week there's drilling operation. They have the operation site, every week is the planning for the next one. So that every Wednesday we have a spot meeting for the next well. And then every Friday is the planning for the well after that. So it's like this unending cycle of activity.

18:33 Michael Gaines: Now it's the end of the day, and Chuck has continued to hurry around the facility, coordinating with the testing groups and working as safely and quickly as possible, to get tools in the ground and ready to start testing. He met with me briefly to give me an update on the day's happenings.

18:48 Chuck Wright: We had the safety meeting, the Toltech had their tool but they started having problems with one of the experimental, so they had three MWDs, which was an addition from the original plan too, which caused a few hours' delay so they didn't get to the bottom until around 2:00, so we were about two to three hours' off schedule is where that put us just because the tools took longer than expected to get ready for the string, which means we won't pass into drilling operations to about three hours later, we also added some things into the schedule for later this week, a HawkEye integration that's gonna be completely background, so it doesn't tie into the control system, it's not on the drilling string, but in the background, they're prepping the architecture for future automation work, so that can happen because they're not interfering with anything, so we're gonna add that 'cause it doesn't complicate the drilling process but it's just controlling people access, so by tomorrow, we should have more people on site doing more things.

19:53 Chuck Wright: That's where we're transitioning to, and by tomorrow they should be drilling, so we're in 24-hour ops. The project crews are 10:00 to 11:00. By midnight, they should trip back to the shoe 'cause the project is left, they'll stop circulating, they'll break circulation and they'll wait for the project team to come back in the morning and the drill crew will work on basic maintenance, getting their aims, which is our maintenance system for the rig, basically catch-up work, and then when the team comes tomorrow we'll have our safety meeting, go back to bottom and start drilling. And that's basically 'cause there aren't enough project crews to support, but we needed 24 hours anyway to do the cement job at the end of the week. So, what the rig has to be on 24 is whether the project can support or not.

20:42 Chuck Wright: So, you'll be drilling ahead with NOVOS, doing NOVOS functionality, DDS drill shark will be active and we'll be running full telemetry. So you'll have your IntelliServ, your wire drill pipe, and that's where your telemetry tech will actually start working a little bit more than what he's done today. But yeah, we'll be full active drilling tomorrow.

21:02 Michael Gaines: In our next episode, we'll take a look at Tuesday, which is when full testing begins and really deep dive into the project. And as usual, you should always expect the unexpected when drilling. The same goes for the RDTC as well.

21:17 Michael Gaines: Thanks for listening to this episode of NOV Today. We'd like to hear your feedback, share your thoughts by tweeting us at NOVGlobal and using the hashtag #NOVToday, or by sending us an email at [email protected]. Be sure to visit nov.com/novtoday to listen to previous episodes and to learn more about some of the ideas and technologies discussed on the show. For NOV Today, I'm Michael Gaines. Thanks for listening and we'll talk to you later.