Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Tech Talk - Projections 2

It is the end of another year, or more optimistically the start of a new one. Last year I was tempted to make a couple of predictions for the future. And while I can make the case that they were not too wrong, they did not include the drop in oil prices, which has now taken the price of our local gas to below $1.85 a gallon. China has, in recent months, seemed less belligerent about claiming large sections of the China Seas. Whether this has anything to do with the relative success of rigs that have drilled in those waters is something that still remains an unknown.

But it is the changing price of gasoline, itself reflective of the drop in oil prices that is the big news. WTI closed at $53.56 today, and Brent at $57.50 a barrel. Predictions include some who would suggest that the price will continue to fall, until it reaches $20 a barrel, and there it may stay for some time. Well it certainly grabs a headline, but that is about all the value that particular forecast contains. The futures prices suggest that the price has yet to bottom out, though it may be getting close to that value.

Figure 1. Crude oil futures prices (EIA TWIP)

None of the recent news suggests that there will be a further increase in supply to sustain the current imbalance between available supply and demand. Libya is descending even further into a mess, with the oil facilities at the port of Es Sider now being destroyed. The likelihood of significant increases in production and the return to export levels achieved earlier this summer seems increasingly nonexistent. Neither Russia nor Saudi Arabia are likely to increase production, although the latter are continuing to produce the increased volume that they originally put on the market to replace Libyan losses. And so this leaves Iraq and the United States as the key producers who can significantly change the current supply:demand balance in any significant way.

It is probable that, with the agreement between the Kurds and the Central Government now having generated a second payment of $500 million to the KRG that the agreement may be sustained and grow. At present the Kurds are to supply about 550 kbd, of which 300 kbd will travel through the new pipeline to Turkey and thence onto the world market. The rest will be supplied to Baghdad. Meanwhile production in the south (which gets exported through Basra) has seen some increase.

Whether the Kurdish production can increase to over 1 mbd by the end of next year remains open to some doubt, given the ongoing conflict, and the target 6 mbd by the end of the decade for the entire country will likely require changes that the current conflict, which shows no signs of ending, will inhibit.

One of my responses, when the drop in price first started, was to note that the oil supply system has a certain inertia to it. And here I am not talking about the fluctuations in price that one sees in the stock market, and in the price of the crude, but rather in the time that it takes to stop current drilling, postpone future plans and to reduce the production from existing and new developments.

Thus the drop in investment in new production, whether in Russia, Iraq or the United States takes some time to have an impact. Unfortunately for those expecting the price to continue to fall, in the face of the overabundant supply, the situation has changed since historic times, where well production was relatively stable and the oversupply situation was corrected by shutting in production (mainly by Saudi Arabia). Even then it was the perception of the response that drove price rebounds, rather than the immediate reality of the changes.

The system this time is different. The increase in production in the United States has been sustained, and over the last two years has produced more than 2 mbd more than at the start of that period.

Figure 2. US crude oil production over the past two years. (EIA TWIP)

The rig count in North Dakota has already fallen to 170 rigs compared with 187 at this time last year. Concern about the oil price has led companies to cut their investment plans for next years, in some case by 20% so that the rig count is likely to continue to fall. And with the short life at high production values for most wells that will soon affect production. The North Dakota Oil and Gas Division of DMR shows the consequences of this:

Figure 3. Future production estimates from the ND DMR Oil and Gas Division.

The blue line requires about 225 rigs in continuous action, so that won’t happen. By the same token the black line is with no more drilling, and that won’t happen either. The result will be somewhere in between, probably moving the peak out beyond the current projection, but also lowering it as the existing baseline drops with less wells significantly contributing. (Bear in mind it is taking 11,892 wells to sustain current production levels.) But in the short term the line will likely dip down until the price rebounds.

The question now becomes how soon that drop in US production will become evident, and have some impact. I doubt that it will be before June of 2015.

On which note may I wish all readers a Happy, Healthy, Successful and Prosperous 2015.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Waterjetting 28c - using steel as an abrasive

One of the considerable disadvantages in using garnet and other similar minerals as a cutting agent in abrasive waterjet cutting is that the particles fragment during the mixing process, and when they hit the target. As a result (as noted in the last post) less than 50% and often much less than that can be usefully recycled. The distinction in adding the word usefully relates to the need to remove the finer particles from the recycled stock since that does not cut very well.

But what if we used an abrasive that is not degraded in the mixing process, and further one that can be more easily separated from the cuttings and spent water? The candidate is steel, which can be formed into small particles that do not degrade in size as they move through the mixing chamber, and generally hold shape even after they have hit the target. Steel also has the advantage that it can be magnetically removed from the jet stream as the flow is collected, and with no significant degradation in size it can then be readily recycled. In cases where we have monitored the recyclability of steel shot, we were able to re-use it more than fourteen times without seeing any degradation in performance. Re-using it this many times more than offsets the increased price of the original material, and will, in a short time, also pay for the relatively low costs of a magnetic separator.

Unfortunately it is not quite that simple a choice. There are a number of other considerations, which must be addressed to make the system work effectively, some of which may make the process too expensive. Three of the areas that need to be addressed form the subject of this post.

The first comes about as a result of the shape of the particles, and their retained mass and velocity on leaving the focusing tube. More than most other abrasives steel retains some elasticity during the cutting to the point that where the cutting and rebounding streams are not carefully confined, the particles can escape upwards into the cutting room. Once in the air they move at high speed, and bounce around the room, so that they can reach unanticipated places and can also be a hazard to folk doing the work.

Figure 1. Slot depths cut into granite by steel shot (left) and garnet (right)

The second problem relates to the cutting effectiveness. When cutting a brittle material the steel shot has a number of advantages, since the energy on impact is focused in the very small volume of the sphere in contact with the target. This improves the ability of the shot to generate and grow cracks in the impact zone and thereby improves the performance of the cut, over that of the mineral abrasives.

Figure 2. Relative performance of steel over garnet and sand in cutting dolomite, under otherwise similar conditions

However, when cutting ductile materials, such as metal, steel shot is not a good tool, since the focusing of the force means that the shot may get buried or just rebound from the target, without the tearing and plowing action that comes with the use of a more regular abrasive. One way to overcome the problem is to switch from a steel shot to steel grit, which is also available. The relative benefit can be illustrated by using the change from using glass spheres to using them after they have been broken into sharp fragments.

Figure 3. Effect of change in particle shape when using glass particles in cutting ductile composite material (after Faber and Oweinah).

This, by itself may not be a complete answer, since the process of making the grit makes it a little more vulnerable to abrasion and wear during the cutting process, but we have seen that it is possible to recycle most of the abrasive a number of times. However, because of the change in shape, it becomes a little more difficult to feed the abrasive into the cutting stream, and there have been occasions where the grit has bound up in the feed tube. This has, therefore, to be sized and the flow path designed, to ensure that this doesn’t happen.

Figure 4. Cuts made into tool steel using steel shot (left) and garnet (right)

The other change is to use a harder steel than normal. And here please note that there is a difference between the hardness of the steel and its toughness. As American Cutting Edge notes:
Hardness vs. Toughness: Generally as hardness increases, toughness decreases. Toughness is desirable when blades are heavily impacted, hardness when a blade is exposed to corrosive or abrasive materials.

Hardness is related to the amount of carbon in steel. Often the lower the carbon, the higher the toughness. Also, some steels do not perform at lower hardness as they were designed for use at higher hardness. . . . . . . . Hardness is a characteristic of a solid material expressing its resistance to permanent deformation. The Rockwell or Vickers hardness scales are most commonly used in the industrial blade industry.

Toughness on the other hand is the maximum amount of energy a material can absorb before fracturing, which is different than the amount of force that can be applied. Toughness tends to be small for brittle materials, because it is elastic and plastic deformations that allow materials to absorb large amounts of energy.
In general where the grit is being used to cut into other metals (which can include steels) the hardness of the cutting abrasive should be considerably higher than that of the target material.

Which comes to the third consideration, which is that steel abrasive can rust, and therefore, immediately after it has been recovered and washed, it should be effectively dried. This has proved to be more difficult to manage than originally anticipated, since, particularly where the particles are then stored for some time before re-use, any moisture present can create enough rust to “glue” the particles together. Which renders them effectively useless for further recycling and additional use.

So there are considerable pitfalls that can arise in making use of steel as a cutting abrasive, but where the jobs exist where it does effectively cut significantly better than the alternative (say in rock-cutting applications) and where the cutting zone can be shielded, and the particles rapidly recovered, dried and stored for relatively rapid recycling at an economic price, then it can be a productive way of reducing cost, while improving throughput. (And lest you think this is a new idea Gulf Oil did extensive work on abrasive jet drilling of oilwells starting in the mid-sixties, with some favorable results, but that is another story).

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Waterjetting 28b - More on abrasive use

The costs of running a high pressure waterjet table divide into two parts, one that covers the basic costs of the system, whether it is running or not, such as building rent, while the second covers those costs that are a part of the actual work. Of the latter costs it is the cost of the abrasive that is often the most significant. This comes about in two ways, since the abrasive must first be purchased for use, and then, after it has been used it must be disposed of. Depending on the materials that were cut, this disposal cost can be significantly higher than the original purchase price. In some work carried out at the High Pressure Waterjet Lab (HPWL) at Missouri University of Science and Technology (MST) in the past we have seen disposal costs that were more than three times the cost of the original abrasive. And one should bear in mind that, as a research lab, the table was used much less than a comparable conventional table in an industrial cutting environment. But we also did not have a cutting operational budget, and so the cost of abrasive was something that we examined, to see if it could be reduced.

The first idea was that we would just recycle the abrasive. The particles of the target materials that were cut are generally much smaller than the abrasive particles themselves, and so it should be relatively easy to remove them from the mix. However, as we looked into the process in more detail, it was clear that it would not be quite as simple as it might, at first, appear. Marian Mazurkiewicz (retired) and Greg Galecki (who now runs the HPWL) carried out studies on the behavior of the particles as they moved through the mixing chamber and were accelerated down onto the target material. They found, as noted in an earlier post, that most of the abrasive was crushed to a smaller size when it passed through the cutting head, and a mix that started out with a particle size of 210 microns as it was fed into the system, was leaving the focusing tube with an average size of 140 microns.

Figure 1. Percentage of abrasive at different sizes after it has passed through a mixing chamber (and before it has hit the target). (After Galecki).

The reason that this is a concern is that, as the particles become smaller, so a point is reached where, depending on the target material, the abrasive no longer has sufficient energy to effectively cut into the target. When cutting into metals such as titanium and steel, our targets of choice in the study, this cut-off grade was at around 100 microns.

Figure 2. Effect of particle size on the cutting performance of an abrasive jet in cutting steel. (The tests were part of a factorial experiment and are thus averages over a number of different test runs at differing abrasive feed rates (AFR and pressures).

Roughly 25% of the mix in the example shown in figure 1 lies below 100 micron at it leaves the chamber. After impacting the target this value increases to more than 50%. Obviously recycling this fine material and re-using it in the cutting process is going to be less effective than removing it from the mix. Generally alluvial garnets will break up more rapidly than mined garnet, because of the structure of the abrasive particles, and thus the percentage that leave the focusing tube at the larger and more effective diameters are lower with the alluvial mix. The results were, we found, confirmed in the cutting results, with alluvial garnet producing a generally shallower depth of cut that would be achieved, other things being equal, in the cutting tests.

A quick word of explanation of the tests we ran, which are described in more detail here. The tests are run at a standard pressure and nozzle size, and at a constant traverse rate, with the depth that the jet cuts into a standard steel at a fixed speed measured over a 4-inch traverse length.

The results of the tests showed that, because of the particle crushing during the cutting process, the abrasive would have to be screened, and for most effective re-use only the larger fraction (on average less than 40%) should be recycled. The rest would be too fine for effective re-use in the operations we were developing. (Although finer abrasive has use in other applications, it would have to be screened and stored). It was interesting to note, and perhaps logical in retrospect, that once the particles had been used once and the larger ones separated out, then the percentage that survived and could be reused a second and third time increased significantly. This is mainly because those particles that had some form of weakness crack (either from weathering or from the mining process) were broken during the first impact, and the particles that survived did not have these cracks, and would therefore inherently be more prone to survive multiple times.

For our purpose, therefore, given that there was a high cost in purchasing the abrasive, and an even higher one in disposing of the contaminated material after cutting (because of the contamination by the target material) there was a potential economic advantage in recycling the abrasive. There were several ways in which the particles can be separated, but a simple screening process, if carried out properly, is quite time consuming, since the particles are required to “sit” on a vibrating screen for several minutes to ensure accurate separation, and this can be labor intensive if it is carried out as a batch process. We tried a number of different ways, including using a counter-flow fluid column that worked well for low feed rates, but the most efficient unit for one operation (we build virtually all of ours, and extensively modified them over time) may not be the best in other cases. (The one that survived the longest was a Wilfey table (though not this one).

In conventional AWJ cutting the abrasive has also to be dried before it can be re-used, and that can also add power and labor costs to the process. Thus, as with many choices that must be made when developing an efficient cutting operation, the best answer is to carry out a series of tests yourself, and run the numbers to decide whether, in the long run, recycling would, or would not, be an effective choice.

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tech Talk - A Gentle Cough!

When I last wrote about the global supply of oil, it was back in October, as the fall in oil prices was developing. Since then the price has continued to fall, with prices now below $60 a barrel. I was doubtful back then that the price would fall as far as it has, and remain cynical that it will remain down for very long. Since this seems to go against much current wisdom, let me explain why I remain pessimistic that the boost to the global economy from access to cheaper fuel will continue for any great length of time.

It depends on whose data you believe credible as to how much more oil is available than that currently in demand. When looking at the numbers in the past I used a number of roughly 1 mbd, but this is hard to realistically quantify. Why – well the problem comes with the regions of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) where there are current conflicts. The ones of particular concern are Libya and Iraq, although the fluctuating state of exports from Iran cannot be neglected. When the Libyan conflict first impacted the export of oil from that country Saudi Arabia began increasing its production to offset the loss in Libyan exports.

There came a time in September when Libyan exports, which had fallen to around 300 kbd from a high of over 1.6 mbd, shot back up to around 900 kbd. The EIA has recently shown an inverse correlation between Libyan production and oil price:

Figure 1. Brent Oil Price and Libyan oil production (EIA )

Thus, when an additional 600 kbd suddenly appeared back in the marketplace, it is not surprising that it had an impact on prices. However while there was already some surplus in the market (from increased production in the US etc, as I will comment on below) the volume of the addition had a more significant impact on prices, and when KSA decided not to reduce production this led the market to assume that we had returned to plentiful sufficiency, and prices have continued to fall since.

However, this perception is already unraveling. Libyan conflict has continued to embroil their oil fields. The Sharara field, which produces 300 kbd closed in November as conflict overwhelmed it. At the moment two of the oil export terminals are threatened, and with them another 300 kbd of oil. But it is not possible, at this point, to predict what is going to happen in either location. There is little sign that the conflict is any closer to resolution, meaning the production will continue to be threatened into the foreseeable future. Sadly it it more likely that this will have negative impact on oil production, so that it might be wiser to assume lower rather than higher volumes coming from the country.

The situation is a little clearer and more optimistic in Iraq, where the pipeline through Kurdish territory has lessened the impact of the Islamic State take-over of a large swath of the country. The recent agreement between the Iraqi Federal Government (IFG) and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) approved early this month is already raising questions over the volumes that the KRG will put onto the market. The agreement calls for sales of around 550 kbd, but there is an additional 100 kbd that is available, the status of which is unclear. The country is exporting, overall, around 2.51 mbd and the pipeline to Turkey is currently carrying 280 kbd, but is being boosted to carry 400 kbd, with an ultimate throughput of 700 kbd. Part of the problem in assessing the market for this, however, in the short term is that the Iraqi crude is often heavier and of relatively lower quality than the market average. This is currently causing some marketing problems, leading the IFG to lower prices in order to find a market. In neither case, however, is the current conflict likely to impact the production for export, and while it is difficult to anticipate much production above 3.5 mbd. (The December OPEC MOMR suggests that they are producing 3.36 mbd at the moment) we are unlikely to se any significant reduction in production going forward. The significant growth in global production to meet a still predicted rise in demand next year (albeit down slightly from previous estimates) will, therefore, not come from OPEC, who still anticipate that they will produce, on average 400 kbd less than they have this year. It is still expected that American production will continue to rise to meet expectations of increased global demand.

The problem, unfortunately, with that view, is that increases in US production are tied to output from fracked horizontal wells that are expensive to drill, and have a relatively short production life, with the majority of production coming in the first year of operation. Thus, in order to sustain production, more wells must be drilled each month to cover the loss in production from existing operations. The North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources projects that 225 or more drilling rigs are needed to sustain the growth of production from the state over the next three years (at which time it will plateau at around 1.5 mbd). Presently there are roughly 180 rigs operating, with the count falling by the week, as the rewards, at present, do not match the cost. The agency anticipates that the number will fall by an additional 40-50 rigs by the middle of next year. Well completions are also falling by the month, as the industry likely plans to wait out the current hiatus in prices. The impact of this on even short term production should not be discounted. There has already been a slight fall in production, rather than a gain, in October, and that will likely accelerate.

Without any gain in production, and in fact seeing the potential for a drop in US production over the next year, then the anticipated surplus between oil supply and demand will likely disappear. Remember that the MENA nations are seeing a growth in their internal demand for oil (in the KSA this has already passed 3 mbd) so that if they had no impetus to reduce production and exports in the face of falling prices, so they are unlikely to increase production when prices pick up. (They haven’t before).

When will this all happen? Well I got the size of the price fall wrong, so don’t hold me to the exact timing, but I would anticipate that when we see the start of the driving season next year, the oil market will tighten rather quickly. Following that (given the inertia in getting production back in the US) we will (as I have been expecting for a couple of years) see the global concern over supply start to be a significant factor in 2016.

Have a Happy Holiday!

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Waterjetting 28a - Cutting rock on a table

In previous posts I have written about the use of lower pressure water (around 10,000 psi) as a way of cutting through rock. From the time that we first made a hole through nine-inches of granite while I was a graduate student some 50-odd years ago the way that we have recommended that rock be cut, in a mining situation, has been to use lower pressure and higher volumes of water. This is so that as many natural fractures around the individual grains and crystals can be developed at one time as possible. However the result of this is that the cut progresses along the grain boundaries of the infrastructure of the rock, that a roughly edged cut is made, rather than a smooth cut surface. In mining applications this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when cutting counter tops and other ornamental structures for marble and granite surfaces inside a building then a rough surface is definitely not often required.

So how can a relatively smooth surface finish be created along the cut? One step,that works with softer rocks (such as some pink granites) is just to increase the jet pressure, while at the same time reducing the volume of the stream flow. Once one reaches the ultra-high pressure regime (which is, for this article, considered above 35,000 psi) and with jet diameters on the order of 0.01 inches or less, the jet stream is more typically going to cut through a crystal within the rock than to just work on the cracks that lie at the edges of the crystal.

Unfortunately there are sufficient cracks and crystal boundaries within the rock that it is not possible to ensure that at some point as the jet cuts down through the rock, and along the desired path, that it won’t find a crack at a critical length and alignment that the crack will break out a larger chip. This is less likely to happen within the cut, since the confinement of the surrounding rock acts to reduce excessive crack growth, but can quite often occur at the rock surface, particularly where there has been some earlier damage that has left larger cracks within that surface. (This includes heat treatment).

That, however, is a specialized case, and in the more typical situation an increase in jet pressure to 50 ksi will not, by itself, produce the clean edge needed. Part of the reason for this comes from the striation planes within marbles, which can offer an easier path for the jet to penetrate, as the cuts get deeper, rather than having the hole continue forward along the jet axis. To overcome these problems it is easier, with the ubiquity of abrasive waterjet systems, to instead change to add an abrasive to the waterjet.

Dimension stone (the trade name for the decorative rocks such as marble and granite) is generally through cut with slab depths that are less than an inch-and-a-half thick, although greater depths can be specially prepared. Often the slabs are polished before they are finally cut to shape. We found that preferable, since when doing the final polish with successively finer grinding wheels (used for example in creating the Millennium Arch) the edge stress that can be generated by the wheels themselves can cause chipping along the edge of the work. This, in turn, either requires a regrind down to remove the chip, or some form of repair, which we found it difficult to make invisible given the complex structure of the granite. This is particularly true when relatively narrow ribs of material are being cut. As an example, consider the cartoonish mining figure that was made some years ago.

Figure 1. Toon miner carved from 3-inch thick granite.

The front and back surfaces were polished before the figure was cut from the slab, given the extreme fragility of the edges of the pick, for example, which failed under very little pressure in several samples before one survived.

One problem with this approach is that the edges of the cut, while relatively smooth, do not have the polished look that the flat surfaces have. Apart from making the cut relatively slowly, in order to remove as many striations along the cut path as possible, one answer has been to use a spray on the rock surface which then gives the impression of having a polished surface, and as long as the object is kept inside the coating will likely remain. (When we tried this with pieces that ended up outside weathering removed that coating within a short number of years).

The problem with hand polishing large flat surfaces is that it becomes very difficult to maintain a truly flat surface over the entire block, and while the surface may end up smooth and polished, it will likely have some small undulations within it. It is therefore more productive (and, we found, cheaper) to have large flat surfaces machine polished before they were cut. One example of this was the sign that we made for the State Geological Survey. It was made in two parts, the lower part was a Missouri Granite, which held an upper half, carved from Missouri Marble, which was cut to the shape of the state.

Figure 2. Sign cut for the State Geological Survey

The lower granite slab was inset into two vertical grooves that were cut into the supporting blocks. The granite slab was cut to shape on our cutting table, with the inset cut out to hold the “toe” of the state. Because the granite was first machine-polished the lettering was etched into the surface using a reduced pressure for the cutting jet, and removing a thin layer of the surface, which was replaced with the black fill material to highlight the letters.

Figure 3. The Agency name was etched into the granite slab.

When it came time to cut the shape of the state in the marble, the block was first trimmed at the top (to help it fit into the table). A piece of plywood was placed under the rock before cutting to prevent any rebounding abrasive from hitting the under side of the slab and removing the polish from the surface.

Figure 4. The first cut across the marble, showing the supporting plywood.

The rest of the state had a contour cut along each surface, and when these were completed the slab was ready for mounting.

Figure 5. The finished slab, showing the state outline.

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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Waterjetting 27e - Borehole Back Pressure Effects

In the earlier posts on this chapter of waterjet technology I have dealt with the changes in cutting performance when a waterjet stream cuts in to material that is either under pressure, or contains internal stresses that may not be obvious at first glance. In this post I will focus, instead, on the changes in performance when the borehole becomes filled with water under pressure.

Figure 1. 12-inch cores of sandstone that have been drilled by the same jet drill, at the same speed, but at borehole pressures of 0, 500 psi, 1,000 psi, 1,500 psi and 2,000 psi. (Jet pump pressure 10,000 psi; 970 rpm; 40 inches/min ROP)

The water used in the test also contained a small amount of polyethylene oxide (Polyox) that, at the time, was the only polymer readily available to enhance jet performance under water, although there are now liquids such as Superwater that similarly help.

It can be seen that even the change in pressure to 500 psi is sufficient to dramatically shorten the distance that the jet cuts through the material on a single pass, and the range then only shortens a little as pressure further increases. But the hole drilled at 2,000 psi is barely large enough to let the high pressure lance and nozzle assembly pass.

First an explanation of the equipment that we used to run the tests. A triaxial cell was used as the basic vessel to hold the core. This is so-called since it allows pressure to be applied around the rock core, and also since the cap can slide within seals, axial pressure given the third of the orthogonal directions for loading.

Figure 2. Triaxial cell used for the drilling experiments.

A valve was fitted on the flow line of water out of the chamber (just above the pressure dial) and this controlled the fluid pressure in the cell. The diameter of the outer (reaming) jet was 0.04 inches, and the rapid decay in range with the increase in pressure led to a second experiment, to see how changing the diameter changed the results. The equipment was modified for this test, the feed pipe to the nozzle was bent, so that, as it made a single circuit over the underlying rock, it would trace out a circular path rather cut a single hole. Then the top of the sample was cut at an angle so that, with the rotation the distance from the jet to the target would vary and the range of the jet could be seen. (Figure 4).

Figure 3. Modified equipment to find the effective jet range against back pressure.

A simplified factorial experiment was run with three nozzle diameters and five back pressures, measuring the depth of cut into the sandstone in each case.

Figure 4. The resulting cut when a 0.03 inch diameter jet was rotated over sandstone with a 1,000 psi back pressure in the cell. The 10,000 psi jet was brought up to pressure with the jet at the greatest standoff (hole at the bottom) and the back pressure was set before making a single pass over the sample. The depth of cut was averaged over several readings made along its length.

The data was then plotted (with the curve smoothed here for simplicity in discussion).

Figure 5. A plot of range of jet cutting ability as a function of hole back pressure for three different nozzle diameters.

The graph shows that, for this set of conditions, the larger the jet the better, and that the first 500 psi of back pressure has an immediate effect on jet cutting effectiveness. Jet size should be at least 0.064 inches when drilling against back pressure in the hole. There was a significant improvement in cutting ability when the polymer (at 300 ppm) was subsequently added to the water, in a later series of tests. The small number of tests carried out, however, were too small a sample to provide more than guidance as to concentration since all three levels tested (100, 200 and 300 ppm) all showed considerably improved depths of cut (increasing to a depth of almost 2 inches against a back pressure of 2,500 psi) when contrasted with the performance levels shown above. The polymer tests were carried out with a jet nozzle diameter of 0.064 inches.

There are two parts to the effect of the borehole pressure. The first is simply one of increasing the resistance of the water to jet penetration, and lowering the effective jet pressure (since that is effectively the jet pressure less the borehole pressure).

It is important to recognize that it is not just the drop in effective pressure that causes the effect. To check that this was the case a hole was drilled with the same conditions otherwise as the left-hand rock sample in Figure 1, except that the jet pressure was dropped to 5,000 psi. Thus the differential pressure of the jet across the nozzle was less than that in the case of the other four rock samples shown in Figure 1. Yet the hole was of the same approximate irregular geometry as that shown by the left-hand core of Figure 1 even with the lower differential pressure with the prominent cone cut ahead of the bit that is not evident in the other cases.

Mike Hood has shown the effect of loss in cutting range by using back-lit shadow images of a jet at different back pressures.

Figure 6. Illustration of the effect of fluid back pressure, the shadow image of the jet shows how back pressure reduces the range.

As mentioned above, the effects extend beyond reducing the jet range, and lowering the jet differential pressure. The increased confinement on the rock will compress the grains of the rock more tightly together, making it more difficult for the pressurized water to penetrate into the rock structure. This combines with the higher pressure required to grow the cracks to effectively reduce the ability of the jet to penetrate into the rock.

At the same time, if you listen as the back pressure is increased (we used a Lichtarowicz Cell the increasing pitch of the sound shows (as does the damage induced) that the collapse of the cavitation bubbles generated around the edges of the submerged jet is becoming more intense as the pressure increases. I have discussed how this can be used as a benefit in breaking up rock in an earlier post.

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Friday, November 28, 2014

Waterjetting 27d: Drilling at a fixed diameter

In the last post I described how we initially came up with a simple design for drilling through material, using an axially aligned jet and a larger jet offset to one side at an optimal angle of around 20 degrees.

One of the problems with the use of this design is that the outer jet has to remove all the material in front of the nozzle during the time that it rotates around and advances the distance of the incremental feed rate. If it does not then there is a significant problem. Consider the case where the drill penetrates through a layer of limestone, while drilling otherwise in sandstone.

Figure 1. Sectioned waterjet drilled hole through a sandstone:limestone:sandstone sandwich of rock.

Note that although the hole does not deviate as it goes through the harder material since, unlike conventional drills, there is no mechanical contact between the high-angled rock and the nozzle assembly. But the hole reduces in size. If the hole reduces in size below the diameter of the nozzle holder, this will not contact the rock until it has passed behind the plane of the reaming jet. In other words the only way the blocking rock can be removed is to back the nozzle along the hole so that the reaming jet can hit the material blocking progress.

Figure 2. Drill passage blocked by protruding rock in the path of the nozzle body, but behind the cutting plane of the inclined jet.

One way to ensure that this is not a problem is to advance the drill at a slower rate, with the rate of penetration controlled by the ability to cut the hardest rock that the drill will pass through. The problem with that approach, and concurrently that of setting a fixed advance rate, is that, at the same advance rate and rotation speed, the drill will drill through different rocks at a different diameter. While this can be an advantage, in a limited number of cases that I will discuss in a later post, in most cases it is better if the hole is at a relatively constant diameter.

So how can we solve this problem?

One approach taken in Australia was to change the design and location of the cutting jets. Rather than have a single jet cutting out to the perimeter of the hole, two jets were used, but crossed over the axis and cut on the opposite side to their location. This had an additional advantage over the initial design in that, when drilling longer holes (and this went on to drill horizontal holes that ranged up to a kilometer in length IIRC) the head was balanced and so did not wobble and get out of alignment because of the force imbalance.

To overcome the problem of drilling at too small a diameter additional reaming jets were placed on the front of the nozzle assembly, so that he hole would be reamed to the diameter needed to allow the support hose access.

Figure 3. The addition of a pair of reaming jets. Note that offsetting the two front nozzles will also allow them to put a torque on the front part of the nozzle, which can therefore be self-rotating from the left hand of arrow A forward.

But the problem is not completely solved with these changes, since should any rock protrude into the hole in the distance A, so that it hits the larger diameter that follows, again it is not possible for the reaming jets to cut this rock without backing up the drill.

There is another problem, in drilling horizontal holes where the hole diameter can vary. Consider that if the drill goes into a softer material then, at constant advance (ROP), the hole diameter becomes larger. As the drill moves over this larger hole it will be riding on the floor of the hole, and thus the front of the drill will tip forward into the floor of the larger hole. This will incline the drill downwards, and so the hole will no longer be of constant alignment, but rather will gradually, over distance, tip increasingly downwards.

It is therefore critical that the hole be drilled at a relatively constant diameter (allowing for some hole roughness). How to achieve this? The answer is to put a gaging ring or collar of the required hole diameter, in the cutting plane of the rotating jets.

Figure 4. The use of a collar at the front of the nozzle to ensure the hole is cut to the right diameter.

It itself this isn’t sufficient to give the hole a constant diameter, since there is still the problem of drilling through materials of differing resistance. To overcome that problem we put a spring at the back of the drill, with a contact switch to a valve on the feed to the hydraulic motor powering the drill advance. Thus the drill would start to rotate, and the motor would increase the speed of advance until the collar bumped up against the rock. At that time the spring would compress, the contact switch would close, and the advance would momentarily stop. The drill would rotate around and remove the obstructing rock, the spring would expand opening the flow to the motor, and the drill would move forward. It may sound as though it would be a stuttering advance, but when we tried it in a mine you couldn’t tell that the mechanism was working, apart from the hole being of constant diameter, and by watching the spring. It drilled at between 7 and 12 ft a minute in an aggressive sandstone.

Figure 5. The drill assembly used underground. The hydraulic advance motor (it pulls the drill forward using the chain drive) can be seen under the drill sash (the red and grey bar – painted in 1 ft intervals).

In a normal drilling operation when a drill intersects a previously drilled hole at a shallow angle, then the second drill will follow the path of the first hole, and cannot drill through the opposing wall at that shallow angle. (We know this from experience having broken two drill steels trying while excavating the OmniMax Theater under the Arch in St. Louis). But with the waterjet drill we were able to make to second drill cross the intersection.

Figure 6. Photo down one drill hole, showing the point where the hole intersected a second, and crossed without deviation.

Hopefully there is now enough background so that next time I can talk a little more about the effects of borehole pressure on drilling performance.

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Waterjetting 27c - Drilling nozzle design

In discussing how stress affects the ability of waterjets to drill rock, I have discussed the effect of the stress in the ground on drill performance, but before discussing the effect of the borehole pressure it is perhaps best to spend this post talking about the simplest drill bit design.

The diameter of the first jets we used to cut into rock were about 0.04 inches in size, with the nozzle holder used to hold the nozzle on the end of the supply pipe being at around an inch in diameter. As a result, if the jet was to cut a path into the rock, it would have to rotate around the face of the rock ahead of it, removing all the rock ahead of the assembly, and allowing the head to advance.

Figure 1. Original concept of a waterjet drill used to penetrate sandstone.

Of course, back when we first did this in the 1960’s the swivels weren’t available to allow us to rotate the high pressure line, and so we rotated the rock samples instead.

Figure 2. First holes drilled at the University of Leeds. Note the central cone.

Because the jet had to penetrate across the diameter of the hole, so as to remove the cone ahead of the tool, and since the jet would only cut around 2.5 times the jet diameter in width at any one time, the rate that the head could move forward was limited to a maximum of 0.1 x rotation speed (rpm) in inches/minute. And, because the rotation speed controlled the depth which the jet cut into the rock, the rpm had to be kept down to ensure that the jet cut to the full required diameter on each pass. The top speed we could achieve, even in relatively soft sandstone, was around 4 inches a minute.

One of those fortunate accidents that sometimes befalls research folk then occurred. I had asked Jim Blaine, our machinist, to make a new design, with one jet pointing forward and one off to the side, intending that the two be offset. However, due to a misunderstanding, he drilled the second, smaller hole along the jet axis, while offsetting the angled jet to cut further out from the diameter. Since the nozzle was built we proceeded to try it.

Figure 3. First dual jet nozzle design.

Because the axial jet removed the central core, we could offset the inclined jet so that it needed to cut a shorter distance in order to reach the required gage for the hole. That meant that we could rotate the nozzle faster, which in turn meant a faster drilling speed, much faster.

Figure 4. Hole diameter as a function of rate of penetration of the drill (in meters/minute), for two outer jet angles, and two rotation speeds.

Note that in the above figure, with a 30 degree outer jet, spinning at 970 rpm we were able to drill a hole at a speed of roughly 280 inches/minute instead of the previous 4 inches/min by adding only 25% more water to the bit with the second orifice.

As mentioned above, the limit on the advance rate was the depth which the jet cut into the wall, and the amount of rib between adjacent passes that the jet cut would leave.

Figure 5. An early hole drilled into Berea sandstone, at a slow advance rate, using a 10 ksi jet pressure.

Figure 6. Hole drilled into Berea sandstone at 970 rpm, 225 ipm advance rate, with a 15-degree inclined jet. Note that the hole perimeter has the equivalent of a thread cut into it.

It is pertinent to make a small observation over the advantage of that slightly roughened outer wall to the borehole. One of the ways in which miners hold up the roof while they are working underground, is to insert rods (known as roofbolts or rockbolts) into drilled holes placed in the surrounding rock. To improve the grip between these bolts and the wall, miners will also often insert packages of glue into the hole to fill the gap between the bolts and the rock wall.

Unfortunately when the hole is drilled with a conventional mechanical drilling bit, the walls of the hole are left relatively smooth. This means that the bolt has a poorer grip on the wall, and is more easily pulled out of the hole. The US Bureau of Mines ran anchorage tests for different rock wall finishes.

Figure 7. Effect of hole roughness on the anchor strength (US Bureau of Mines)

Conventionally a larger hole, with greater bearing surface, would give a stronger anchorage. This is shown by the greater load carried by the hole drilled with the 1-3/8th bit, over that drilled by the 1-1/4 inch bit. But both of these were smooth walled, and the bit drilled at 1-inch, with a roughened wall had almost three-times the pull strength even though of smaller size.

The roughness of the hole can be controlled by adjusting the feed rate, relative to the rotation speed, both as a function of the jet pressure, nozzle diameter and outer jet angle. It turned out, through experiment, that the optimal angle for the jet was at around 22.5-degrees, depending on the type of rock in which the drill was working.

The effect of rock properties plays a very significant role in the performance of the drill. And it was very easy, early in the program, to show that the important rock parameter was not the compressive strength of the material. To show this we drilled through prepared samples of an Indiana limestone and a sandstone, both of which had approximately the same (uniaxial) compressive strength. The advance rate was kept constant, as was the rotation speed, as the drill penetrated from one rock into the other, and then the hole was cut in half (as were the samples shown above).

Figure 8. Hole drilled from limestone into sandstone.

Although the hole maintained alignment, drilling straight forward through the steep interface between the two rocks (a problem with some conventional drills) the hole diameter changed dramatically.

How we changed the design to maintain hole diameter, and, at the same time, adjusted for changing borehole depth will be discussed next time.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Waterjetting 27b - Drilling rock under stress

Last time I opened discussion on the topic of cutting a material that contained high levels of stress. This is a more common situation when working with rock, since – as a general rule of thumb – the vertical stress on a rock increases by 1 psi, for every foot deeper one goes into the earth. Thus, for example, if one goes down around 700 feet, the depth of a number of coal mines, then the background pressure on that rock is some 700 psi due to the weight of the rock that is pressing on it from above.

Now I should also mention that this is only a general rule, because, over the millennia, the rocks move, are split by earthquakes, overlain by volcanic eruptions and many other events that make that generalized statement less accurate for any given location. And one factor is that, if there weren’t such movements, then the natural horizontal stress on the undisturbed rock would be about a quarter of the vertical stress (the ratio is known as Poisson’s ratio, though usually derived for the resulting strain on the material, rather than the driving stress).

What one often finds, when these values are measured, is that the horizontal stress is higher than the above simple calculation would suggest. Which is a long way of saying that it is often difficult, without making a measurement, to know exactly what stress a rock is actually undergoing when found underground. But if some of the rock is removed (because it contains valuable ore) then the stress field redistributes, and some of the simpler assumptions come back into play. And we found that out when we drilled these holes:

Figure 1. Oval holes drilled into a lead-bearing sandstone;

You can see that we were drilling oval holes. The drill we were using used two high-pressure (10,000 psi) waterjets that were rotating at constant speed as we fed the drill into the rock. (And I’ll discuss the drill design and other stress effects in the next post). The small dark spots in the rock are galena, and as I will discuss in some future post, we were able to separate the galena from the sandstone at the drill, in part because of the way the waterjets penetrate, as I will discuss below.

Figure 2. Waterjet drill penetrating sandstone at up to 12 ft/min.

The region of the mine we were working in was around 700 ft. deep, and had been previously mined. Roughly half the rock volume had been removed, over a relatively large surface area, so that the pillars that were remaining were carrying roughly twice the load that they were before mining took place. On the other hand, since the rock on either side of the pillars had been removed, the vertical load was all that was acting on the rock within the body of the pillar, where we were drilling the holes. So very crudely the vertical stress, before we started drilling was around 1,500 psi in the rock.

Now, to explain why the holes are oval rather than round, consider that a waterjet works by getting into the cracks that exist in the rock, pressurizing the fluid and causing the crack to grow until it meets other cracks that together free a small piece of the rock mass. In this case the rock is made up of grains of sandstone and galena which have boundary cracks around each particle. By growing the cracks using this process, the rock is broken out into the individual grains of sand and galena.

But when the rock puts pressure on the rock, so the cracks are squeezed closed, and the water finds it harder to penetrate into them. This happens to the rock on the sides of the hole. As it is being formed, the load that was being carried by the rock being removed transfers to the rock on either side of the hole. Because the load is vertical this means that the jets find it harder to penetrate the rock on either side of the hole, and the horizontal diameter of the hole is therefore less than it would be otherwise.

Figure 3. Lines showing equal stress magnitude around a hole drilled into a rock loaded vertically. (This is purely representative and does not carry a scale, the lines are of diminishing intensity as they move away from the hole.)

On the other hand, as the load from the overlying rock moves out to either side of the hole, it comes off the rock at the top and bottom of the hole, and those cracks get larger, and were no longer being squeezed shut. As a result the jets found it easier to penetrate into the rock, and the vertical diameter of the hole is thus larger than it would be otherwise.

Put these two together and the result was that the jet drilled holes that were oval in shape, as shown in Figure 1.

As one way of making sure that this was really the cause of the change in hole shape, we used the waterjets to cut a slot around the perimeter of a part of the rock in the pillar. By making a horizontal cut above the slab that this outlined, we removed the vertical loading that the rock was seeing due to the overlying rock.

With no external loads on the rock, from either direction, it was as easy for the jets to cut into the rock in all directions, and, as a result, the holes that the jet drilled were round.

Figure 4. Round holes drilled in unstressed rock near the block of holes shown in Figure 1.

Again, while the effects are much larger when shown in cutting and drilling rock, the effects would be similar if we were cutting material that was under other internal stresses and which were then cut by a jet in a shop or other surface facility.

In the above case we were working in a mine where there was free access to the rock, the situation changes if we had been trying to drill down from the surface, and that will be the topic of the next post. In passing it should be noted that the waterjet drill was not only quieter, but also less powerful and smaller than the existing mechanical drill, and it could drill the rock faster.

Figure 5. Comparison of mechanical drill (upper) and the waterjet drilling equivalent (lower) on a drilling rig underground in a lead mine.(You need to look closely to see the drilling rod that is shown in Figure 2.)

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Tech Talk - Geothermal Plant Opens

The Missouri University of Science & Technology Geothermal system was officially opened last Thursday, some months after the coal and wood fired power plant that had previously warmed the campus had been shut down.

Figure 1. Chancellor Schrader cutting the ribbon to officially open the system.

The operation ended up being a little larger than originally anticipated, although the receipt of several grants kept the need for external funding bonds down to $30 million. Overall, as the old heating and cooling system was replaced around campus, deferred maintenance costs of some $60 million disappeared as the new system eliminated those needs, and is anticipated to generate fuel overall savings of some $1 million initially rising to $2.8 million a year as future fuel prices rise over the years.

In the end some 645 wells were drilled to feed three different geothermal plants located around the campus. Well depths ranged from 420 to 440 ft., and with a background temperature around the wells averaging around 60 deg F.

The installed system is, to a large extent, computer controlled, so that it was necessary to find employment for the fifteen workers at the power plant who would otherwise have been laid off. Given that some took retirement, the University was able to absorb the rest into the workforce in various ways. But it does point out that, now that the system is installed, the number of jobs associated with this new sustainable energy system are significantly below that required at the power plant, and the coal mine and forestry products supplier that previously supplied the fuel. Maintenance of the system, which is largely built around pumps, pipes and valves can, in the main, be carried out by the normal trades staff at the campus.

Figure 2. Overview board for the individual geothermal flow loops

To illustrate the degree of control that the new system exerts on the Heating and Air Conditioning (HAC) network, consider a simplified circuit for one building.

Figure 3. Illustrated circuit for a single building

Hot water is fed into the building from the network (top left) at a temperature of 118.7 degF, and is mixed with a portion of the previously circulated fluid to give a starting temperature of 113.6 degF entering the building. (The values are in the small boxes over the sensing valve emulations). The hot water circulates around the building providing heat as needed. At the point where the water would exit back to the network for reheating the temperature of the returning water is measured (in this case 102.3 degF). Depending on that temperature a control valve opens or closes to send more (or less) water back for reheating, while the remainder stays in the circuit, with make-up from the main network. (with the valve 41.3% open some 3% of the returning water is being recycled). The computer also calculates the heating load being fed to the building (327.5 kBtu/hr).

Figure 4. Details of the control valve and instrumented values.

By using a similar circuit for cooling the components of the system are largely similar, reducing the inventory costs for maintenance supplies, and the two circuits are simply monitored through instrumentation around the circuit.

This is similarly true for the three geothermal plants, the status of each of which is also represented by a monitoring screen.

Figure 5. Control circuit monitoring the performance of the heat exchangers between the field circulation water and that being used in the building circuit.

The heat exchanges between the ground water and the heating/cooling circuits is through use of three screw type heat recovery chillers, the operation of which is described as:
A heat recovery chiller operates on the basis of a refrigeration cycle: the same basic cycle that is used for refrigerators, air conditioners, and heat pumps you find in your homes. It is designed to provide both useful cooling and useful heating energy from the machine. The work or energy put into the machine through the compressor is used to simply transfer heat from evaporator to the condenser, which makes it a more efficient use of energy than combusting fuel for heat.

As seen in the diagram below, the refrigerate, R-134a in our chiller, is first compressed using a screw-type compressor. This hot gas is then condensed to a liquid as it travels in a circuit through the condenser, and heat is transferred to the water flowing through the condenser tube bundle. The pressure and temperature of the refrigerant is reduced as it flows through the throttling valve. The refrigerant next passes through the evaporator where heat is transferred from the water flowing through the evaporator tube bundle back to the refrigerant. Then the cycle repeats as the refrigerant goes back to the compressor. The refrigerant is confined inside of the heat pump chiller for the entire process.

Figure 6. Operation of the heat exchanger.

Figure 7. Overview of the three chiller units in the McNutt plant

Manually readable gages provide back-up to the computer monitoring instruments.

Figure 8. Monitoring gages for the chilled water loop.

When additional heat is needed, this is provided by a bank of natural gas heaters for the water that can be engaged as needed, and that are similarly monitored.

Figure 9. Overall monitoring board for the natural gas boiler system

While the system may get an early test of effectiveness this week as a Polar Vortex brings an early taste of winter to town, with temperatures predicted to drop to a high of 34 and a low of 19 on Thursday.

Figure 10. Natural gas boiler to provide additional heat as needed.

Since I won't be able to take advantage of those boilers, I’m glad I have my wood stacked, and that I swept my chimney this morning.

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