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Positioning Systems

During drilling or tripping operations, the people that are working on the
rig have to make sure that the connections between each pair of drill pipes
are firm and safe. To ensure this, mechanical tongs are used. Back in the
days, a tool called chain tong was used to do so. They are a type of wrench
used for hand-tightening threaded connections that consist of a handle, a
set of gripping die teeth, a length of flat chain and a hooking slot where
the chain may be adjusted to fit the pipe. Nowadays, manual tongs are
usually self-locking wrenches that grip the drill string components and
apply a high torque in order make the connection. They are used in
opposing pairs so that one can be tied off to the derrick with a chain and
the other active breakout- or makeup tong, depending on the operation, is
mechanically pulled by catheads. Handling these manual tongs is a job
requiring man power and enough strength to deal with the heavy
equipment. Tong operators also have a dangerous job as they are working
very close to the rotary table and interact with many moving parts that are
under tension, partly unpredictably moving and weigh a lot. However,
manual tongs were and still are the most commonly used piece of
equipment to connect individual parts of the drill string.
As safety is one of the major priorities around a rig site, engineers thought
of a way to decrease the exposure of the drill crew members to high
tension chains, movable parts or heavy, movable loads as good as they
could. They came up with an idea that would mechanize the process of
setting up the tongs and making or breaking connections. The new devices
that were developed during the last couple of years are called power
tongs, which are fully automated or partly mechanized tongs.
These tong assemblies are fixed to the rig and held in position by means of
tong positioners or tong positioning systems. All of these positioning
systems are simply said very strong frameworks which allow a power tong
tool to be connected to or suspended from. Commonly used set ups are
mounted on small stands, having a telescopic crane on top that holds the
frame and tongs connected to it at the tip. Others are track mounted
systems that can move on the rig floor to deal with any tubular-handling
operation from making or breaking connections on the drill string or in the
mouse hole and even lifting new pipes onto the rig floor. One big
advantage is, that there are no major changes or modifications to be made
on any type of rig itself because they do not require much space, are
flexible to move and some can be set up by only one person only.
Transport and installation will not take any longer than the usual set up
time of the rig due to their good integration with the other parts on a rig. A
plug and play program allows them to be run immediately and easily
from the day they were set up without having to implement additional
power sources.
The stable frame ensures the use of any type of tongs remote controlled,
semi mechanized but also the old mechanical ones. Positioners serve as a
cadre that creates enough counter torque for all these different kind of
tongs needed to run pipes, casing or production liners. They are equipped
to handle bit operations and can be used to connect bottom hole
assemblies as well.

The engineers goal of improving safety was also met. First of all,
positioning systems allowed the use of fully automatic, remote controlled
tong assemblies which take away the risk exposure time of the roughnecks
almost completely. Being hydraulically driven, no catheads or chains could
cause serious accidents anymore. Free swinging tongs are gone as well.
Due to that, fewer personnel is needed to run any type of drilling
operation. This again improves safety, as there are less people in danger
and also cuts costs for the drilling contractors. The people handling the
system which can be reduced down to one man operators are protected by
a series of safety programs, cutoffs and interlocks.
Drilling operations such as tripping, making or breaking and preparing
three stands are also faster and more efficient than before. As the tongs
are adjustable to all pipe and casing sizes, these operations can go hand in
hand without major interruptions.
Computer controlled systems are
programmed as to memorize positions of connection and tubings and
enable the system to re-run standard procedures faster and with more
accuracy. Due to these memory features and efficient tong manipulation,
total make up time is accelerated and rig flat-time is reduced to a
According to Weatherford, total tubular running operations including
making, breaking, tripping and others can be reduced by 30 % up to 50 %
and more. Overall efficiency improvements range in the same league.
The German based company Herrenknecht Vertical, for example,
reported reduced costs while maintaining outstanding capabilities as a
result of combining further mechanized equipment with positioning
devices. With low installation and labor costs, they start to equip their
drilling rigs such as the Tiefbohranlage Terra Invader 350 and others with
these modern systems. And also offshore drilling expands the market for
safe and efficient tong positioners as well and keeps up the need of
improvement. The old school drilling rig, with its sweat breaking manual
tongs and safety hazards is slowly overtaking by the new technologies of
todays drilling.

Modern mechanized rig, Tiefbohranlage Terra Invader 350,

Herrenknecht Vertical