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Drilling At The Limit—Can Your Top Drive

Handle It?
Eric Deutsch, WEST Engineering Services

Summary generalize these design calculations using typical values while not
As deepwater drilling has advanced, the weight expected to be singling out any particular manufacturer. All calculations presented
borne by a top drive has increased to levels at or near the load rating in this paper are original, using reasonable values for inputs, and
of the machine. The single load rating value normally associated are meant to serve as examples of how the load-carrying compo-
with a top drive model (e.g., 1,000 tons) is a nominal figure that nents of a top drive are engineered.
may not apply to every operating situation. A typical top drive has Clarifying top drive load rating requires comprehension of
two main load paths: hoisting and drilling. Hoisting load passes several concepts. First, the distinction between hoisting and drill-
through the elevators and link hanger, while drilling load passes ing load paths must be understood. The hoisting path is relatively
through the saver sub, internal blowout preventers (IBOPs), and straightforward because this path passes through heavy compo-
main shaft bottom end connection. Limitations inherent to rotary nents and is static. The drilling load path is more intricate and
shouldered connections can lead to diminished drilling load capac- dynamic because it involves rotation. Therefore, the drilling load
ity with respect to hoisting. Further complicating matters is the path shall be studied in depth, from the rotary shouldered connec-
fact that the drilling load path is governed by disparate American tion to the tapered roller thrust bearing.
Petroleum Institute (API) specifications: 7 and 8C (API SPEC 7
1997; API SPEC 8C 2003). These two specifications provide dif- Top Drive Design and Load Path
ferent calculation guidelines with regard to safety factors and are A typical top drive with its major load-bearing components is
subject to a certain amount of interpretation. illustrated in Fig. 1. The hoisting load path applies when a load is
The end result is confusion about how much load a top drive suspended in the elevators, such as when tripping pipe or running
can realistically handle. A 1,000-ton top drive may not be officially riser. At light load, a suspension system supports the weight from
rated to hoist 1,000 tons through its IBOPs. Additionally, API sets the pipe handler structure and maintains clearance between the
forth a different load rating for the swivel bearing, so load rating link hanger and main shaft shoulder, allowing the pipe handler to
for rotation differs from overall top drive load rating. This paper rotate independently of the main shaft. Above a certain load (a few
discusses the technical aspects of top drive load rating and clarifies tons), the link hanger seats on the load shoulder of the main shaft,
the usable load capacity of a top drive in real-world conditions. thereby transferring load up the main shaft to the main bearing.
This hoisting load path comprises, from bottom to top: elevators,
Introduction links, link hanger, load shoulder, main shaft, main bearing, bearing
To provide background, consider that the first top drives debuted housing, bail, hook, and traveling block. This load path (governed
in the early 1980s, evolving from previous power swivel designs by API SPEC 8C and subject to safety factors between 2.25 and
that had been around since the 1950s (Boyadjieff et al. 1983). The 3.00, depending on load rating) is normally quite robust because
key improvements that led to industrywide acceptance resided in these components can be designed freely.
the areas of pipe handling, drilling torque, and overall reliability. The drilling load path, on the other hand, faces a design con-
With the incorporation of these design improvements, top drive straint. Because the top drive must be able to connect and discon-
systems allowed operators to achieve time savings on the order nect with drillpipe and because there are removable components
of 20% (Boyadjieff 1986). Early designs featured separate swivel in line with the main shaft such as IBOP valves and saver sub,
and gearbox units joined by a rotary shouldered connection, which threaded joints are necessary. In Fig. 1, one threaded connection
places a threaded connection in the load path. In the late 1980s, is shown at the bottom of the main shaft, but several of these
integrated top drives were introduced. These more compact drilling connections are usually present near the lower extent of the main
machines packaged both swivel and gearbox into a single housing shaft (in the drilling load path). The drilling load path is nearly
and became the dominant configuration. The integrated style of top identical to the hoisting load path except for near the bottom
drive eliminated the threaded connection from the hoisting load end. Instead of passing through the elevators, links, link hanger,
path but not from the drilling load path. and load shoulder, the load passes through the threaded connec-
A wide variety of top drive designs exists. Since the present tions. Typically, these are API connections with tapered threads
work addresses fundamental concepts applicable to all top drives, designed to mate quickly to the drillstring. API calls them rotary
generic figures and examples are used. When comparing a particu- shouldered connections, and they are governed by API SPEC
lar design to the generic configuration, variations may be noted, 7 (1997) and API RP 7G (1998). Although tapered threads are
but the essence of the discussion remains relevant. Every top drive among the strongest mechanical design elements available, they
has a load rating, a main thrust bearing, and at least one rotary are not as strong as solid pipe of the same overall wall thickness.
shouldered connection. Therefore, these threaded connections become the weak point in
The intent of this paper is to provide perspective into how top the drilling load path.
drive load ratings are determined and into how these ratings should With reference to Fig. 1, a boundary line defines the limit
be interpreted. As such, certain engineering methods must be between coverage under API SPEC 7 and 8C. This dividing line
explained. While these techniques are based upon known practices is subject to interpretation. It does not make sense to calculate one
within the manufacturers’ arena, they might not be widely known side of a rotary shouldered connection according to one standard
among users of the equipment. Therefore, an attempt is made to while calculating the other side of that same connection according
to a different standard. Nor does it make particular sense to design
the uppermost thread according to a different standard from all
other threads in the drillstring. One reasonable approach is to apply
Copyright © 2010 Society of Petroleum Engineers design guidelines and safety factor from API SPEC 7 (1997)/API
RP 7G (1998) to the rotary-shouldered connections on a top drive.
This paper (SPE 119777) was accepted for presentation at the SPE/IADC Drilling Conference
and Exhibition, Amsterdam, 17–19 March 2009, and revised for publication. Original This subject will be explored in a separate section comparing API
manuscript received for review 19 June 2009. Paper peer approved 18 December 2009. SPEC 7 and 8C.

346 September 2010 SPE Drilling & Completion

Fig. 1—Top drive hoisting and drilling load paths.

Rotary Shouldered Connection Analysis stress about the mean stress from preload. Over millions of cycles,
Since the API threaded connection is the weak point of the drilling such a stress state can lead to formation and growth of cracks in
load path, its characteristics shall be examined in detail. All threads the pin or box, starting from the root of that first engaged thread.
inherently concentrate stress due to the notch effect of the thread If a crack is allowed to propagate unchecked, catastrophic failure
root. A typical thread used in top drive main shaft design was ana- of the connection can occur, leading to loss of the drillstring.
lyzed with SolidWorks 3D modeling and simulation software. The Whatever the particular stress level, it is apparent that designing
simulation package employs a linear finite element method based a threaded connection to endure preload plus axial load and rotating
upon the Cosmos finite element analysis (FEA) program. bending is a challenge. Often it is unrealistic to expect the rotary
Fig. 2 illustrates a stress contour plot that results from analysis shouldered connection to carry the same load as heavy structural
of a tapered thread profile. The connection modeled is a 75⁄8-in. elements such as the link hanger or bail. Threads tend to concentrate
regular (REG) API with dimensions from API SPEC 7 (1997). To stress in the root radius between adjacent teeth. One remedy is to
simplify the analysis, a 5° pie section of the box and pin is used. design a custom threaded connection with larger root radius, though
Preload is approximated by applying an interference fit at the deviating from standard API connections is generally not desirable
shoulder contact. The amount of interference is adjusted iteratively given the need for industry compatibility. More commonly, a stress
until contact friction torque and contact force correspond to the relief groove is incorporated at the base of the pin, which has the
makeup torque for the connection (in this case, approximately effect of distributing stress and reducing the peak value in the root
75,000 lbf-ft). This is a linear elastic analysis, so stress values are of the first engaged thread. The benefits of stress relief grooves are
not realistic. These stress values are merely for illustration of the delineated in API RP 7G Section 13.8 (1998).
stress concentration effect in the thread.
From the plot in Fig. 2, a stress peak is evident in the root API SPEC 7 vs. API SPEC 8C
of the first engaged thread of the pin. In this particular case, the With regard to the stress analysis of a rotary shouldered con-
stress rises to 277 ksi, well beyond the yield stress of high-strength nection, it can be appreciated that applying calculation methods
steel. A more accurate analysis would take material plasticity into and safety factors from API SPEC 8C (2003) makes it difficult
account, and the actual stress in the thread root would be lower. to achieve a load rating near the hoisting load rating of the top
Still, the stress in a highly localized region can exceed material drive. Section 4.3.4 states: “The strength analysis shall be based on
yield in a normally tightened connection. This situation is tolerated elastic theory. The nominal equivalent stress, according to the Von
because the depth of this high stress is extremely small and the Mises-Hencky theory, caused by the design load shall not exceed
gradient is steep, meaning the stress drops off sharply as the point the maximum allowable stress ASmax as calculated by
of investigation moves away from the peak location.
With such a high preload stress, any additional axial stress ASmax = YSmin/SFD , . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (1)
caused by drillstring weight or bending stress caused by slight
misalignment between top drive and well center can affect the where YSmin is the specified minimum yield strength, and SFD is the
connection adversely, especially through fatigue. Bending stress on design safety factor.” Section 4.3.5 goes on to say: “An ultimate
the connection during rotation of the drillstring leads to alternating strength (plastic) analysis may be performed under any one of the

September 2010 SPE Drilling & Completion 347

Fig. 2—Stress contours in rotary-shouldered connection.

following conditions: (a) for contact areas; (b) for areas of highly of the engineer. Taking this SF as equal to unity and drawing an
localized stress concentrations caused by part geometry, and other analogy to stress,
areas of high stress gradients where the average stress in the section
is less than or equal to the maximum allowable stress as defined allowable stress = yield stress · 0.9 = yield stress/1.1 . . . . (2)
in 4.3.4” (API SPEC 8C 2003).
Assuming that the 75⁄8-in. REG connection analyzed in the pre- This line of reasoning implies a safety factor of 1.1 for FEA
ceding section is from a 750-ton top drive, the applicable design stress calculations on rotary shouldered connections. A logical
safety factor is 2.25; and with a material yield stress of 120 ksi, method is to compute the connection stress using elasto-plastic
ASmax = 53 ksi. The elastic finite-element stress analysis of this FEA and use the 1.1 safety factor from API RP 7G. Some justifi-
connection under preload alone already demonstrated stress far cation for this approach is given in API SPEC 8C (2003) Section
exceeding 53 ksi. The average stress in the pin cross section based 9.9.5 on the rotary swivel-sub connection: “The connection shall
on torquing the connection to 60% of yield stress as recommended comply with the applicable requirements, including gauging and
by API RP 7G (1998) is 72 ksi, also in excess of 53 ksi. Therefore, marking, as specified in API SPEC 7.” By calculating rotary con-
API RP 7G (1998) and API SPEC 8C (2003) are incompatible nections according to API SPEC 7 (1997) and API RP 7G (1995,
when applied to this rotary shouldered connection example, and 1998), reasonable drilling load ratings can be achieved. Even so,
the safety factor specified in API SPEC 8C cannot be met. drilling load rating must be distinguished from hoisting load rating,
Even if elasto-plastic stress analysis is used, it is nearly impos- and in some cases, a lower drilling load rating through the threaded
sible to get the connection in line with the API SPEC 8C safety connection is warranted.
factor. Although the connection is not meant to bear the rated hoist- In summary, API SPEC 8C serves as the primary design code
ing load, another approach is to apply that load to the pin cross for top drives and guides a manufacturer to define hoisting load rat-
section. Then the average pin stress is 1,500,000 lbf/22.32 in.2 = ing using FEA, design verification testing, and high safety factors.
67 ksi, which again exceeds the API SPEC 8C limit. It becomes API SPEC 7 (1997) and API RP 7G (1995, 1998) provide dimen-
apparent that API SPEC 8C was not intended to apply to rotary sional/manufacturing standards, inspection/testing techniques, and
shouldered connections, even if such connections reside in hoist- analytical formulas to guide the design, fabrication, and operation
ing equipment. of drillstem elements including rotary-shouldered connections.
API RP 7G suggested a design safety factor of 1.1 in Appendix API SPEC 7 and API SPEC 8C cover separate topics, yet in the
A, Section A.8.3 (API RP 7G 1998) for torsion and tension on main shaft and IBOP aspects of top drive design, they mix. For a
rotary shouldered connections; however, an addendum in Novem- top drive, calculating rotary shouldered connections according to
ber 2003 removed this section. A similar factor is mentioned API SPEC 7 (1997)/API RP 7G (1998) and all other components
in Section 7.4 about design calculations for drillstring tension in the hoisting load path according to API SPEC 8C (2003) is the
loading. Tensile data for tool joints and drillpipe in Tables 2, 4, most consistent approach.
6, 8, and 9 of API RP 7G (1998) are calculated on the basis of
average stress in the pin cross section (load = yield stress × pin Main Bearing
area) with no safety factor. Section 7.4 states: “To prevent [plastic Moving up the load path from the rotary shouldered connection,
deformation], a design factor of approximately 90 percent of the the main shaft is a solid piece of steel where stress is not a concern
tabulated tension value from the table is sometimes used…” This unless stress-concentrating features such as grooves with sharp
means Pa = Pt × 0.9, or that the maximum allowable design load inside radii are present. Near the top of the main shaft is the top
in tension equals 90% of the tensile yield load from the tables. drive’s main bearing. The main bearing used to support the hoisting
A further safety factor is defined as SF = Pa /P where P is the load and drilling loads in a top drive is almost exclusively of the tapered
used in drillstring calculations, but this SF is left to the discretion roller thrust type. This type of bearing offers high load capacity

348 September 2010 SPE Drilling & Completion

Bearing Stress vs. Load Rating bearing load ratings over the years is to calculate an expression
for basic bearing stress where
bearing stress = TD load rating/bearing area, . . . . . . . . . . . (3)
bearing area = ␲[(OD/2)2 – (ID/2)2], . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (4)
Stress (psi)

where OD = basic outer diameter of bearing from catalog and ID =

4000 basic inner diameter of bearing from catalog.
Fig. 3 illustrates the upward trend of bearing stress as higher-
3000 capacity top drives were developed. From an engineering stand-
point, one might expect the bearing stress (load per unit area) to
2000 remain constant over a range of top drive sizes. Constant stress
would indicate that the bearings were roughly equally loaded
1000 regardless of overall top drive rating. For example, the bearing in a
500-ton top drive ought to be under the same stress as the bearing
in a 1,000-ton top drive. However, the data show this not to be the
500 650 750 1000 case. Bearings in high-capacity top drives are operating closer to
their design limits than bearings in low-capacity top drives.
Top Drive Load Rating (tons) This trend can also be interpreted as decreasing design margin
with increasing load rating. The reason for this trend cannot be
Fig. 3—Trend of higher bearing stress as top drive load rating determined, but it appears to hold true across the spectrum of
manufacturers. In some instances, the same bearing size was used
even when the top drive’s load rating stepped up. Perhaps to save
per envelope dimensions and true rolling motion. The taper of the effort when developing a new model, a similar bearing was carried
rollers minimizes skidding because that shape allows the entire over from an existing design. Another possibility is that the bearing
roller to track properly regardless of distance from the bearing’s was originally designed for the higher load rating and then was
center. In contrast, a design using cylindrical rollers results in used in the lower-capacity version. Whatever the case, dynamic
these bearing components having to skid along part of their length headroom (the extra margin built into the design) has decreased as
because the distance they cover varies from inside to outside of the top drive load ratings progressed from 500 to 1,000 tons.
bearing (circumference varies directly with radius). Such slippage
is undesirable because of increased metal-on-metal wear. Bearing Selection. When a bearing must be sized for a particular
Three aspects of top-drive thrust bearings shall be considered: top drive, a load spectrum is developed. This load spectrum forms
the general trend toward decreasing headroom in bearing design a set of load cases that are plugged into a bearing calculation
over the years, the design factors involved in selecting a bearing program. For the sake of discussion, a hypothetical load spectrum
size for a particular application, and the API swivel bearing load for a 1000-ton top drive is given in Fig. 4.
rating that essentially derates the top drive for rotation. The idea is to define a set of parameters that will result in a
bearing that will perform satisfactorily under the drilling loads it
Load Headroom. Although the concept of powering a swivel was is expected to experience during operation. The design method
not new, the modern top drive was introduced in the early 1980s does not result in a bearing that can sustain high-speed rotation
as a way to improve drilling efficiency. As the drilling industry indefinitely at the top drive’s rated hoisting load. Loads, speeds,
pursued greater depths, higher-capacity top drives evolved to meet and durations must be specific to calculate a bearing size. To
this demand. One method of interpreting the trend in top drive simplify, one could specify a single load case: The bearing should

Example of thrust bearing load spectrum for 5000 total operating hours
(values inside bars indicate RPM)

Operating Hours



200 160 100

100 60
170 50
200 220 30
100 200 300 400 500 600 700 800 900 1000
Load (tons)
Fig. 4—Sample load spectrum for top drive main bearing design.

September 2010 SPE Drilling & Completion 349

200 rev/min would result in an impractically large top drive that
HOISTING LOAD RATINGS might occupy half the available space on the drill floor. Fifth-
generation offshore rigs are typically built with a well-center to
Top Drive Load Rating (tons) Ws (tons) guide-rail distance of 7 to 10 ft, within which the top drive must
be able to retract; and clearance with pipe-racking equipment
250 185
introduces other space limitations. Therefore, a compact top drive
400 266 design is often advantageous. Weight can be an issue with respect
500 358 to handling during installation/maintenance and ton-miles on
650 413 drilling line. Finally, reducing cost usually factors into equipment
design in the competitive drilling industry.
750 465
A properly designed swivel bearing should provide at least 5
1000 475 years of service life under normal drilling conditions for its theater
of operation to cover time between overhauls. The swivel bearing
is not, however, designed to drill continuously at the top drive’s
be able to support a load of 500 tons rotating at 100 rev/min for a rated hoisting load.
duration of 3,000 hours. With this input, the calculation based on
the ISO 281 (ISO 281 2007) life method yields a bearing size that Swivel Bearing Load Rating. Section 9.9.1 of API SPEC 8C (API
if subjected to 500 tons at 100 rev/min for 3,000 hours, 90 out of SPEC 8C 2003) provides a simple formula for calculating main
100 bearings would survive. bearing thrust rating at 100 rev/min, expressed in short tons:
A more interesting load spectrum captures a range of loads
and speeds that represent the top drive’s anticipated performance Ws = Wr /1600, . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (7)
requirements. This spectrum could be developed from existing
load data recorded by an operator over a given time period. With where Wr is the main bearing thrust rating at 100 rev/min for 3,000-
reference to Fig. 4, data might reveal that in their annual drilling hour minimum life for 90% of bearings, expressed in lbf.
program, the top drive spent: Once the bearing manufacturer’s dynamic load rating is con-
• 60 hours drilling at 100 tons and 200 rev/min verted in accordance with the definition for Wr , this formula gives
• 90 hours drilling at 200 tons and 220 rev/min a nominal value indicative of the top drive’s load capacity while
• 180 hours at 300 tons and 170 rev/min rotating (drilling). In Table 1, Ws has been calculated for bearings
• 420 hours at 400 tons and 160 rev/min, and so on typically found in top drives of various load ratings, and Fig. 5
Such load data can be fed into a bearing calculation program shows the same data graphically.
to size the bearing. Furthermore, the loads can be scaled up to As is evident from Table 1 and Fig. 5, a top drive’s nominal
represent future requirements. For example, if the existing data capacity during rotation is significantly lower than its hoisting
pertain to a 750-ton unit, and the new unit will have a load rating load rating. This has been a point of confusion among operators
of 1,000 tons, the scale factor is 1,000/750, or 1.33. who might assume that a 750-ton top drive should be able to drill
As with most engineering endeavors, the solution represents with 750 tons suspended from its main shaft. The answer is that
trade-offs between size, weight, cost, capacity, and service life. it can, but not for long.
A thrust bearing sized to operate for 30,000 hours (approximately The nominal hoisting load rating of a top drive relates to the
10 years of operation on a typical drilling rig) at 1,000 tons and thrust bearing’s static load rating, which is normally much higher

Example of thrust bearing load spectrum for 5000 total operating hours
(values inside bars indicate RPM)

Hoisting load rating
Swivel bearing load rating

Load (tons)




250 400 500 650 750 1000

Top Drive Main Load Rating (tons)

Fig. 5—API SPEC 8C (2003) swivel bearing load rating (Ws) in red, calculated for typical top drive bearings, side by side with
hoisting load rating.

350 September 2010 SPE Drilling & Completion

than its dynamic rating. Take, for example, a tapered roller thrust that, certain recently developed top drives feature a return to high
bearing of the type normally used in a 750-ton top drive. This dynamic headroom in the swivel bearing. These latest models are
bearing has a manufacturer-stated static load rating of 3,980,000 built conservatively enough to sustain significant rotating hours at
lbf (1,990 tons, for a safety factor of 2.65) but a dynamic load or near rated hoisting load.
rating of 458,900 lbf (229 tons). In this particular bearing’s case, With these three different load ratings, top drive load capacity
that dynamic load rating is based on 3,000 hours at 500 rev/min is considerably more complex than a single number. The material
(90,000,000 revolutions). Statistically, 10% of these bearings presented in this paper should lead to an enhanced grasp of factors
would fail after 3,000 hours running at 500 rev/min with a 229-ton that dictate usable top-drive performance. With this knowledge in
load. If forced to run at 750 tons (1,500,000 lbf), the expected life hand, an operator can get the most out the equipment. If questions
given by the ISO 281 type of equation would be about load capacity remain, refer to the equipment manufacturer
or a technical expert for definitive answers.
L10 = (Cdyn/P)(10/3) · 90,000,000
= (458,900/1,500,000)(10/3) · 90,000,000 Nomenclature
= 1,736,000 revolutions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (8) ASmax = maximum allowable von Mises stress
bearing area = the area of the annulus defined by the ID and OD
At 500 rev/min, this corresponds to only 58 hours. Put another of the thrust bearing
way, if 100 of these 750-ton top drives were drilling constantly at bearing stress = average force per unit area on an annulus with the
500 rev/min and their rated hoisting load, 10 could be expected to same basic dimensions as the thrust bearing
fail after 58 hours. Alternatively, the life equation translated into Cdyn = basic bearing dynamic load rating
API terms is L10 = basic bearing rating life in revolutions
P = load used in drillstring calculations
L10 = (Wr /P)(10/3) · 18,000,000
Pa = maximum allowable design load in tension
= (743,719/1,500,000)(10/3) · 18,000,000 Pt = tensile yield load from table
= 1,736,000 revolutions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (9) SF = safety factor for drillstring tension
SFD = design safety factor for stress
At 100 rev/min, this corresponds to 289 hours, or 12 days.
Wr = main bearing thrust rating at 100 rev/min for
Awareness of this load-life relationship can inform decisions about
3,000-hour minimum life for 90% of bearings,
equipment use and maintenance planning. For example, realizing
expressed in lbf
that their top drive was subjected to abnormally high drilling
loads, operators could plan to send the unit in for overhaul sooner Ws = main bearing thrust rating at 100 rev/min, ex-
than normal. Conversely, knowing that the top drive must achieve pressed in short tons
a given time interval until overhaul, the operator could specify YSmin = specified minimum yield strength
load and speed limits. Either way, recognition of the subtleties
surrounding swivel load rating should aid in executing drilling Acknowledgments
programs with reliability. The author would like to thank all those at WEST Engineering Ser-
vices who assisted with this paper, especially Kristen Bolen, John
Conclusion Reynolds, Jeff Sattler, and Deryl Walker. Tom Bishop and Michael
To recap, this study investigated top drive load ratings from several Montgomery contributed inspiration and encouragement. Thanks also
standpoints. First, the difference between hoisting and drilling to various contacts at equipment suppliers who furnished valuable
load paths was explained. Next, the rotary shouldered connection information and candid dialogue that answered many questions.
calculation was covered along with the applicability of API SPEC
8C (2003) and API SPEC 7 (1997). Finally, topics related to the References
swivel bearing were discussed: the trend toward less-conservative API RP 7G, Recommended Practice for Drill Stem Design and Operating
design, selection methodology, and swivel load rating. Limits, 15th edition. 1995. Washington, DC: API.
Traditionally, a single hoisting load rating has been associated API RP 7G, Recommended Practice for Drill Stem Design and Operating
with a top drive, yet two other distinct load ratings can be identi- Limits, 16th edition. 1998. Washington, DC: API.
fied: one for the threaded connection and one for the swivel bear- API SPEC 7, Specification for Rotary Drill Stem Elements, 39th edition.
ing. A complete understanding of top drive capabilities involves all 1997. Washington, DC: API.
three load ratings. The focus is on the drilling load path because API SPEC 8C, Drilling and Production Hoisting Equipment (PSL 1 and
rotation and complex mechanical elements are involved. Recogni- PSL 2), fourth edition. 2003. Washington, DC: API.
tion of the relative weakness of the rotary shouldered connection Boyadjieff, G.I. 1986. An Overview of Top-Drive Drilling System Applica-
has led in some cases to defining an official drilling load rating tions and Experiences. SPE Drill Eng 1 (6): 435–442. SPE-14716-PA.
based on the strength of the rotary connection. While this drilling doi: 10.2118/14716-PA.
load rating is lower than the hoisting rating, it has negligible effect Boyadjieff, G.I., Hammett, D.S., and Zinkgraf, H.L. 1983. Drilling
on actual performance because drillpipe is generally limited at a Improvements Using Power Swivels. Paper SPE 11403 presented at the
lesser value. For example, a 1,000-ton top drive might have a drill- IADC/SPE Drilling Conference, New Orleans, 20–23 February. doi:
ing load rating of 800 tons, but the strongest available S135 65⁄8-in. 10.2118/11403-MS.
drillpipe is limited to a tensile yield of 961,556 lbf or 481 tons ISO 281:2007, Roller bearings—Dynamic load ratings and rating life,
(API RP 7G 1998). Therefore, the diminished top drive drilling second edition. 2007. Geneva, Switzerland: ISO.
load rating has little effect on operations, except when high loads
pass through the rotary shouldered connection (e.g., certain casing
running tools, overpull on stuck pipe, and jarring). Eric Deutsch, an SPE member, is a Technical Manager at WEST
Engineering Services with 16 years experience in the oil industry.
On the other hand, reduced swivel rating as compared to hoist- Prior to WEST, he worked in drilling equipment design at Aker
ing rating does have an appreciable effect on operations since it can Solutions MH and Varco International, developing mechanical
lead to diminished service life or bearing failure during drilling, systems for top drives and drawworks. Deutsch graduated with
especially if the operator has run the top drive assuming that the an MS in mechanical engineering from Massachusetts Institute
hoisting rating is valid for rotating conditions. A positive note is of Technology.

September 2010 SPE Drilling & Completion 351