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ME Channels / Energy

Oil Price Collapse Tests Industry’s Innovation


Good time to tool up for improved efficiencies, reduced operating cost

By Jim Lorincz
Senior Editor

Though expectations in the oil field have been generally grim since oil prices tanked, forward-thinking companies are busy laying the groundwork for the day when oil prices rebound. There are always opportunities to develop new products for increased operating efficiencies and the need to supply replacement parts for wear items in continuing drilling and production operations. Highly prized are innovative solutions that improve machining performance, reduce operating costs, and provide a greater degree of automation to an industry that may face a shortage of skilled labor, jettisoned in drastic cost cutting moves throughout the industry.
A modular ISO standard tool is being loaded into the Fives Giddings & Lewis V Series tool magazine. In this case, it is a Kennametal KM tool but the V Series is also available with the Sandvik Capto C8 modular tool. Fives G&L selected modular tooling because it’s stiffer, lighter, and safer to handle than more expensive proprietary tooling.
“Technology helps on two fronts,” said Paul Markwell, vice president of upstream oil and gas consulting and research at IHS Energy ( “The first is in raising short-term production, the key denominator in the cost per barrel equation. The other involves attacking capital costs and operating expenses head on. Both place an emphasis on efficiency.” High on the list of innovations are automation (robotic), tooling that can squeeze the best performance out of new equipment, and machine tool designs that deliver the rigidity and stiffness so prized in machining tough oil industry parts.

Robots On Board Provide Space-Saving Automation

The ANW Series twin-spindle automated CNC lathes from Fuji Machine America Corp. (Vernon Hills, IL) are designed for machining high-volume families of precision parts for the oil field, as well as the automotive industry. The ANW machines feature Fuji Machine’s integrated and engineered swing-arm robots and workholding, providing automation on board in a small footprint machine. “Our machines typically take up a third of the space that machines with external robots do, and there isn’t any risk of fluid leaks on the shop floor or need for any fences to protect operators,” said Bill Gore, regional manager-North America.

“We are basically finishing projects up and quoting new ones for the newest families of parts for well drilling, including directional horizontal drilling, bearing components, and frack pump wear replacement parts. Wear parts for couplings, valves and valve seats, and pistons to 20" [508-mm] diameter—remain in some degree of demand,” said Gore. “The majority of components are 8620 alloy steel forgings or saw-cut bar, a metal that tends not to want to break a chip readily so we use high-pressure 1000 psi [6,89 MPa] coolant through the spindle.”
Fuji Model ANW-4100 dual-spindle, dual-turret turning cell ready for shipment is shown with John Hammond (left), a Fuji distributor, and Bill Gore, regional manager-North America. Check chute on left allows parts to be inspected; stocker on right can accommodate laser marking station, auto gage measurement, and other peripheral processes within the machine’s compact footprint.
“It isn’t unusual that shops running low volumes for valves and seats will change over twice or three times a day,” said Gore. Typical of the new products coming out are connections for downhole drilling, high-pressure joints for pumps, and frack well components. “For example, we’ve just finished a big turnkey job for a customer for frack well components for multiple sizes of a part family of valves and seats. There is an emphasis on automation, wherever possible, simply because skilled labor is difficult to find and retain under the best of circumstances,” said Gore. “With automation, companies only need one key person and parts loaders to meet their requirements.”

On Fuji Machine’s flagship ANW series, the robot is isolated from the cutting zone with a separate set of doors. Parallel tasking including auto gaging, laser part marking, and other peripheral functions can be added through front door panels and are internal, confined within the machine’s footprint. The Fuji robot offers fast, smooth simultaneous multi-axis movement to access the front, back, left and right of the traverse axis to achieve minimum cycle times. The ANW-4100, for example, is a 3000-rpm twin-spindle machine with 30 hp (22.38 kW) and a 12-position turret. Fuji supplies the built-in robotic automation, in-process auto gaging, and custom workholding, and consequently is able to guarantee takt time, cycle time, and Cpk for its turnkey solutions.


Cutting Tools Take a Big VTL Bite Out of Large Parts

When you specialize in large-part machining for the oil field, everything about the operation is big—especially the stakes when adding new equipment. Breaux Machine Works LLP (Tomball, TX) machines parts weighing up to 50,000 lb (22,679 kg) for the petroleum, industrial, and service markets, running 24/5 in a contract machine shop with 80 employees. “We pride ourselves getting large-scale components right the first time,” said president Tommy Breaux. Not surprisingly, most of Breaux Machine’s work is one-off.

Last year, management decideThroughput for rough and finish turning doubled using Ingersoll’s T-Force 40 heavy-duty turning tool on this nearly 60,000 lb (27,215-kg) workpiece at Breaux Machine Works (Tomball, TX).d to commit more than $3 million to increase workpiece weight capacity to 95,000 lb (43,091 kg) on both VTL and milling processes. The new equipment choices included a Kuraki KBT15 CNC mill and an O-M vertical turret lathe, which has 160” (4 m) swing, with 11' (3.25 m) under the rail. Modernizing tooling on both machines with advanced turning and milling tools from Ingersoll Cutting Tools (Rockford, IL), Breaux effectively got two VTLs for the price of one, improved milling removal rates by 20%, and drastically reduced MRO costs. Advanced Ingersoll T-Force 40 turning tools literally doubled VTL throughput. The Ingersoll Gold Quad F face mill improved rough milling rates by 20%. “At these rates, we’ll break even on the investments two years sooner than on our four-year projected ROI,” said Vice President Gary Breaux.

When the machines arrived, Breaux started the trials with Ingersoll’s suggestion, mainly to double the already-hefty depth of cut leaving everything else the same. After tweaking for optimal tool life, a slightly lower speed and slightly higher feed at the same 0.750" (19-mm) DOC were settled on. At those rates, the cutting edge lasted through 28" (711 mm) of feed; almost ten times the time in cut as before. “Based on these trials, the Ingersoll T-Force 40 tool would give us the effect of a second VTL,” says Tommy Breaux. “This, at a time when there’s a real shortage of large-scale turning capacity to serve the oil and gas business. We gained both strategically and financially.”

Ingersoll’s T-Force 40 is an insert with a longer cutting edge and free cutting insert geometry, seated rigidly in place with double-lever clamping. The combination enables exceptionally deep cuts without fracturing the insert or overloading the machine. Although Breaux limits DOCs to ¾" (19 mm) to protect the machine, the T-Force 40 tool geometry itself enables 1 ¼" (31.7-mm) DOCs. In the double-lever clamping scheme, the insert is placed over two stakes on the seat, and then wedged into position when a stout captive screw is tightened. Besides being extremely secure, this arrangement eliminates juggling loose screws for indexing and presents an absolutely flat top surface for unimpeded chip flow. To index, the operator loosens the captive screw half a turn, lifts the insert off the stakes, rotates it to present the new edge, and re-tightens the screw.


V Series Vertical Turning Features Modular Tooling

The V Series vertical turning center from Fives Giddings & Lewis LLC (Fond du Lac, WI) is designed for shops looking for a dependable, multipurpose lathe capable of handling a wide range of parts for the oil field, but equally capable of machining aerospace engine components. Typical parts include pumps, valves, gears, bearings, compressors, wheel hubs, and jet engine housings that can be accommodated on any one of six V Series models with table sizes ranging from 800 to 2500 mm. Models feature hydrostatic rams that add rigidity for heavy cutting and produce less friction for improved part finish. The hydrostatic wear-free guides also require less maintenance.

The VLock tooling system provides a stiff interface for modular tooling adaptors, long cutting tools, and an optional heavy-duty right angle milling attachment. “We decided to use common modular tooling insSubsea valve being machined on a Fives Giddings & Lewis VTC 2500 vertical turning center.tead of proprietary tooling clamping systems and worked with Kennametal and Sandvik Coromant adopting their ISO standard connections for a number of reasons,” said Brad Nelson, product manager, turning products. “Modular turning tools more than double the taper bending stiffness at loads as compared to 50 taper turning tools and are lighter thus easier and safer to handle, requiring less time to maintain.

“For comparison sake, the modular tools are typically 5 lb [2.2 kg] or less while proprietary CAT 50-taper turning tools weigh 50 to 70 lb [31.7, 22.6 kg] or more,” said Pete Beyer, director of product strategy and development. “Both the Kennametal and Sandvik Coromant ISO standard connections are taper face contact systems with higher retention force than the 50 taper tools. The result is that the modular connections produce a joint that is twice as stiff and a more rigid connection. The difference in cost is significant, thousands of dollars for proprietary tools and hundreds of dollars for modular tools. In addition both modular tool connections were designed for turning applications, whereas CAT 50 was originally a milling connection that was modified for turning,” said Beyer.

For oil and gas industry parts, the V Series is able to take larger cuts because of its stiffness and rigidity. “Higher metal removal rates that are possible with the V Series are especially valuable for machining some of the more difficult-to-machine oil industry parts,” said Nelson. Some oil and gas industry parts involve Inconel inlays inside steel parts which are much more difficult to machine and finish,” said Nelson. Developed for the job-shop market, the V Series machines also feature the hydrostatic ram found on its bigger brother VTC Series machines. The VTC Series is a 75–267-hp (55.9–149.3 kW) vertical turning machine line with table size from 1 to 8 m and load capacity for the largest oil field parts, Blowout Preventers (BOP) for example. The V Series is a 50–100-hp (37–74.6-kW) machine line that meets the needs of job shops.


Diversification Leads Shops To Develop Own Products

In the last couple of years, the key to business survival has been diversification, according to Milton Ramirez, product technical specialist turning, Haas Automation Inc. (Oxnard, CA): “It’s no mystery that the oil field market has been slow, to say the least, and therefore isn’t generating enough work to keep shops busy. Some of our customers have become job shops and some of them have invented their own products and put them in the market. The great part of being a CNC supplier such as Haas is the versatility that our machines offer. As long as the work envelope allows room enough to fit a part or fixture there are no limits to what our customers can do with the machines.”

Haas Automation’s approach is to offer a wide range of machines and provide technical support and parts, service, and applications through local dealers, according to Ramirez: “Although the oil field industry is slow at the moment it has not come to a halt. Wells are getting drilled deeper, there are alternate drilling methods such as fracking and this creates the need for longer drilling strings, manufacturing larger bits, larger mud motors, stabilizers, etc."

Ramirez said Haas Automation’s ST-50 and ST-55 horizontal CNC lathes feature the large size and power capacity to handle maximum diameter up to 25.5" (647 mm) and maximum length up to 80" (2032 mm). “One of the most vital features of both of these machines is having a front and rear spindle nose that accept manual or self-contained chucks. Holding a rotary shoulder string pipe that is up to 30' [9 m] long for rethreading is possible when holding it with two chucks. Obviously, the excess length will need to be supported outside of the machine with external steady rests but the two chucks provide the stiffness necessary to do this.”

These are typical applications but they are not limited to threading pipe only. The ST-50 and ST-55 also have a powerful spindle drive of up to 50 hp (41 kW) and ample axis thrusts. Materials run anywhere from mild steels to exotic alloys. The biggest challenge is machining coarse threads. These are typically in the 2 to 4 thread per inch (TPI) range. These threads could be up to 0.265" (6.7-mm) depth per side. Two of the most difficult types of thread to machine are API and ACME threads.


Ideal for Machining Oil & Gas, Aerospace Engine Parts

“Moving a large oil field workpiece from one machine to another and mastering the setup takes expertise,” said Steve Ortner, president, Absolute Machine Tools Inc. (Lorain, OH), exclusive North American distributor of You Ji machine tools. “In today’s workforce, it’s tough to find skilled workers that can do this without creating tolerance errors and the potential of scrapping an expensive workpiece. At IMTS 2016 later this year, we’ll introduce the new You Ji VTM-800 turn-mill multitasking machine that eliminates these issues and increases throughput and profitability in machining large oil field parts,” said Ortner.
You Ji VTM-800 turn/mill multitasking machine can handle large oil field components.
In addition to oil & gas parts, the You Ji VTM-800 turn/mill multitasking machine is well-suited for machining aerospace manufacturing applications such as aerospace engine parts. “It allows a manufacturer to perform vertical turning operations as well as five-face milling operations in one setup. This machine increases productivity by largely decreasing machining time and avoids inaccuracies from multiple hands-on movement of the workpiece from one machine to another,” said Ortner.

Key to the VTM-800’s capabilities in robust turning as well as heavy milling is found the heavy-duty moving column design that features heavy cast iron construction and rigid box ways. The 20 hp (14.9 kW), 50-taper, B-axis head allows for vertical/horizontal milling for true one-setup machining. The B-axis indexes 0–90° in 5° increments. The 32-tool (60/90 optional) tool changer provides flexibility for complex parts manufacturing.

Maximum swing diameter of the workpiece is 1100 mm and maximum turning height is 900 mm for accommodating large component piece manufacturing. To facilitate easy five-sided machining, the You Ji VTM-800 has a C-axis table. The VTM-800’s axis travels are ±550 × 1100 × 1200 mm (XYZ). A 35 hp (26-kW) spindle motor drives the standard 32" (812-mm) hydraulic chuck and provides 1500 ft/lb of turning torque. Fanuc CNC controls are standard.


This article was first published in the April 2016 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Read "Oil Price Collapse Tests Industry's Innovation" as a PDF.

Published Date : 4/1/2016

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