SWORD: Groundbreaking Technology for New Frontiers

The exploration of new frontiers calls for groundbreaking innovation. This is particularly true when it comes to the application of offshore technology engineered to meet the future challenges of the oil & gas, renewable energy, telecoms, marine mining and trenching industries.

Royal IHC recently announced that its heavy duty and remotely operated subsea drilling and geotechnical site investigation rig SWORD has successfully completed its testing phase. This will come as welcome news to offshore operators and developers, especially those in the offshore wind and mining sectors looking to explore challenging ground conditions.

SWORD was developed by TI Geosciences LTD, a corporate start-up supported by Royal IHC’s global reach, office network, and engineering facilities, based in Blyth, UK.

Sonic Drilling Technology

SWORD (Sonic Wireline-Operated Remote Drill) incorporates sonic drilling technology into a seafloor sampling tool, enabling users to collect high quality undisturbed soil samples and in situ testing geotechnical data for the purpose of designing foundation or anchoring of offshore structures, or alternatively for assessing mineral resources for mining.

The drill rig is powered by a Sonic-Samp-Drill(SSD) compact roto-sonic drilling drive, together with full size drill pipe strings, which are automatically assembled at the seabed from a storage carousel. The rig is fully integrated with an A.P. van den Berg (APB) in situ CPT testing system and NGI designed push and piston samplers. It uses high-frequency vibrations to push casing sections, drill rods and sampling tubes into the seafloor.

Efficiencies at Depth

The advantages of integrating drilling and sampling technology are several, but they ultimately equate to efficiency gains—SWORD testing suggests it is a quicker, more accurate alternative to conventional drilling, and suitable for all soil types, including bedrock. In sonic coring mode the system offers greatly enhanced sample recovery in deposits which are particularly difficult for other systems to deal with, such as glacial tills (hard mixed soils which can include gravel, cobbles, and boulders), or deep water subsea mineral deposits (which can include large voids).

SWORD is also remotely operated and deployed directly on the seabed. Unlike with conventional drilling vessel assets, this distinction means that SWORD mitigates against heave effect and weather dependency. It also means that SWORD is not bound to any one specialized vessel and can be controlled from any suitable medium or large marine asset.

But it is in the ultra-deep that SWORD’s drilling credentials demand attention; most conventional drill ships have depth limitations of 800–1000 m but SWORD can be used in depths of up to 3,000m. Furthermore, it has a drill-depth capability of up to 120m. This extended capacity greatly reduces the operating costs of deep-sea geotechnical survey projects.

With testing complete, the SWORD is now ready to start sea trials, the final milestone before entering the market.

Commenting on the potential impacts that unmanned technology could have on the future of offshore exploration, Martijn Schouten, Executive Director at TI Geosciences, said: “SWORD will be disruptive in its contribution to lowering costs and reducing uncertainties in the development of offshore projects."