History of Turbodrills in the Oil and Gas Industry

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Oil and Gas Turbodrill history

Turbine technology has been around for thousands of years. The very first recorded usages were in the first century AD by the Greeks. The usage in those early days was predominantly wind power wheels or wind mills. It’s a fascinating history but I’m going to focus on the Turbodrill as it’s used in the oil and gas industry.

The Turbodrill as we know it in the oil and gas industry was invented in 1922 by the Russian engineer Matvei Kapelyushnikov. This was a reduction-geared, single-stage downhole turbodrill motor, which opened the way for the subsequent mass introduction of turbodrilling in the oil and gas industry. After that the following time line brings us to where we are today:

  • 1924 Applied to drilling in USSR (1924 was the year a first patent was filed)
  • 1956 First licensees in West (Neyrpic which later changed into Neyrfor)
  • 1982 First steerable motor for Neyrfor
  • 1986 First Weir Turbodrill run
  • 1988 Weir part-buy Neyrfor
  • 1991 Neyrfor-Weir founded
  • 1991 Weir pump technology applied to Turbodrills
  • 1992 First Neyrfor-Weir Steerable (Bent) Turbodrill
  • 2001 First HiTORQ Turbodrill commercial run
  • 2002 Smith International acquired Neyrfor (Sii Neyrfor)
  • 2004 Turbopower was formed by ex-employees of Neyrfor
  • 2005 Sii Neyrfor introduced a one-way clutch system
  • 2010 Schlumberger acquired Smith International
  • 2011 Halliburton acquired Turbopower
  • 2011 Cedar was formed by ex-employees of Turbopower
  • 2012 TurboDynamics was formed by ex-employees of Sii Neyrfor
  • 2013 TurboDynamics marketed a completely new designed Turbodrill

I will highlight some of the notable development steps.

In 1956 the French company, Neyrpic, bought the rights to the Russian design and started manufacturing and building Turbodrills in the west. This was the first time this technology was utilised outside of Russia. It was marketed under the Neyrfor name.

Neyrfor drill advert

The very first steerable Turbodrill was run in 1982. This was the first time an offset stabilizer was utilised at the bottom of the bearing pack. The stabilizer was offset from the rest of the body, pulling the tool to one side. Using the law of inertia, one could alter the direction of the hole being drilled by changing the direction of the offset. This was the first time a directional drive system was used that didn’t have a bend sub on top of the tool. Dogleg capability was relatively low though at 1.2 to 1.5 degrees per 30 meters. It was still a revolution which started the whole directional drilling industry on a new path.

Between 1988 and 1991 the Scottish pump company Weir bought Neyrfor from the French in two stages and ended up 100% owner of the company in 1991.

Over the next years several different innovations were introduced to the Turbodrills

  • Pressure profile blades – Establishes a pressure indication for off bottom, on bottom and stalled
  • Balance drums – Reduced the hydraulic thrust on the bearings
  • Bend housing – Allowing the Turbodrill to perform in directional applications
  • PDC bearings – Increasing the durability of the bearings while reducing the tool length
  • At a later stage; speed reduction gear box – Decreasing the speed while increasing the torque
  • One way clutch system – Allowing surface toque to be applied on the bit in bit sticking incidents

Turbodrill blade profiles

All the developments transformed the old Russian designed Turbodrill to the one we know today. In the past a Turbodrill could consist of 1, 2 or three drive sections and 1 bearing section. This created very long tools with many connections that had to be made up on the rig. Most modern Turbodrills consist of 1 drive section and 1 bearing section which can be assembled either on location or prior to mobilization in the workshop.

There is one exception; TurboDynamics. Where most Turbodrills are in one way or other derived from the Neyrfor designs, the TurboDynamics tools are a complete new design. Having taken all the lessons learned from the past and applying them in a complete new tool. It’s a one-piece tool with the same length as a standard PDM. It has newly optimized blades and bearings making it one of the most powerful and reliable Turbodrills currently on the market.

From my personal point of view I hope the next step is a reliable and fully functional speed reducing gearbox. I have had the privilege of working with these tools in the workshop, the field and as the operations manager dealing with the customer and it was an amazing journey. When those tools worked, the power they put out combined with the torque and speed was just awesome. Just to give you an idea; a 9-1/2” Geared Turbodrill would run at 300+ RPM and had a maximum (theoretical) torque output of 14,000 Ftlbs…. And that’s what we thought it put out as we had no way of doing any dyno testing on this beast.

With all the new technology that we have developed over the past 15 years and the advancements in gearbox design and knowledge I think it is time to dust this project off and make it happen. With all the advantages of the Turbodrills and the new bit technology on the market now, there is no stopping this tool. It will re-write all the performance record books in every application where a PDM has ever been run.

I want to invite all of you who read this article and has their own Turbodrill experience and knowledge to add more to this story by commenting below and sharing it with your network. We can all learn by reading and listening every day.




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