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Wellbore Simulator

Client: Schlumberger
  • Technology Development
  • Software Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering

A research device that can accurately and repeatedly simulate a variety of extreme oil-well conditions and measure the effects on cement as it cures.



Schlumberger, an oil field services company, was seeking a way to ensure wells drilled were as spill-proof as possible. Specifically, it wanted to better understand how cement, used to seal new wells, cures in extreme and varying underground conditions.

The company’s existing method of research, attaching instrumentation to probes when drilling a new well, was both very expensive and only possible on rare occasions. Schlumberger wanted a research tool that would enable it to collect data in a lab setting, but it was not clear that this could be physically achieved due to the high pressure, heat, and varied properties of rock formations that would need to be replicated. Both Cooper Perkins and Schlumberger knew that, and had certainly never done anything like this before. We informed Schlumberger, and the company replied, “Neither has anybody else, so find a way.”

Drilling a new oil well is a complicated process that in part involves drilling the shaft, inserting a steel pipe, then sealing the gap between the pipe and the surrounding rock with cement. Additionally, conditions vary widely from site to site; not only do different depths result in various extremes of heat and pressure, but also different types of rock vary in stiffness and water availability, impacting how the cement will cure.

well cross section sketch

In addition to simulating these conditions, the device needed to be instrumented for accurate and continuous data collection. Furthermore, the design of the simulator needed to account for the messy nature of cement and its transformation from a liquid to a solid.

We designed a heavy steel vessel to contain the entire simulator, which weighed over 1,000 pounds. The highly pressurized, heatable interior was enclosed with seals designed to be both strong and easily removable for cleaning.

Within the steel vessel, we built a flexible rubber bladder filled with hydraulic fluid to simulate rock stiffness. A controlled water inlet system manages the flow of water into the chamber according to specified parameters. The rubber bladder itself is also retractable, allowing technicians to easily access and remove the hardened cement.

To continuously measure and collect data, we used an isolation scanner equipped with ultrasonic transducers. Powered by a strong motor capable of withstanding high pressure and heat, the scanner spins as it moves up and down inside the steel pipe, instantly sensing changes in the cement as it cures.

  1. 01Prototype of chamber
  2. 02Evaluating performance of the first prototype
  3. 03System control and monitoring

Ultimately, we provided Schlumberger with the ability to repeatedly simulate oil drilling conditions in a lab setting. Our simulator could accurately replicate an incredibly intense and extreme environment while measuring useful data, allowing Schlumberger to expand its research and work toward improvements in oil drilling technology.