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ReedHycalog is a global designer, manufacturer and marketer of drill bit technology and expertise. Acquired by Grant Prideco from Schlumberger in December 2002, the company has developed many innovations for the industry covering the range from bearing design to proprietary manufacturing processes, as well as introducing onto the market the first polycrystalline diamond compact (PDC) drill bit. Today, PDC bits account for approximately half of the drill bits bought world-wide. The company manufactures its PDC and natural diamond drill bits in Gloucester-shire, in Houston, Texas, and in Las Morochas, Venezuela. ReedHycalog bits trace their history through two entities – Hycalog (an abbreviation for Hydrocarbon-logging) and Drilling & Service (D & S), which merged in 1983 to form the fixed cutter segment of the Reed-Hycalog organisation.

The precision work of manufacturing equipment for the oil equipment industry demands that the cutting process be as efficient as possible. To this end, it is imperative that machine crashes that could ruin the part, damage the fixture or break the cutting tool are avoided at all costs. Once upon a time, the only way to do this was through on-machine prove-outs. Now, however, ReedHycalog is employing simulation software designed by CGTech that eliminates the need for this risky physical testing of CNC machines.

CGTech’s VERICUT software removes this potentially hazardous stage by allowing ReedHycalog to do all of their prove-outs on a computer. Matthew Tolner, senior production engineer at ReedHycalog, explains how the company chose to use VERICUT technology: “Back in 1998, when VERICUT was chosen, 5 percent of production of steel drill bits were new prove-outs. Typically the prove-out times were taking twice the time of a proven job. Back then, the average cycle time for a proven job was 15 hours.

“If the CAM systems programs could be proven out in the office this would result in a shop floor saving of £24,000 per year (15 hours x £40 x 40 new prove-outs per year). CGTech’s VERICUT was initially chosen over other simulation software systems due to its superior optimisation, particularly its optimisation of five axis programs. The majority of our programs are for five axis-machining centers and are extremely complex.”

A distinct advantage of the VERICUT system is the way in which it cuts down CNC cycle times. “All new five axis and three axis G-Code programs are run through VERICUT to check for machine and tooling collisions, dimensional and time checks prior to being made available to the shop floor,” continues Tolner. “Currently this equates to approximately 150 programmes per year with an average cycle time of five hours. ReedHycalog had previously used the optimisation to remove fresh air passes but this is no longer done due to improvements within the CAM system.”

The use of CGTech’s technology has proven extremely successful. Since the Stonehouse site in Gloucestershire has been using VERICUT, two other ReedHycalog facilities in Houston (Gessner and JFK) have also started using the software. “Prove-out times are now no longer than proven job cycle times,” says Tolner, explaining the benefits of the technology. “On some of our multi-axis machining centres, the operator presence is only required at tool change operations just to double check correct tool loading. Collisions are now extremely rare resulting in reduced tooling costs. Scrap rates are very low (the Production Engineering Department has not had any scrap attributed to it for 16 months) and quality is up.” The effects of this are not just felt in the prove-out stage, as Tolner notes, “This all results in increased confidence in meeting the delivery matrix due to known manufacturing times.”

The VERICUT technology is the product of CGTech, a leading company in CNC machine simulation, verification, and optimisation software technology. Founded in 1988, the company supplies its products to a number of different manufacturing industry sectors including aerospace, automotive and ground transportation, mould and die, consumer products, power generation, and heavy industry.

A big advantage of VERICUT is its adapt-ability. It comes in a modular format, which means that clients only need to purchase the parts that they require. Additional modules can be purchased as required, and CGTech will provide a license that allows immediate access. The VERICUT program runs on both Windows and UNIX platforms, and is delivered as both a 32 bit and 64 bit application (compatible with Windows XP Professional x64).

ReedHycalog’s use of the VERICUT system marks further progress in the use of computer simulation prove-outs. This technology has made on-machine testing obsolete, with the result that companies in the oil industry can be more confident that their CNC machines will not crash, that cycle times will be shorter and that tool life will be increased. Simulation software makes the machining process far more efficient, cost-effective and precise.