What’s Old Is New Again? Leveraging Simple Single Shot Or Multi Shot Technology

What’s Old Is New Again? Leveraging Simple Single Shot Or Multi Shot Technology


We interviewed Kim Carrier, Tech Services Manager for OilWell Guidance, to answer this question.

Let me share a little history to put this in perspective. We developed the Single Shot / Multi Shot tool, that we now market as the Switch, back in 2002. At the time, there was a huge demand for an electronic single shot instrument to replace all of the photographic single shot kits that were out there. They were riddled with issues that drillers and the rig personnel had to deal with over the years including with mis-runs, contaminated film, old developing fluid, and magnetic interference in the data that you would get from the film. Also, there could be pipe movement/ vibration which would have made a plumb-bob read incorrectly and there was no way to know if a slightly blurry shot was caused by vibration/ movement of the tool or simply poor developing of the film chemistry. Quality issues in the single shot technology available in 2001 were palpable.

There were some digital single shot instruments that were trying to make inroads into the oil and gas industry. They had been around in the mining industry for a while in Sweden and we were behind the curve a little bit on that. We looked at those tools as a quick solution for electronic single shot use in oil and gas, but they were really cumbersome with operating manuals almost 1 inch thick– you needed to be pretty tech-savy to configure and run the tool. The demos I witnessed at the OTC were embarrassing as I saw 3 engineers trying to get the early Reflex tool to work in hopes to make a sale.  

I guess this story underscores how desperate we were to have an electronic single shot as we were being told that we would not only be losing survey business, but directional drilling jobs as well. There was a lot pressure to come up with a single shot replacement of the old photographic line, and if we were going to come up with a product, I didn’t want to make a ‘me too’ type tool. I wanted to make something revolutionary. That’s when I came up with the idea of a one-button system that communicates all necessary data parameters to a long LCD display with each parameter in its own little window right there in plain view on the instrument itself–next to the read data button. With a single push of a button, you would know if your data was affected by movement, magnetic interference, low battery voltage, etc. All of that information was right there at one time—no scrolling through options and pushing buttons to go back and forth and so on. But there was only one problem– electronic technology was not quite ready or available to produce a tool as I envisioned.

Development was not easy. The instrument was small—only 1 inch in diameter with a large display that had to be custom built and interfaced with a miniature directional module, and that really required pushing MEMS sensors to their limit.  After 12 months of R&D and after going 10,000 dollars over budget, the SWITCH was launched in 2002, and it was a game-changer. We quickly replaced most of all of our competitor’s tools for much of the Gulf Coast region. Nobody wanted to run anything but this single shot / multi-shot tool. Other tools were mis-runs looking for a place to happen and were risky because of their complexity.

Some competing tools claimed to have a true non-mag sensor, but really did not and those tools could be fooled into firing off a shot while hanging in air over the rig floor handrail. In fact, this type of misrun caused an operator to think his well was holding vertical when it was really highly deviated resulting in a cement job. Needless to say, that customer never wanted to see our competition’s tool again on their rigs.  Competing electronic tools had decent accuracy but the designs were not elegant in that they were complex to operate and they were overpriced. The SWITCH tool dominated the single shot rental business as we replaced many of the older film-based kits that were on many rigs. I did feel bad for those guys that had 10 or more kits out all the time and were making steady revenue, and all of sudden their kits were no longer in demand. We built 200 of these electronic single shot / multi shot tools and just dominated in the Rockies and Gulf Coast. Several customers said they loved this tool so much that they wanted one on every rig they were working.


Not only was the Switch tool very easy for the operators to run in the wellbore, it was also easy to download the survey data and create complete survey reports and spreadsheets– with the ability to easily edit/ remove errors in the surveys, such as incorrect station depths, declination, tie-in information, etc. It was and still is a very user friendly and flexible little survey tool.

Drillers could get a single shot in just a few minutes running all the way down to bottom and back out on the rig slickline, but if they wanted to run a gyro multi shot survey, they could run the SWITCH tool on the way in or out of the well. Our more adventurous customers were doing exactly taking advantage of the extra capabilities the SWITCH could deliver rather than just taking a single picture. Those customers would use the E-prom utility to configure the tool to take multiple pictures, so that as they tripped-out of the hole, they got additional survey stations to increase their confidence level. By providing the software utilities in every kit along with a stop watch and the operator’s manual, we gave our customers the power to do their own gyro multi-shot as well as gyro single shot surveys. That was cool, and at that time, I don’t think any other electronic survey tool rental companies were providing that option for oil and gas drillers—mining drillers were the notable exception. We could accommodate those geotechnical customers as well. Many customers just simply wanted to drop the SWITCH tool before bit trips out of the hole– to get one shot on bottom to see if they were getting too far off vertical or whichever direction they wanted to go. This was a clever use of rig time. The only downside of the tool was perhaps it’s removable heat shield. Careless hands would either damage the shield physically or allow so much grease and grime to get on the tool, and the next thing you know, they couldn’t get it in or out of the barrel, then somebody beats on it with a hammer, and its ‘game over’ for the tool.

When the oilfield bounced back, after the crash in 2008, so did our business. But the SWITCH tool started losing popularity in 2012 due to a growing interest in SOC or Pump Survey-On-Connection tools, where a survey would get pumped up to the surface on every connection. Drillers and operators saw they might save enough money in rig time to justify paying a higher cost for these SOC systems for pumping up a survey every time they made a connection. That way, they could monitor their well and they didn’t have to run wire in the hole, which had become a real hassle to operators. A lot of these engineers were becoming antagonistic to having wire inside the drillpipe because of wirelines breaking, then the fishing, lost production time, etc. This was at a time when rig rates were quite high. They felt the economics of running the gyro single shot or gyro multi shot tool just weren’t there compared to these new pump-up magnetic survey tools.


Cutthroat pricing made it difficult to make any money even with those SOC tools for the reasons that you have normally with MWD services…where you have some wash and wear on the various mechanical parts. The tools are always down in the hole where there may be problems with the drilling fluids associated with lost circulation or sand content, flow rates, etc, and/ or they wash out a copper beryllium pressure housing/ barrel. It’s a huge expense to pay for that….and then sales people are fighting with the operators or directional companies in getting their damages paid. They were sometimes not getting the biggest bang for their buck, but then we started seeing a new trend—”directional from surface to TD”.  Instead of having the “poor boy’s MWD” tool (SOC tools) in the hole, operators were running the complete directional package from the get go– to drill faster with hydraulics and rotary power, and with the new luxury of getting continuous inclination while drilling—in addition to all the other parameters. No more just having one survey for every thirty feet of hole being drilled—now the surveys could be seen continuously in real time.

However, there are wells that are still being drilled that do not require all the MWD bells and whistles, and those wells are good candidates for running the SWITCH tool every two, three or five hundred feet of drilling to monitor the well…as this tool can be the most economical way to drill these wells. And, we have seen renewed interest in running the SWITCH single shot tool.

Today with business being slow, we can afford to take extra time for training and verifying customer comfort and competence in running the SWITCH tool with 100 percent success. In the spirit of our going the extra mile philosophy, we also deliver with every SWITCH kit rental, a field computer loaded with the survey downloading and processing software, thereby relieving the customer of all issues related to installing and running the SWITCH software on the customer’s computer systems.


If you are not in a situation where you have to be threading a needle drilling through a multi-well “box of straws”, and you are not running directional MWD tools you will be better off using the SWITCH tool instead of the older Totco or other “inclination only” tools.

With some wells, drillers just want to keep them as vertical as possible. However, they might be close to a lease line or there might be other reasons why they need to monitor the well, but they don’t need to spend the money on an expensive MWD tool. Running the SWITCH tool does not take a lot of rig-time and often times drilling is halted for various reasons, so there is opportunity to take advantage of those downtime events and run the SWITCH tool. Also, it’s very easy to simply drop the SWITCH tool before having to trip out for whatever reason—bit trip etc. and get a survey. But most often the SWITCH tool is run is on the rig slickline or skid unit.

Our interest in promoting the SWITCH tool does not mean we are not interested in advancing state of the art technology—new technology is essential and we are fully embracing it, but the SWITCH tool still has its advantages—mainly economic. Gyro based technology will eventually replace a lot of magnetic based MWD technology but not completely, as these magnetic tools will always have some presence in the drilling business, and the SWITCH will still be around also for practical uses. Oil and gas will continue to be needed as alternative energy sources are still years away from fully meeting the world’s energy demands.

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