The development of sonic drilling technology
- The first 60 years (1910-1970)
The early roots of sonic drilling technology can be traced back to the efforts of George Constantinesco, a Romanian intellectual who immigrated to England in 1910.
Constantinesco formulated the “Theory of Sonics” which was published by the British Admiralty in 1913 and, during that same year, he demonstrated a prototype of a rock drill working on a percussion system, with much success. Unlike pneumatic drills, Constantinesco’s vibratory prototypes were capable of boring through hard granite rock, quietly and smoothly.
- Less than 20 years later, another Romanian became interested in sonic vibrations. In 1930, encouraged by the work of Constantinesco, Romanian engineer Dr. Ion Basgan applied sonic vibrations to the drill pipe string of a conventional drilling rig. Amazingly, the result was increased drill depth and speed. The drill was also able to bore a truly vertical hole without distortion, which was not always possible with other methods. Bore holes using this method were drilled at the Moreni oil fields of Romania in 1938 and Basgan received patents on this technique in Romania and the USA.
- Eventually, this led to interest in developing sonic drilling in the USA by the oil industry during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Initial research and development of the rotary-vibratory drill began in the United States in 1946. For the first few decades, sonic rig research, conducted by Drilling Research Inc. (DRI), was developed almost exclusively for use in the petroleum industry with the intent of speeding up drill times.
- Although a lack of funding ended DRI’s research in 1958, American inventor Albert Bodine continued development work on high-powered vibratory machines for various applications including drilling. Most of his efforts (funded by Shell Oil) were directed at large vibratory pile driving machines although his organization eventually developed a smaller vibrator for seismic shot-hole drilling.
- Funding for the project ended in the late 1960’s and, in the early 1970’s, Bodine sold his drilling and pile driving equipment to Hawker Siddeley, a British aircraft manufacturer with Canadian offices. As a result, renewed efforts to develop the vibratory pile driver and drilling rig came to Canada.
- The next two Decades (1970-1990)
- One of the first persons hired for the Hawker Siddeley design team was a young mechanical engineer named Ray Roussy. While the team’s initial efforts focused on the pile driving equipment, later work concentrated on adapting the vibratory shot-hole driver to general shallow earth drilling.
- From 1974 to 1983, approximately 12 rigs using early sonic technology were constructed and used in different applications. Unfortunately, these first machines experienced frequent breakdowns and lacked appropriate tooling to withstand the associated vibratory forces. The recession of the early 1980’s discouraged Hawker Siddeley from continuing development work in this field. However, the original sonic rig heads and drill rigs built by Hawker Siddeley are still used today.
- Ray Roussy left Hawker Siddeley in 1980 to continue development work on the sonic drill head and to adapt it to different applications. Roussy also serviced and upgraded the original Hawker Siddeley drill heads to make them more reliable and he constructed a number of additional sonic drill heads that were similar. To prove the usefulness of this new technology to the subsurface exploration industry and to carry out long-term reliability testing of his equipment, Roussy built a sonic drill head and drill rig for himself and formed his own contracting company, Sonic Drilling Ltd.