Vallourec team's one-year sprint to market results in VAM® SPRINT-SF, an innovative ultra-high torque connection


Vallourec’s new VAM® SPRINT-SF, the first in a series of semi-premium high torque connections for onshore drilling is a technological breakthrough for the industry. The team’s innovative behind-the-scenes collaboration expedited its journey from concept to market.

In the fast-moving onshore drilling industry, operators are constantly looking for ways to extend their laterals. Only a few years ago, horizontal drilling for the shale oil market maxed out around 6,000 feet. Today, though, operators are pushing that length to up to 16,000 feet.

While depth to a well’s pay zone hasn’t changed, the extended laterals mean tube connections need to handle higher loads and pressure, and they need to maintain efficiency at a much higher torque.

“And don’t forget it needs to be cost-effective, too,” says Darren Santeler, Senior Technical Sales Manager at Vallourec USA. “With all that in mind, and knowing we had a short window of opportunity, we put together a team that could tackle this need from all angles and get the job done in less than a year.”

The result is the new VAM® SPRINT-SF connection, a semi-premium semi-flush connection innovatively designed for extreme shale applications. Its high-tension rating and ultra-high torque capacity make it ideal to run a full string as production casing in shale wells with extended horizontal sections.

The new connection also offers fast and easy running, thanks to a tapered dovetail thread design that stabs deep, allowing fast make up with very low risk of cross-threading. VAM® SPRINT-SF connections are available in 5”, 5 ½” and 6” OD. Its carbon steel grades include Sour Service as well as Enhanced API for shale plays.

Unique team collaborates from the start to roll out VAM® SPRINT-SF in record time

Design usually starts with a company’s R&D department before others are involved. From the get-go, though, VAM® brought in the best minds on its manufacturing side to help R&D from a cost standpoint. Technical Sales came on board, as well, to provide customer voice and Product Engineering for applications.

“We took a proactive approach from the beginning,” says David Marmolejo, VAM® USA Product Applications Engineer and the VAM® SPRINT-SF team’s project manager. “We started with the market specification and established teams for R&D and industrialization. This is a break from the past, where R&D finalized the design, and then we all rushed to get it to market.”

Following that old pattern, a project of this magnitude would usually take two years. But with initial design meetings taking place in May 2019, the team began proof of concept testing in August, with a final design selected in December of that year. Critical testing of the first size was finished in May 2020, and production began immediately after.

“Fit for Shale” testing sets new standard

The team went above and beyond on testing requirements with its “Fit for Shale” protocol that simulates in-service conditions, enabling Vallourec to continue to set the standard in quality and reliability.

In a compact timeframe, Vallourec teams developed stringent testing protocols to come up with the VAM® SPRINT-SF’s unique design. Working with the draft API TR 5SF standard, the “Fit for Shale” protocol was designed after real world application. In the field, connection components are expected to perform under extreme temperatures and pressure. For this reason, high tension, compression and torque were all tested for sealability. The result: a connection with significantly higher torque and efficiency, thanks to its unique thread form.

In addition, connections were designed around standard pipe. This means the VAM® SPRINT-SF performs exceptionally well without the need for special pipe. Manufacturing collaboration from day one speeds up project development Throughout the design and testing phases, VAM® USA’s manufacturing teams were on hand to anticipate any potential challenges further down the line.

“Our R&D department can design anything,” David says. “But manufacturing it effectively is a different scenario. Since the manufacturing team was involved early on, they were able to provide immediate feedback to R&D.”

Wesley Ott, R&D’s Chief Design Engineer on the project, emphasized the importance of teamwork in such a tight timeframe: “We had a lot of back and forth, a lot of positive collaboration between what we were doing in the lab and what the manufacturing team was telling us was feasible from a ‘real world’ perspective in the plants.”

And the feedback didn’t end with Vallourec experts. “VAM® SPRINT-SF was designed to meet a real market need. For this reason, we brought customers on board from design stage, to be sure that we’re developing what the industry wants.”

Problem-solving made simple

“When you put so many smart people in a room, you can get a lot of opinions!” Darren jokes. “But we discovered that was a good thing. There is more than one way to solve a problem. A perfect example is torque applications. We hit our torque requirement and were nearly there on our cost target, but Wesley had another solution where a slight increase in manufacturing time equated to a large gain in torque.

The result is a streamlined and efficient process that produced VAM® SPRINT-SF, a cutting-edge product. Going forward, Vallourec aims to build on this new upfront collaborative method. “It’s what we set out to accomplish,” Darren says. “To leverage the VAM® brand heritage and know-how so we can move faster for our customers.”

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