Breaking new ground

Rodney Norman
Rodney Norman
26 January 2016

Innovation isn’t limited to Royal IHC’s existing fields. We are continuously exploring new opportunities and aim to provide solutions that meet the challenges of the dredging, mining, and offshore construction industries. A perfect example of our innovative expertise is the development of IHC SWORD, a revolutionary subsea remote-controlled drill for seabed geotechnical surveys and site investigation.

The Sonic Wireline-Operated Remote Drill (SWORD) system is able to collect samples and geotechnical data from the seabed required by companies in the oil and gas, and offshore mining industries to determine the design requirements for subsea infrastructure or mineralisation. One of the key differentiators between IHC SWORD and its competitors is that it incorporates sonic drilling technology into a remote seafloor sampling tool, a technique widely used on land.

It uses high-frequency vibrations to push casing sections, drill rods and sampling tubes into the earth. This revolutionary development brings numerous advantages: it is faster than conventional drilling, more accurate, does not require drill muds and makes IHC SWORD suitable for use in all soil types. It can even cut straight through hard rock. The system is also fitted with several downhole tools for cohesive soils, such as real-time cone penetration testing (CPT), and Shelby tube push and piston corers.

IHC SWORD is remotely operated, deployed directly on the seabed and able to operate in ultra-deep water. It offers an attractive alternative to drilling from a specialised vessel on the surface, which is the conventional method in today’s market. Drill ships have depth limitations of 800m to 1,000m but IHC SWORD can be used in depths of up to 3,000m and has a drill-depth capability of up to 80m into the seabed.

Another advantage of the IHC SWORD system is that it can be deployed from any suitable medium or large offshore supply vessel, instead of depending on a specialised drilling vessel. This reduces the costs of subsea geotechnical surveys.

The development of IHC SWORD has enabled us to enter a completely new market and provides the oil and gas, and offshore mining industries with the tools to explore the seabed more accurately in even deeper waters.

Together with Tompkins UK, we have established TI Geosciences, which provides integrated geotechnical site investigation services in deep and ultra-deep waters. The first remote seabed drilling services are scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2016, using the first in a range of IHC SWORD systems.