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Everything you need to know about sand content: what it does and how to test for it

Published by , Editorial Assistant
World Pipelines,

Sand on a beach is a great thing, but excess sand in your drill or reclaimer is not something you want to happen. Just like sand getting in your shoes after walking along the beach, sand can find its way into your equipment without you even knowing it and can have an impact on the productivity of your equipment.

To help you understand how sand content can enter into your drill or reclaimer, what it affects and how to know if you have sand in your machine, keep reading. All of those topics (and more) will be addressed below, to equip you on how to mitigate sand and reduce the amount of it on your jobsite.

What sand content affects

Running a high sand content affects the properties of the mud, but it also affects the mud pump, drill and downhole tooling.

“It is like sandpaper on a piston,” explained John Cope, Vermeer applications engineer. “A high level of sand content can make packings leak and attack the swivel. This can lead to machine maintenance if left unaddressed.”

Overall, the thing to remember is: the higher sand content you have, the more wear you will have on your machine.

“A traditional reclaimer can get down to half a percent of sand, but over a day, that can end up being several barrels of sand that you have sent through your machine and back,” said Cope. “Even that little bit of sand can add up to a large amount at the end of the workday.”

For example, if you are pumping 30 000 gal./hr with 2% sand content, that equals 600 gal./hr. But if you get it down to 0.5% of sand, it’s only 150 gal./hr of sand per hour.

Smaller drills and reclaimers are more susceptible to any amount of sand, so you want to be cautious and check the amount of sand content that is running through your machine. Larger drills, such as the Vermeer D100x140 S3 horizontal directional drill and larger, run on piston pumps. Those kinds of pumps are not as susceptible to sand as smaller drills that run on a plunger pump.

“In fact, plunger pumps can stop working within less than 40 hours because of the high sand content running through them,” revealed Cope.

So, it is important to keep your sand content low in order to maximise your machine’s efficiency.

Aim for a trace of sand

The reality is that there is always going to be a trace of sand in your reclaimers and drills. It cannot be avoided. There is even a little bit of sand in bags of bentonite, and less expensive brands of mud may also have higher sand content.

Obviously, the less sand the better, but the optimal scenario is to have only a trace amount of sand, which is 0.25% of sand present. In larger drills, the industry standard is 1 - 2%. Vermeer builds and sizes its equipment to run below 0.25% in optimal conditions and operation.

How to test for sand content

To test for sand content in your equipment, you can use a mud test kit. Many equipment suppliers and mud companies have mud test kids available. These kits test equipment for viscosity, mud weight and sand content. The test will help show how effectively the reclaiming equipment is working, if there are any issues that need addressing and if there are any ultra-fines entrained in the drilling fluids.

To use a mud test kit properly, you take a sample of clean mud, put it in the tube at the top and fill it to the mud line. Then pour water into the tube and fill it to the water line. After that, you shake it up and pour it over a 200-mesh screen into a funnel. Sand will start collecting on the screen. You can tap the funnel to make it go through. Then, grab the funnel and put it back on the tube on the same side you poured it in and pour it back into the tube. The last step is to measure what’s in the tube, and that is your sand content.

When to test for sand content

You should test your sand content at least once an hour. This may seem like a lot, but it is important to keep checking it to make sure your machines are running efficiently.

If your sand content starts to go up, there are a few things you can check and do to try and decrease it. First, check the holes in your shake screen. It may be that you are not running a fine enough screen for the conditions you are working in.

“After that, look at the solids loading,” said Cope. “Is it too high? The maximum ratio to separate solids from liquid is 20% solid, 80% liquid. So, as solid loading gets higher, efficiency usually lowers.”

You should also watch the concentration of your high-drilling fluids additives. Adding in additives to create suspension and filtration for the bore path may be necessary, but it can affect the reclamation. The chemical additive wants to hold on to sand particles, which can make the reclamation system efficiency go down and not want to separate out the drilling fluid.

One other thing to check is your mud weight. The more the mud weighs, the harder the motor has to work to push that fluid and the more amps the motor will draw on. If your mud weighs too much, it could cause the motor to overload. Sand content can affect your mud weight, so make sure you’re checking it on a regular basis, as well.

Overall, sand content is something that you want to keep on top of and make sure that you only have a trace amount running through your machine. Keeping it low can help with machine maintenance and keep your productivity going strong.

For more information about sand content on drills and reclaimers, contact your local Vermeer dealer today.

Vermeer Corporation reserves the right to make changes in engineering, design and specifications; add improvements; or discontinue manufacturing at any time without notice or obligation. Equipment shown is for illustrative purposes only and may display optional accessories or components specific to their global region. Please contact your local Vermeer dealer for more information on machine specifications.

Vermeer and the Vermeer logo are trademarks of Vermeer Manufacturing Company in the US and/or other countries. © 2021 Vermeer Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

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