Polycrystalline diamond (PCD) cutters and drag bit designs have been substantially improved since their 1972 introduction, and PCD drill bits now are approaching the rolling cone tungsten carbide insert (TCI) market is terms of revenue size and have surpassed it in terms of economic impact on the drilling industry.1,2 These performance improvements have lead to a significant encroachment into the drill bit market built upon the breakthrough invention of the rolling cone bit by Howard Hughes Sr. Material and design improvements in the last decade, however, have now led to the successful application of patented shear cutting PCD elements as well as conventional diamond enhanced crushing style inserts on rolling cone bits. Diamond enhanced rolling cone bits are also a growth market for diamond elements in drilling.

Failing rock in shear is a more efficient process than by crushing, but most cutting materials can not stand up to the forces generated in the shearing process as rock strength increases. To take advantage of the unique ability of the PCD cutter to shear rock efficiently, a concerted R&D effort supported by laboratory and field-testing led to the application of diamond as a shear cutting element on roller cone bits. A variety of rolling cone shear cutting elements have been developed and successfully commercialized in the last decade.

This paper will discuss laboratory results and increased field performance achieved relative to conventional crushing style diamond and tungsten carbide inserts. The authors will document through case studies increases in rate of penetration (ROP), footage, overall durability, and gauge holding ability in addition to bearing/seal effectiveness that have further reduced drilling costs and served to increase usage of polycrystalline diamond elements on roller cone bits. These applications range from such diverse markets as high cost offshore North Sea, to low cost North American land operations.

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