National Oilwell Varco Digs Deep at MIT

Custom program helps employees unearth innovations in technology.

On March 22, 2016, 26 engineering managers from the National Oilwell Varco (NOV), a global energy services company, received their certificates from MIT Professional Education during a ceremony held in Houston, Texas for successfully completing the Custom Program, NOV Advanced Technology Program, conducted at the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Several staff and faculty members from MIT were in attendance including Bhaskar Pant, executive director of MIT Professional Education; Tish Miller, director of academic and custom programs; Sheri Brodeur, associate director of corporate relations for the MIT Industrial Liaison Program (ILP); and three MIT faculty members from the course: Dale Morgan, professor of geophysics for the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences; Daniel Frey, professor of mechanical engineering; and Richard M. Wiesman, professor of the practice for the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

The year-long program, which was cultivated through relationship building in conjunction with the ILP, featured five MIT faculty members and was structured into a sequence of three one-week terms that emphasized innovation, data, and modeling for engineering, science, and business.

The course also featured a practical aspect that had participants working on real-world team projects at their home locations— which spanned across the United States, Canada, Norway, and Scotland—between terms with mentorship by MIT faculty.

“The MIT program for NOV was in perfect alignment with trends and philosophies I observed at the company,” says Richard M. Wiesman, one of the MIT faculty team mentors for the program. “The program helped engineers at NOV, who are very good at performing their respective jobs, expand their understandings and capabilities for developing innovative improvements to existing operations and innovative new products, procedures, and product improvements.”

Example projects that the NOV teams worked on between terms focused on robotics and automation for service shop operations, vibrations and the drilling process, and integration and validation of multiple physics and numerical models into cohesive drill string/drill bit systems.

“The technical challenges NOV confronts are at the very edge of what is possible today,” says Daniel Frey, who served as both a faculty member for the program as well as a team mentor. “Several elements [in the plant] are each optimized to the edge of current technology and then combined in the best possible way via carefully planned experiments. Why else would a manufacturing facility for drill bits—an item that is ordinarily just a commodity—need a modern R&D lab? Downhole conditions are so extreme and so remote that the very best engineering is required to function at all, much less compete.”

But most valuable of all is how the research and work produced from the program will be carried back to NOV. “NOV engineers found practices, technologies and components that they could integrate to provide truly innovative advancements to NOV’s product offerings and operations,” says Wiesman. “And the NOV engineers can carry these newly acquired talents forward into their work and careers.”

“We are particularly proud of the academic program we developed for NOV because it truly followed MIT’s motto, mens et manus: classroom instruction followed by on-the-job MIT faculty-mentored project execution,” says Bhaskar Pant. “The experience wasn’t just one sided. Our MIT faculty also came away enthused and enlightened from having participated in a two-way knowledge exchange experience.”