Employee story: Theo van der Weijst, Software Engineer

Friday 1 September 2023

Name: Theo van der Weijst
Location: Brownline HQ, Meerkerk
Department: R&D
Position: Software Engineer
Employed since: 2011

“The Gyro Steering Tool looks so simple, but the technology behind it is so sophisticated. That’s a lot of fun to work with, and that’s what makes this such a special company.”

When Theo van der Weijst joined Brownline as Software Engineer in 2011, the R&D department consisted of only two people. Since those early years, Theo has seen the company grow, and his department in particular. “Back then we had fewer than 20 tools, and right now we are past 100.”

Started with two in R&D

“Before Brownline, I developed software for TVs for thirty years. After that, I contemplated what I wanted in my next job: a bit more variation, more than just making software, and in a small company. A former colleague invited me to come in for an interview at Brownline, because they were looking for someone to create software. We hit it off right away.”

“In those days it was just two people in the company’s R&D department. Within the span of a year, the two of us built the hardware and software for a new system, and that’s the current Gyro Steering Tool. After that, we developed Radar to work with the GST, and we started GPS track on the basis of the same technology.”

“A lot has changed in how we develop our tools. Back in the day when our gyros needed calibration or repairs, we were dependent on a third party. But this was very time-consuming, so we started thinking about whether we could do this ourselves. That’s when we bought our own calibration equipment.”

“In the same vein, we got the idea that we wanted a robot to be able to run tests. Of course a robot like that comes with default software, for example movement controls for picking up a pipe and laying it down. But everything beyond that – like readouts of that tool’s measurements – that’s something I created.”

“That was a lot of fun back then: one day you were working with that robot and the next day you were lugging equipment through the mud to do field tests with GPS track. We would ask a client if we could come and test it, and then it seemed like our measurements were way off. Turned out that our measurements were actually correct, but that the entry stake was not positioned correctly – and we had the data to back that up.”

Working with my hands

“Nowadays our department is a bigger team. That has made my job a lot more structured and I have been able to delegate some tasks, that gives me a little more peace of mind. My main duties are service and development. Service is the biggest priority. If a tool is defective or it needs calibration, then that’s something that needs to be fixed soon, or else drilling projects may be delayed. I create the software that goes inside the tool, and then I test it all. My days don’t have much of a pattern, but I like it that way. I am working on many different things, and it’s a lot of working with my hands.”

“There is so much software inside the GST. The computer that’s in there has some basic functions, like transferring data by internet. We build everything around that to be able to read out accelerometers and gyros and all kinds of sensors and to filter that data, but also to read out battery status. All this data then needs to travel up the wireline to the surveyor in a quick and reliable way. Years ago, we started figuring out how these kinds of things work in combination with each other. And we still do today. We can’t buy something that does what we want, because it doesn’t exist yet. So we’ll build it ourselves. Over the years, the company has gained a lot of knowledge and experience. We had to master that knowledge in order to move forward.”

Proud of the team

“There are not a lot of companies that can do what Brownline can do, it’s a unique thing. In 2017 we did that 4600 m / 15,000 ft crossing between Den Helder and Texel, where a combination of technologies was used. That was exciting for us beforehand. For example, will the downhole communication keep working for a crossing of this length? And that project went perfectly as planned. I like that we can do something that no one else in the world can. And to then realize that we can build that technology with what is still a relatively small team, that’s a one of a kind thing and I am proud of that.”

“Because of what we have accomplished, clients are expecting a very high standard of quality from the name Brownline. And drill jobs are becoming more and more challenging: there is a need for longer crossings, faster drilling, in harder ground conditions and with smaller and smaller margins. That has raised the bar for us ever higher. Those developments, that’s what keeps us working. So we continue to improve our current products and we think up new innovations: how can we make it faster, more efficient, even more accurate? Brownline still has plenty of plans and ideas to be able to answer those questions.”

“Drill jobs are becoming more and more challenging. Longer crossings, faster drilling, harder ground. Those developments, that’s what keeps us working.”

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