Weslee Clyde

By: Weslee Clyde on August 8th, 2019

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Particle Size Analysis & The Frac Sand Industry

Particle Analysis



We have been in the particle size analysis business for over 140 years and we have seen our products succeed in so many different industries all over the globe.

One of the most rewarding things for us is finding that one of our products is changing the way customers in an industry operate every day.

About 2 years ago we started getting feedback from customers in the frac sand industry that they were having amazing levels of success with their particle size testing because of the W.S. Tyler Computerized Particle Analyzer.

Not only did we see an increase in the number of units we were selling to these customers, but we started hearing stories about how using our machine had a huge impact on their testing speed and accuracy.

This type of feedback made us realize that there was a problem in the Frac Sand Industry, that our machine was solving, to make these businesses run smoother and more efficiently.

We have talked to our frac sand customers and built real relationships with these people. We know that frac sand is a big industry. We also know that the type of success and process improvement that these customers had, is something that other companies in this industry need to know about.

Whether you are in the frac sand industry yourself, or you just think the CPA might be the right product for you, we wrote this article to dive into why the CPA has impacted this industry by changing their everyday processes to speed up production and improve quality control.

We are going to talk about the frac sand industry itself, why particle size testing is important and why the CPA has been such a game-changer in this industry.


What is Frac Sand?

Frac sand is a type of proppant that is designed to keep a man-made hydraulic fracture open, during or following a fracturing treatment. Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”, is a method of mining that is used in the oil and gas industry.

Frac Sand Mine

To do this, the ground is fractured using hydraulic pressure to create a well and then frac sand is pumped down into it. The sand flows into the cracks and holds them open so that the natural gas or oil can flow back up the well.

This ensures the fracture stays open because the natural weight around the well will otherwise close the fracture and prevent the oil/gas from flowing back up the well.

The size, shape, and strength of the sand are extremely important to this process.


How is Frac Sand Classified?

Like most industries we work with on particle size analysis, frac sand is held to specific standards by the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Frac sand is named by the size of the grains.

The coarsest material standard for frac sand is 20/40. This means that 90 percent of the sand is fine enough to pass through a 20 mesh sieve (see sieves etc) and is coarse enough to be retained on a 40 mesh sieve. As long as your sand meets these requirements, you have 20/40 frac sand.

Some other common standard sizes are 30/50, 40/70, and 50/140 also referred to as “100 mesh.”

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Why is the Shape of the Sand Important?

Size, roundness, and sphericity will determine how well the sand will hold up under pressure. You may be asking yourself, “Why does this matter to me?”

The ability to hold up under pressure is called crush resistance or crush strength. When sending sand into a well there is an incredible amount of pressure being placed onto the sand.

We said earlier that the sand is what allows the gas or oil to flow back up through the well. If your sand particles are crumbling once being sent down the well you are not going to be getting the level of flow you need for your process.

Think about it this way, the less surface area that the sand has to press on, the more pressure it can withstand. Therefore, if sand is more spherical it’s going to be stronger and more desirable to the oil and gas industry for use in their wells.


How Do I Measure My Sand Particles?

Frac Sand is used in very large quantities. When a batch of sand comes in, it needs to be analyzed for quality before it can be used in the well. Because of this, the speed of testing and efficiency are extremely important.

Often times companies on the consumer end purchase sand by the truckload. That sand needs to be analyzed to make sure it meets their required standards in terms of size and shape with every load.

Not only is measuring your particles important, but it is crucial to your quality control process in any industry, especially the frac sand industry.

The W.S. Tyler Computerized Particle Analyzer fits perfectly into the frac sand industry. It was designed to precisely measure the size and shape of particles quickly and accurately.

We have seen the frac sand industry as one of the most successful spots for our W.S. Tyler CPA. we already said that speed and efficiency are so important in this world, and that is exactly what the CPA was designed for.

We have been in the particle analysis world for over 140 years, but our CPA is the revamped version of a long-time industry standard that is still trusted all over the world today: The W.S. Tyler RO-TAP®.


How Does the W.S. Tyler CPA Work?

W.S. Tyler Computerized Particle analyzerOnce a CPA is installed and set up to run to your own custom needs, in just a few minutes (a typical sand sample is a 3-minute test) you will be able to validate the sand size, shape, and roundness of your sample using a LED line-scan camera.

Determining the overall quality of the sand allows you to quickly determine the overall quality of your load and accept or deny, the truckload.

If you were doing this without a computerized particle analyzer, you would need to run a sample from every truckload through a stack of test sieves. This process entails gathering the sample, running the test, manually collecting the data, cleaning the sieves, and starting from scratch all over again.

This can take on average between twenty and thirty minutes to produce results for each sample.

Although this process is accurate and still used today, it is much better suited for a company who either processes a very small amount of material or needs a small number of samples run per day or week.


Important Things To Know

There are three things that don’t necessarily fit into their own category that we want to make sure we address in this article so we have put them into this section as Important Things To Know.

1. Standards

Photo-optical particle analyzers are not written into any material standards. This means that any results have to be correlated back to sieve standards.


2. Cost

Cost is something we like to address upfront with anyone who discusses our CPA with us. The short answer is that our most common CPA model costs $60,000. That includes:

-The selected model of the CPA

- A computer with our CPA Serv Software installed

- Installation from our team and 2-day training.

If you are interested in the entire breakdown of what a CPA costs you can check out: How Much Does a CPA Cost?


3. No Deviation

The photo-optical line scan camera will tell you the exact size of every sand particle that it tests. Think about it this way, if you’re running a sand sample through a sieve and it has a 1mm opening, you’ll probably have a good amount of sand that measures at 1.1mm that will go through the opening.

A CPA isn’t going to allow for that tolerance, it will simply count it as not going through that mesh screen.

To fix this, we create a correlation for the CPA software that adds the same tolerance that the sieves give you to your CPA results. With this correlation file used every sand sample for the corresponding size will give you reproducible results.


To Sum It All Up

We have gone through the reasons why our computerized analyzer is great for the frac industry.

The CPA has introduced around 15-20 years ago and since then we have spent a lot of time knowing that it has the potential to disrupt the particle size analysis industry, but not knowing for sure where the best fit was.

We imagine there are other industries out there that would be able to use this same concept of streamlining their processes and speeding up their own quality control outside of just the frac sand industry.

If you are looking for more information, send us a message and we would be happy to answer your questions. 


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