Fast production of part prototypes
3D printing is often used to reduce the time it takes to develop a new product for testing and validation. This is possible because of additive manufacturing’s capacity for prototyping parts efficiently. Not only does this save time in the overall development process, AM also allows organizations to adapt quickly to market changes.
This 3D technology can benefit the oil and gas industry in the same way. By reducing the time it takes to produce components in the development cycle, prototype designs can be promptly tested and validated before full production commences.
One such company that makes use of additive manufacturing is GE Oil & Gas. AM was used to halve the time it takes to test and validate its new burner for the NovaLT16 gas turbine.
Generate complex geometries without restrictions
The complex machinery used in the oil and gas industry must conform to strict industry standards. These complex machinery often include specialized components with complex geometries that feature undercuts or hollow spaces.
Traditional manufacturing of complex geometries is inefficient, requiring first the production of constituent geometric parts that are then welded together. In contrast, additive manufacturing allows for the innovative and unrestricted production of any complex geometries. The use of laser sintering in the process makes it possible to fabricate flow control and other oil & gas devices as a single unit.
Additive manufacturing simplifies the manufacturing of complex turbomachinery components. In this way, oil and gas companies are able to reduce costs and emission while improving machine performance, thereby, meeting environmental and performance standards.
On-demand printing of spare parts
The oil and gas industry uses components that are highly specific but low in demand, and thus, expensive to manufacture and stock. Yet, a ready supply of these parts must always be available for the repair and maintenance of machinery. As designs improve, old parts become obsolete. This further adds to the difficulty of acquiring spare parts.
The prompt supply and distribution of spare parts are crucial in reducing extended operational downtime. The cost of downtime can be so high that many operators would rather overstock parts than to face delays in deliveries. Although this consumes their resources, it at least minimizes the logistical challenge of distributing vital components quickly to oil rigs far and wide.
Additive manufacturing addresses these traditional challenges faced by the oil and gas industry. Not only is it more cost-effective to manufacture these spare parts, on-demand printing reduces the pressure to stock them, thanks to its shorter production time. It also resolves the problem of disruptions from suppliers that have gone out of business.
AM-3D printing in the future of Oil and Gas
Oil and gas companies deal with a substantial loss of revenue when faced with unscheduled downtime, particularly if their rigs are located offshore or in remote areas. On average, operational downtime costs an offshore operator an average of $49 million per year.
Additive manufacturing in the industry has the potential of minimizing downtime by redressing the long process of traditional parts manufacturing. The economic potential for having on-site manufacturing appeals to offshore operators, especially when more and more rigs are located in remote areas and drilling methods advance.
Components used in the industry undergo a long manufacturing process that can be improved with the use of 3D printing. 3D printing places no restrictions on the complexity of design and the end product is often of a higher quality. Working closely with a 3D printing specialist will lead to a reduction in downtime.
Considerations for AM-3D printing in Oil and Gas
Obtaining certification of 3D-printed components in order to meet industrial performance and safety standards may be a legal hurdle. It is one thing to produce prototypes and another to produce them as end-parts that must meet rigorous safety and performance standards.
Another consideration is the potential infringement of intellectual property that is owned by manufacturers. 3D printing may take place in any location rather than at the centralized facilities of manufacturers or their licensees. This makes it difficult to track the licensed use of the CAD data that is needed for the production of a particular part. One way to overcome this is to have intellectual property owners release the license for the use of digital data.
Since 3D printing is relatively new in oil and gas, it may be useful to first identify the type or category of components that would benefit most from AM. Consulting with an experienced and knowledgeable 3D printing specialist is helpful in this process.