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Louisa Allen explores additive manufacturing solutions for the energy and oil & gas industries

Innovations brought about by 3D printing have largely focused on industrial applications. We read about how car manufacturers are using this technology to build custom parts and tools more efficiently and at a lower cost. The aeronautics industry is using additive manufacturing to create lightweight components to help boost fuel economy. 3D printing has also enabled the sector to streamline the supply chain as well as product parts on-demand. Both of these actions help reduce lead times and lower operations costs. 

There has also been quite a buzz about 3D printing and its impact on the healthcare industry, particularly its influence on patient-centered medical care. But the applications of this revolutionary technology does not limit itself to these fields. Case in point, the energy, oil, and gas industries are now looking to adopt additive manufacturing to help them harness our natural resources. Below are just a few of the solutions that are now being implemented by big companies such as Chevron and Shell Global. 

Rapid Prototyping

In any industry, getting a new product, part, or tool to market takes considerable time and money. This puts pressure on engineers and designers to quickly come up with solutions and go through fewer iterations. This is true even in the oil, energy, and gas industries. 

Rapid prototyping shortens the time to market while ensuring that accurate decisions are made when designing parts. Companies will be able to quickly test out design concepts of components. Additive manufacturing also ensures that innovations are put to market earlier which can give companies a competitive advantage.

In short, not only will rapid prototyping shorten the design cycle and reduce cost, it can help oil and gas companies to create end-use parts that help them operate more efficiently while meeting environmental standards. This could also help them develop new repair tools and procedures that would shorten downtime, speeding up repair and maintenance activities. 

Spare parts production

In addition to promoting innovations and shortening the design cycle, 3D printing also allows these companies to produce spare parts on demand. These companies often have operations in remote locations which means that there are a number of logistical challenges that need to be addressed when it comes to providing them with spare parts when necessary. Not to mention, the amount of downtime incurred due to the breakdown of machines can cause a loss of profit. This has led many companies in these industries to overstock on spare parts which also has an equivalent cost. 

But with 3D printing, this is no longer an issue. Spare parts can be printed on-demand either on-site or by a 3D printing service. This enables off-shore rigs, for example, to maintain operation and production levels at all times. 

3D printing materials

One of the most significant advantages of 3D printing is that it allows you to create complex products and parts using materials that have the necessary properties that you need. PEEK 3D printing (poly ether ether ketone) is a material that has valuable characteristics that make it a suitable choice for parts used in extremely demanding operations.

For example, it has high anti-corrosion properties which means it will remain stable and durable even when exposed to seawater. It also has a structural endurance of up to 29000 PSI. And it can withstand temperature ranging from -196 °C (-321 °F) to 260 °C (500 °F). In short, this material makes it the perfect choice for certain parts used in these industries such as gears, plugs, sealing systems, tubes, and fasteners.

Creating complex geometries

Complex machinery is commonly used in oil and gas companies. These machines are made of complex parts that require assembly. With 3D printing, single-part fabrication of complex shapes and geometries is possible. There will be no need for post-processing and assembly of components which not only reduces costs but increases durability and enhances performance. 

What's the future of 3D printing in oil and gas industries?

As we've already mentioned, 3D printing will streamline the supply chain of oil and gas companies as well as reduce downtime. The latter alone can cost a company an estimated US$49 million per year. Since these companies are continually looking for new reserves, it is highly likely they will establish operations in extremely remote locations. On-site manufacturing will enable companies to maintain optimal operations at all times. 

Of course, this is merely the beginning. There are still significant challenges that need to be overcome in order for the majority of the industry to adopt 3D printing. End-use parts must meet rigorous performance and safety standards. 

In addition, the design of some components is owned by manufacturing companies which then raises the issue of intellectual property. That being said, it cannot be ignored that additive manufacturing will be a game-changer in these industries. 

Louisa Allen is with D3D Printing

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