Even though 3d printing technology has been around for a while, it is only recently that the oil and gas industries have started to take an interest in it. The energy sector could really benefit from exploring new ways in which rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing could enhance their product development.
Rapid manufacturing, rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing have lowered the equipment cost, diversified 3d printable materials and as a result, helped 3d printing move into the mainstream consumer market and manufacturing processes. Due to the expiration of patents of some 3d printing technologies, more and more companies are entering this arena. The main advantage of this technology remains in its ability to manufacture parts with the most complex shapes and smallest sizes, thus reducing the waste of higher cost materials in the process. Hence, 3d printing is being applied beyond prototyping of non-functional nature.
There are two main benefits of 3d printing and rapid prototyping in oil gas industries-
Exploring the Technology
Today’s oil and gas giants have in fact begun development activities based on additive manufacturing more than five years ago. This development was accelerated further by GE Oil and Gas as they installed their first Direct Metal Laser Melting Machine (DMLM) equipment in their manufacturing lab in Italy. Since then, the company has seen massive development in special alloys and turbo-machinery components as they introduced two more machines for this purpose. Then they collaborated with their global research center and aviation companies to significantly increase the development of this sector.
Their newly established manufacturing laboratory in India is one of the prime users of this mechanism. In this lab, they first use rapid prototyping to produce parts that support new production. This enables speedy testing of several of their design concepts, which shortens the development cycle. This methodology works to accelerate the introduction of new products and increase customer engagement. Their NovaLT16 gas turbine is the perfect example of the use of rapid prototyping. After preparing their four initial designs, they tested them out in their combustion rig. In this way, only one design was finalized and the fuel burner was produced successfully.
With rapid prototyping, companies can leverage their ability to build complex geometric structures for almost free of cost. For example, components for gas turbine combustion can be redesigned by introducing complex shapes and innovative geometries, which reduces emission and enhances performance. Now that they can venture into a larger space of design with a wide range of possibilities, the mindset of the design engineers need a transformative approach. Compared to traditional approaches like investment casting, rapid prototyping has a whole lot more opportunities to innovate.
Instead of having multiple parts bolted together, brazed and welded; the fact that some components can be printed out in one piece is a revolutionary benefit in terms of simplification of the manufacturing and assembly processes. Customers will also be benefitted by the rapid technological updates due to the improved velocity of these new technological solutions.
Spare part manufacturing for already installed fleets, is also a great use of the technology. Keeping a stock of spare parts in warehouses to often assure limited period of shutdown of plants and equipment can often be impractical. Representing a paradigm shift, the additive manufacturing 3d printing shortens the production cycles of the hot gas parts in turbines. It is possible to produce these parts in a shorter time, delivering the same or even better quality. Some companies are even exploring components of sub-sea level; going beyond turbo machinery components.
Steps of Successful Adoption
Many intellectual properties related software and physical challenges need to be addressed in order to be successful with rapid prototyping technologies. Integrating 3d printing into the supply chain of these companies can be accomplished by following the two steps-
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