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From Outer Space to Offshore Oil, 3D Printing Saves The Day

3D Printing

3D Printing: A Solution for Parts Acquisition in Remote Areas?

3D Printing: A Solution for Parts Acquisition in Remote Areas?

The rig manager shook his head as he looked at the rig's broken parts list on his computer screen. He'd replaced worn parts all over rigs since he started out as a roughneck, but now it seemed like critical parts were breaking every day. He didn't have an extensive parts inventory on the rig, and getting a delivery ship out to the remote rig to hand off one part cost him up to $5,000. That doesn't include the time to airfreight the part to the port, charter the ship and get through customs. Meanwhile, he had to meet production quotas and keep four teams of drillers, derrickhands and roustabouts busy around the clock.

Additive Manufacturing

What if he could make the part right on the rig using 3D printing and the Internet of Things (IoT)? 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has made major strides in quality, reduced cost and efficiency in recent years. The oil and gas industry is taking a close look at how 3D printing can meet challenges with printed parts, models and tooling. According to a 2016 report from SmarTech Publishing, oil and gas investments in 3D printing will reach $450 million by 2021, expanding to $1.4 billion by 2025.

Help Solve Ongoing Challenges

According to the report, oil and gas producers believe 3D printing will help solve some ongoing challenges including:

Complex Oil and Gas Industry Products

3D printing can help streamline part design and optimize additive fabrication. This would be useful for pumps, valves, process fittings and other turbomachinery.

Help Eliminate Downtime

3D printing would spark supply chain innovation and help bring down lead times. For example, components prone to failure could use predictive modeling and sensors to forecast their failure, and new replacements could be made on site, reducing downtime.

Inefficiencies in Creating High-Value, Low-Volume Parts

Additive manufacturing could be handled on demand, helping reduce the complexities of inventory management of on-site replacements parts and expensive emergency part delivery.

Rapid Product Prototyping

Recent innovations in 3D printing allow rapid product prototyping. As an example, GE Oil and Gas used rapid prototyping when creating the burner for a gas turbine called the NOVALT16. They were able to bring down the development and validation cycle by half using 3D printing methods.

Increase Innovation

Rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing also allows oil and gas manufacturers to increase innovation. Engineers can look at new solutions for repeating problems, increasing the efficiency and productivity of the operation overall. This is especially true due to the recent developments in the materials able to be utilized in additive manufacturing. Previously, it was limited to plastics, but modern 3-D printers can print a variety of materials including metals, alloys, composites and more.

GE leveraged these developments by experimenting with a number of gas turbine combustion components. They experimented with different geometries and shapes, to determine which offers the best blend of reduced emissions, increased performance and lowest cost.

Spare Parts On-Demand

One of the biggest benefits of a fully realized 3D printing operation on an oil rig or a ship at sea is it relieves the pressure of keeping relevant spare parts on-site. Remote locations do not have the room or storage capability to handle extensive spare parts inventory. 3D printing allows engineers and designers to create spare parts on demand, sometimes with better quality than the originals.

There's a better way, according to Markus Kuhn, Purchasing Manager at Maersk Group Procurement Marine. He reports there is currently testing underway to use 3D printing to replace parts as the need arises.

Parts Replacement

In 2014, Aerojet Rocketdyne reported using large laser sintering machines in 3D manufacturing to design and develop components of rocket engines for NASA. Components would be 3D-printed using additive materials such as aluminum, copper and nickel. Aerojet later released a report stating it tested a complete engine capable of producing 5,000 pounds of thrust. NASA also reported working in conjunction with Aerojet Rocketdyne to hot-fire test a liquid oxygen/gaseous hydrogen rocket injector assembly constructed using 3D printing. In April 2017, Aerojet Rocketdyne successfully hot-fire tested a full-scale thrust chamber assembly for the RL10 rocket engine. A copper alloy additive and 3D printing created this chamber assembly.

From Outer Space to Oil Fields

There are still challenges to overcome before 3D printing becomes more accepted as standard business practice. For example, how will the licensing of designs be handled? Will there be any legal restrictions on using 3D replacement parts rather than the original equipment manufacturer's part? As these questions are answered over time, 3D printing will play a bigger role on oil and gas rigs throughout the world.

3D Printing Oil & Gas

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