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3D Printing for Parts Replacement at Remote Sites

In the oil and gas industry, remote drilling and extraction sites present a unique set of challenges. Not only are these facilities dependent on complex pieces of machinery, but they are also difficult to service and repair. Offshore oil rigs, in particular, are notoriously difficult to supply with parts. An earlier blog post on this site discussed the basics of 3D printing and a few of its uses in supplying such remote sites with spare parts, but there’s still much more to know about how this exciting new technology could impact the oil, gas and petrochemical industries.

Proof of Concept: Has 3D Printing Been Tested in the Real World of Oil Drilling?

One of the most important questions to answer about 3D printing on oil rigs is whether it’s a practical reality or merely a theoretical possibility. Fortunately, some early adopters are already proving that 3D printing can be used effectively at remote drilling locations. Shell, one of the largest oil producers in the world, has already begun exploring the myriad uses 3D printing could have in supplying specialized parts to production sites.

One of the best real-word tests of 3D printed parts in a functional oil rig thus far was conducted on an entirely 3D printed turbine that was used to power a drilling head. Far from being purely a prototype, the turbine was put into use on an operating onshore rig working at a depth of about 3,000 feet. This test proved once and for all that parts made with additive manufacturing could meet the intense physical demands of the oil and gas industry.

Potential Savings From 3D Printing

As you may recall, our previous article about 3D printing for offshore oil rigs discussed the high cost of having to send a ship to supply parts to a rig. Another part of the cost of downtime, however, is the immense amount of potential profit lost each hour that an offshore oil rig isn’t producing (NPT). Deep-water rigs can experience downtime rates of up to 15 percent, with each period of non-productive time costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in earnings.

3D printing offers a more cost-efficient solution in terms of both part price and downtime. After a 3D printer has been purchased, the cost of each individual print is determined only by the amount of material used to make it. Between lower production costs and less rig downtime, the use of 3D printers on offshore platforms could save oil companies millions of dollars in the coming years.


Considerations of Using 3D Printing on Oil Rigs

While 3D printing has many advantages, it is also not without its downsides. Industrial 3D printers cost well in excess of $100,000. Though the vast majority of 3D printers do come with manufacturer’s warranties, oil and gas executives shouldn’t ignore the possibility that the printers themselves may need repair from time to time. Certain types of 3D printers may also require additional ventilation in order to be used safely, which is another consideration of equipping a remote site with one or more of these printers.

Another factor to consider when deciding whether to integrate additive manufacturing into an offshore rig’s operation is the space required to house a 3D printer and the materials needed to produce parts. Though they require less space than large stores of spare parts, printers and materials will take up precious room on your drilling platform. Also be aware that new raw materials will occasionally have to be supplied to the facility, as a 3D printer is useless without printing material.

On balance, 3D printing is a technology with a huge capacity to revolutionize the oil and gas industry. Executives in oil and gas companies should consider the use of 3D printing at remote sites to save both time and money, as some of the world’s largest producers have already done.

Thanks to all of our friends and visitors who stopped by our booth at OTC for a conversation or demo of our distribution and inventory management solutions (WMS, Mobility Solutions, Self-Service Checkout, etc.). The turn out was great and allowed us to help demonstrate the savings that can be achieved with our solutions. 

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