With multiple new technologies being introduced to the suffering oil and gas industry in 2020, 3D printing is the latest fad to gain traction in the space. Additive manufacturing has been extremely useful during the Covid-19 pandemic, delivering vital PPE to frontline workers across the globe. But now, the ever-evolving technology is also being used in innovative ways across the energy sector.
Earlier this year, we saw several companies relying on 3D printing to supply hard-to-get parts because of global pandemic restrictions and delays in delivery. This takes the reliance away from third-party companies, as well as the need to ship parts from other countries. Further, the more parts that can be made in-house, the better the inventory processes of the company.
To effectively manufacture additives, companies must create a digital inventory. The idea is to make a database of all the parts needed, their design, and how they can be made with a 3D printer. This helps companies prepare for any spare part they might suddenly need.
While 3D printing continues to be a costly process, particularly when used for basic parts such as pipes, nuts, and bolts; it’s fantastic for when you’re in a bind and parts are impossible to get your hands on.
By 2025, 3D printing in the oil and gas sector is expected to be worth $32 billion according to recent reports. Although 3D printing only accounts for 0.1% of the global manufacturing market at present, increased adoption of the technology suggests that it could be worth as much as $60 billion by 2030.
3D printing has already been adopted by the automotive and aerospace industries. Now, the energy sector is looking to 3D printers for manufacturing processes, to supply vital components at the drop of a hat.
One company that’s taking 3D printing seriously is Baker Hughes. In November, Baker Hughes joined with Würth Industry North America (WINA) to offer design, digital inventory, and customized 3D printing services to expand into different industrial sectors. The idea is to supply additives to the oil and gas, renewables, power generation, maritime, automotive, and aerospace industrial sectors.
Baker Hughes brings its digital inventory services to the table, while WINA offers its additive manufacturing services and a global portfolio of 80,000 clients. The manufactured parts will be stored in hubs near oil and gas manufacturing sites, making them easy to obtain as needed.
Scott Parent, Chief Technology Officer for Digital Solutions at Baker Hughes explained, “Now more than ever, industrial companies are looking for innovative manufacturing solutions to reduce lead times and eliminate physical inventories, while reducing the carbon footprint of operations, and we believe additive manufacturing plays an important role”.
Shell was also an early adopter of 3D printing for the manufacturing of parts. Shell started using the technology to make unique parts in all areas of its manufacturing.
By building up components through layers based on a machine-learned design, the 3D printer can shape parts that usually require cutting from bigger materials. As well as being a more streamlined process, it massively reduces the waste of materials needed to cut out basic components. Unused metal powder in the printing process can be filtered and reused, saving materials and money, particularly when using expensive high-alloy metal powders.
The innovative process can also save time, with printers completing the manufacturing process in a matter of hours instead of weeks. In addition, once completed, the parts will already be on-site with no need to wait for shipping. This technology could even be used in offshore facilities, saving weeks or months waiting for a part to be delivered to a hard-to-reach area. It would also reduce the need to store so many parts, using a digital inventory and machine memory to make new parts as needed.
Baker Hughes and Shell aren’t the only companies eyeing this sector, BP listed 3D printing as one of six technologies that will most impact the oil and gas sector in the coming years, alongside artificial intelligence, blockchain, autonomous vehicles, and alternative energy sources. The new manufacturing process is particularly appealing to companies wanting to reduce their carbon footprint and shift reliance on in-house processes.
In 2020, 3D printing helped to alleviate some of the many hurdles facing the energy sector. Over the next decade, we are likely to see companies harness this technology for innovative solutions to manufacturing both on and off-shore.
Written By: Felicity Bradstock, Author, for Oilprice.com.