3D Printing and its ambitions in Oil and Gas

As the petroleum industry exits the honeymoon phase of its relationship with additive manufacturing, it is essential that we revisit the terms.

Apr 7, 2016 -- 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is stepping the stones from mainstream usage in rapid prototyping, aerodynamic and automotive parts, and medicines and prosthetics, to manufacturing and production. Its anticipated involvement with the petroleum and petrochemical industries has put it in a new light as companies like GE, Shell among others are petitioning for its strategic and sustainable adaption.

Industries have successfully adapted 3D printing and 3D printed models for training and instructional purposes. Models are being used for parts analysis, with limited application in repairing and maintenance of parts in remote areas.

Halliburton oil field servicing uses 3D printing in making drilling parts. GE uses 3D printed parts in its new gen NovaLT16 natural gas turbine. Siemens, in recent news, is opening a manufacturing facility in Sweden that uses 3D printing for gas turbine part repairs. Yet, it is their democratic opinion that all the opportunities 3D printing offers are yet to be uncovered.

However, the technology cannot be truly labeled revolutionary upon the manufacture of a few casings and seals. Moving from research to commercialization usually sees a tipping point in the excitement about a new technology. A predicted wide scale usage in turbo-machinery parts manufacture is yet to be seen.Estimates suggest that about 10% O&G companies will be partly relying on 3D printing by 2019. The technology and related economy is on a steady increase but the adaptation is slow, owing to dubious liability and reliability it offers. On the other hand, a downturn in oil prices globally may delay the research plans.

In the years to come, major companies seek to profit from 3D printing. It is expected that these companies enter into the emerging market for selling digital representations and license to print parts, repair and refining of obsolete parts and in general supply the plastics used as “ink” in 3D printing.

The challenge is to re-imagine the manufacturing from the ground up. The engineering drawings have to be updated to incorporate designs that weren’t possible without the use of 3D printing. The methodologies have to be revised to make drawings print friendly. The CAD/CAM has to be done with the printing process in mind.

The single most dangerous drawback to be overcome is the issue of intellectual property. There are so far no vendors or brokers governing the usage of 3D print designs and their usage. A simple part that is manufactured on site has to be licensed by the designer but its enforcement and mediation is still unmanaged. This would be the next step forward in large scale adaption of 3D printing technology in parts manufacturing.

The relationship between 3D printing and petroleum industry is conclusively inter-dependant. The additive manufacturing industry finds a much needed support and usage in O&G companies. The future prospects for this ongoing relationship seem high. The potential for 3D printing is quite clear, which also means that it hasn’t been realized yet. The direction it is taking is, however, reassuring as the times put this disruptive technology to test.

About Author:  Kashyap Vyas - CAE consultant

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