In order to cut costs and save time, and most recently to help lower the carbon footprint of its supply chain, the oil and gas industry embraces emerging technologies. Alongside artificial intelligence, machine learning, digital twins, and robotics, the world's largest oil and gas companies are relying on 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, to increase efficiency, save time and expenses, and minimize emissions associated with spare part manufacturing.
The use of 3D printing for manufacturing spare parts and the establishment of digital warehouses to procure and maintain the supply of necessary equipment have become increasingly popular among some of the world's largest oil and gas conglomerates in the last few years.
Shell is one such company that believes additive manufacturing technology has the potential to reduce the cost, delivery time, and carbon footprint of spare parts. Shell is collaborating with other industry leaders, including Baker Hughes, to advance 3D printing innovation in the energy sector, according to the 3D Printing Technology Manager at Shell.
In 2011, the energy giant introduced its in-house 3D printing practices with a metal laser-printing machine to produce unique laboratory testing equipment at Shell Technology Center Amsterdam (STCA). Cut to 10 years later, Shell now operates 15 polymer, ceramic, and metal printers at its technology centres in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and Bangalore, India, ten years later.
Shell was able to achieve “substantial savings” in its offshore Nigeria operations in 2020 owing to the 3D printing of spare parts.
In Nigeria's case, replacing a small component within a large piece of equipment for which replacement parts are no longer produced would have taken approximately 16 weeks on a business-as-usual basis. Shell scanned the component and had it printed. Shell reports that the 3D printing technology reduced the final cost of maintenance by 90% when compared to the conventional replacement and the parts were produced in just two weeks.
The oil giant is also collaborating with suppliers to create a digital warehouse for any custom-3D printed parts it may require. Baker Hughes is a partner of Shell.
“More than ever, industrial companies are looking for innovative manufacturing solutions to shorten lead times and eliminate physical inventories, all while lowering their operations' carbon footprint, and we believe additive manufacturing plays a critical role,” said Scott Parent, Baker Hughes' chief technology officer for Digital Solutions.
What is more, energy companies are also utilizing 3D printing underwater. Earlier this year, Norway's Kongsberg Ferrotech announced that it was developing a technology to enable 3D printing underwater in collaboration with Norwegian research organizations and energy giant Equinor. If successful, the subsea 3D printing project could revolutionize the maintenance and repair of subsea components.
From cost and time savings to a lower carbon footprint in the manufacturing of spare parts, 3D printing has the potential to revolutionize the energy industry.