Additive manufacturing – a transformative technology for oil & gas?


Luca Corradi

Luca Corradi

Innovation Network Director

Additive manufacturing, often referred to as 3D printing, is more complicated than you think. And that’s what makes it exciting!

We recently held an additive manufacturing workshop, in partnership with the Manufacturing Technology Centre, to learn more about the process and separate the hype from the reality.

We had a great mix people engaged in the room from operators, supply chain, technology providers, industry regulator, academia, and of course, experts in additive manufacturing. Everyone was keen to learn and discuss if it could be a transformative technology for the oil and gas industry.

From the outset it became clear that the process is more complicated than design, print and use. It’s not just a case of “get me a printer offshore and I’ll print all I need!”. There are seven different processes and ways to 3D print, and a variety of materials that can be used including metals, polymers and ceramics. But this complexity also offers opportunities.

The workshop identified key value drivers to consider for the use of additive manufacturing in oil and gas:

Cost and speed

3D printing one-off items or low volume can be cheaper and faster than producing with traditional manufacturing methods. That’s definitively not the case when it comes to high volume manufacturing, which is a key reason why the automotive sector is using it more in Formula 1 prototypes than in mass car manufacturing.

Critical components

3D printing could be used to manufacture critical components of legacy equipment that is no longer in production, and where new compatible equipment is not available.

Complex design

3D printing offers the opportunity to add complexity in the design of a single item, which would not be possible with traditional manufacturing. This makes it possible to radically rethink shapes and structures, allowing for lighter, smaller, or more reliable and durable parts by reducing or simplifying assembly.

Lead time

The ability to print on demand, and potentially on site, offers the opportunity to disrupt traditional logistics and cut, or eliminate, lead times. For new and complex items, it can bring certainty to lead times which, for the industry, is often as valuable as speed. For less critical items it can eliminate the cost of warehousing or supplying. At any moment, there is c.$300 million of spare parts in transit on ships around the world. How much of that could be printed on demand at the site of need? 3D printing enables a move from remote to local or nearby manufacturing.

Additive manufacturing is not mature industry, although other sectors are way ahead with regards to its application. Aerospace, tooling, automotive, and medical to name but a few, with some sectors seeing growth of up 30% each year.

Undoubtedly there is the opportunity to build on the significant investment and research in these sectors, and to influence further development to ensure the requirements of the offshore industry are considered.