What Kind of Potential Does 3D Printing Hold for Oil, Gas?
Intellectual property considerations are another area of concern, especially for operators, as much of the intellectual property involved in these components belong to third parties.
“There isn’t a single broker in the market – in the same way that iTunes is a broker in the music market – to bring together different companies and put them all under a common intellectual property framework,” Richards noted.
While there are a number of issues, 3D printing has interesting potential for offshore. Lux researchers see greater potential for its use for offshore versus onshore due to the remoteness of offshore from machine shops and skilled labor. One of the long-term holy grails of 3D printing is the ability to make parts on site as needed, instead of having to fly in parts when something breaks, Lux analysts said. In the case of a drilling rig, this would entail having material and printer to make parts. Creating a part through 3D printing can take between six and 24 hours. While this could reduce the lead time for replacing a part on an offshore rig, a drilling rig doesn’t have all of the quality control and inspection tools of a factory.
“In general, anywhere you have complex parts that use expensive materials and are made in small batch sizes, 3D printing could be a solution,” said Schiavo.
In its 2014 report, Accenture touted the ability to manufacture tools onsite at remote locations as a way for oil and gas companies to better manage their supply chain operations. For oilfield service companies, there is an opportunity to sell the digital representations of their tools or a license to print parts – much like a music label sells this right to iTunes, said Richards.
“However, it is not expected to be ‘material’ to oil and gas revenues in the near future, or less than five years. Another area of opportunity for companies is to look at parts that were made by companies now out of business, and use 3D printing to extend the useful life of an asset.
How should oil and gas companies approach 3D printing beyond the prototyping it has done for years? Accenture advised in its 2014 report that companies should begin by building models to become more familiar with the current state of the technologies, as well as creating strategies that target arears of the organization where this technology can provide the most value.
“Close collaboration with field workers will help companies understand which parts could be 3D printed, as well as how it can be applied to maintain and/or replace equipment as it becomes legacy.”
Operators also should begin working with suppliers outside their organizations to see how they plan to use 3D printing in their supply chains in the future.
“In upstream operations, control and visibility over the supply chain will be crucial to making proactive, data-based decisions on where 3D printing technology can be applied most effectively,” said Accenture in the report. “The importance to achieving success may lie in verifying a smooth transition to a digitalized supply chain without compromising existing structures.”
Accenture also is encouraging suppliers and service companies to use 3D printing as part of their portfolio of cost savings measures, said Richards.
“The value won’t be ‘significant’ compared to other levers that are more mature, but it can lay the foundation for greater understanding around the potential use cases and value.”
3D Printing Calls for New Approach in Engineering Drawings
Calnan said that 3D printing is more than just reproducing parts that are already being created in a cost-efficient way. But increasing the number of ways that 3D printing can be used in oil and gas means that old school engineering drawings would need to be translated into modern design, or modifying existing design concepts into designs not envisioned when the parts were designed using standard manufacturing technologies, said Calnan.
Part of the issue also is changing engineers’ mindset of current manufacturing standards and limitations. Calnan cites the example of a group of engineers that he had presented to on the concept of 3D printing. While they found it interesting, the consensus was that it would be impossible to use 3D printing. This is very understandable, as 10 years ago, the main focus of engineering was to know the rules and make sure everything was engineering to meet the standards and make things work well and safely.
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