How Rapid Prototyping and 3D Printing Could Transform the Oil and Gas Industry
- March 29, 2019
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The oil and gas industry plays a crucial role in the advancement of modern society. From travel to power generation and in the construction industry, it is central to the developments we have witnessed in the world. However, while its importance to the evolution of mankind is ever present in everything we do, a quagmire of challenges continues to face the oil and gas industry. Companies have managed to innovate new methods of drilling in a bid to cut costs, but one challenge that they haven’t taken full control of yet is how they deal with complex obsolete machine parts. They must also try to find out easier ways to upgrade their machine operations to match the demands of a rapidly evolving business environment. This is where rapid prototyping and 3D printing come into play.
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Rapid prototyping and 3D printing, also sometimes referred to as additive manufacturing has been one of the most prominent emerging technologies in the last two decades. It has grown from being considered as a mere theoretical concept into a reality, with companies like Stratasys and 3D Systems Corporation benefiting from its growth in the early 2010s. And while things might appear to have cooled off a bit in the last five years or so, the vision remains intact, and this has been confirmed with the entry of giant companies like power giant, General Electric, in the market. The emergence of heavyweights in the industry has inspired disruptive startups to launch their own rapid prototyping services in a bid to capitalizing on the inevitable growth that the industry is expected to witness in the coming years.
So, how will Rapid prototyping and 3D printing help to transform oil and gas companies?
The oil and gas industry requires companies to invest in heavy machinery. These machines are at times connected to a bigger system that companies use to drill, refine and extract petroleum and gas from oil deposits. With time, these machines go through wear and tear while others become effectively obsolete after they are left behind by technological advancements. This means that at some point companies will require to regularly repair and replace most of these machine parts with new ones.
And with the demands and the competitive nature of the oil and gas industry, this means that companies must find the most effective ways to replace these parts. This is why some oil and gas companies like Shell have also been investing in additive manufacturing technologies. With 3D printers and the use of 3D CAD software, companies can design and print most of these parts quicker than using the traditional supply chain to acquire parts. The same technique is also highly being utilized in the electricity generation industry with companies like General Electric, mentioned earlier taking advantage of recent developments to launch a network of partners across the globe.
This concept, when adopted in the supply chain, could help to improve sustainability. Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) could use rapid prototyping to reduce design time. Some analysts have also speculated that in the long run, this technology could be used to offer operators in the oil and gas industry and OEMs more practical solutions for joint design works.
The technology also allows designers and test operators to perform an in-process inspection by applying inspection methods that use infrared and thermal imaging to do data analysis mid-process before the product is complete. This level of flexibility could help oil and gas companies and OEMs to improve production efficiencies by eliminating errors before the final component (part) is completed.
In summary, rapid prototyping and 3D printing are often discounted as concept technologies with no real economic applications. However, as discussed in this article, it is clear that these technologies play a crucial role in the additive manufacturing industry, which is fast becoming a central component of the oil and gas industry. Companies continue to embrace emerging technologies to improved efficiency.
The early adopters of this technology will endure a rough terrain in the initial stages of market-wide adoption, but as they endeavor to become pioneers in their trade, more companies will gain interest, startups will look to explore opportunities somewhere within the supply chain, and this will all work to benefit the industry.