News / Science & Technology

Oil Industry Joins World of 3D Printing

FILE - A staff member of Nihonbinary demonstrates their 3D printer MakerBot Replicator 2X as it prints an Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene pylon during the International Robot Exhibition 2013 in Tokyo, Nov. 8, 2013.
FILE - A staff member of Nihonbinary demonstrates their 3D printer MakerBot Replicator 2X as it prints an Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene pylon during the International Robot Exhibition 2013 in Tokyo, Nov. 8, 2013.
Reuters
General Electric's oil and gas division will start pilot production of 3D printed metal fuel nozzles for its gas turbines in the second half of this year, a major step towards using the technology for mass-manufactured parts in the industry.

Full production of the printed fuel nozzles is expected in 2015, Eric Gebhardt, chief technology officer at GE Oil & Gas, told Reuters.

The move follows hot on the heels of GE Aviation, which said last year it would use 3D printing to produce fuel nozzles for its LEAP jet engine, a high profile decision that for many sealed the commerciality of the technique.

Oil services firm Halliburton has also used 3D printing to produce parts used in drilling although not on such a large scale.

Forms of advanced manufacturing are increasingly vital in the oil and gas sector as companies move into extreme environments such as ultra deep-water or the Arctic.

3D printing allows complex shapes to be built up in layers from particles of plastics or metal, enabling engineers to realize designs impossible to mass-manufacture before.

GE Oil and Gas, one of GE's fastest growing divisions, is investing $100 million over the next two years on technology development with a “significant portion” going on 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing. The division has installed dozens of plastic and metal 3D printers across its businesses.

Fuel nozzles, which feeds combustion in a gas turbine, are currently made by welding together a number of sub-components, a process hugely simplified by printing it in one piece.

The other piece of kit that GE Oil and Gas is looking to produce using 3D printers is electric submersible pumps used to artificially bring oil to the surface.

“Most of these are about four or five inches in diameter and then about an inch or two in height. It's the right size to put into some of the additive manufacturing,” Gebhardt said.

Rapid prototyping

The technology is still mainly used for prototyping, but even in this seemingly basic use, improvements can be dramatic.

At GE's pipeline inspection plant in Newcastle, where monitoring robots known as pigs are assembled, the design loop which once took 12 weeks is now done in 12 hours thanks to an on-site 3D printer the size of a hotel minibar fridge.

Pigs are custom designed to deal with the particular pipeline, whether it be hundreds of meters under the sea or full of corrosive sour gas.

Trial parts can now be printed on location, in plastic, to see whether they fit and work properly. Only then is the part ordered, paid for and delivered in the final material.

For senior engineer Dave Bell the printer is one of the biggest shifts he has seen in his 30 years at the site.

“It's a game changer,” he said. “Engineering is all about compromise and this allows you to trial concepts quickly and cheaply.”

But challenges remain, predominantly around the size that can be printed and the surface finish produced.

“Now we're going to have to see how large they can get over time,” Gebhardt said. “Will it follow Moore's law where it is going to double in size every 18 months? That's kind of what we're seeing right now. But when is it going to reach a natural inflection point? That's something we have to work through.”

For Richard Hague, a professor at Nottingham University and an expert in additive manufacturing, the size of much of the equipment used in the oil and gas industry is simply too big.

“It's cost effective if it's small and complicated, but when it's large and complicated it's much less effective,” he said.

You May Like

Multimedia US Nurse ‘Cured of Ebola,’ NIH Says

Nina Pham, Texas nurse who treated first Ebola patient in US, received no experimental drugs; WHO expects vaccine surge in 2015 More

Video Islamic State Militants Encroach on Baghdad

Iraqi capital not under ‘imminent threat,’ US military says, amid worries about foothold More

Video Hong Kong Protesters Focus on Holding Volatile Mong Kok

Activists say holding Mong Kok is key to their movement's success, despite confrontations with angry residents and police More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid