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

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid