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

Diplomats Work to Extend Israeli-Palestinian Cease-Fire

US Secretary of State John Kerry, diplomats from France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Turkey and Qatar gathered in Paris Saturday to discuss crisis More

Photogallery US Defense Department Warns of Arms to Eastern Ukraine

‘Imminent’ delivery of Russian rocket launcher poses threat to civilians, US says More

Video Researchers: Africa Genetically Modified Crops Held Back by Scaremongering

GM crops offer best hope of increasing productivity and coping with climate change in Africa, according to co-author of Chatham House report More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train in Underwater Labi
X
George Putic
July 25, 2014 7:25 PM
In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid