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

    Self-doubt, Cultural Barriers Hinder Cambodian Women in Tech

    Longtime Cambodian tech observer Sok Sikieng says that although more women have joined profession in recent years, there remain significant factors hindering women from reaching tech potential

    Trans-Adriatic Pipeline to Boost European Energy Security

    $4.5 billion-pipeline will become operational in 2020 and will deliver gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field to southern Italy

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Annual festival showcases the region's harvested agriculture, fine wines and offers opportunities to experience the gentle breeze in a hot air balloon flight

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora