The relative lack of prior experience with additive manufacturing makes trust a key to winning acceptance for parts made this way, Cohn continued: “Additive manufacturing can grow more quickly in sectors including oil and gas if there is trust in the technology, materials, processes, and in the manufacturing companies themselves. Assurance through certification and audits of additive manufacturing can comply with the general demands of the oil and gas industry to create trust.”
While additive manufacturing has been around many years through small desktop printers in laboratories and artisan workshops, it is still ‘emerging’ in its industrialized 3D-printing form. Relative lack of clear rules to guide design or define quality for this market mean some purchasers seek the cheapest additive manufacturing options and end up with bad quality, Cohn added: “It is important to select an additive manufacturing partner who also has process and quality under control.”
Certifying additive manufacturing for the oil and gas sector
Protolabs EMEA has selected DNV to set up a Qualification of Manufacturer certification scheme for a Protolabs production facility. For additive manufacturing with metals, Protolabs uses printer technology called direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) that can address the entire industrial metal market and scale readily to meet market developments.
The certification scheme includes Build Process Qualification for Inconel 718, a metal feedstock material. The makers of Inconel 718 describe it as a high-strength, corrosion-resistant nickel chromium that hardens with age and can be readily fabricated, even into complex parts, and used within extreme cold and hot temperature limits.
Cohn explained: “The oil and gas sector is interested in high-temperature, high-durability, anti-corrosion materials. We naturally see possibilities for Inconel 718 and, in a less extreme temperature range, for Stainless Steel 316L, which we also have. We also think there could be possibilities in oil and gas for additive manufacturing with functional polymers in applications where conditions are not so extreme, and we are also set up for this.”
He expects early uses in the oil and gas industry to include additive manufacturing of spare parts where the original moulding casts no longer exist: “I think the sector will also look more into designs specifically for additive manufacturing solutions to increase efficiency and create more robust designs for parts such as pumps and valves.”
A metal powder bed being prepared for printing parts (Photo: Protolabs)
Protolabs’ work on certification with DNV began in autumn 2020 and is projected to complete by early in the second quarter of 2021. As a basis for the scheme, Protolabs already had in place a number of certifications, such as ISO 13485 certification for metal additive manufacturing.
“ISO 13485, as a rigorous quality management system that requires us to consistently meet customer and regulatory requirements, mirrors the quality commitment we will have to the oil and gas sector,” Cohn commented. “But it is very important to us that we are going through this process with DNV, which is well-known and has a high and positive reputation in the oil and gas industry. Working with DNV means the oil and gas industry will know that certification did not come easily, that it will withstand deeper scrutiny, and that we are well prepared to support the industry with our technologies.”
Additive manufacturing for efficiency and decarbonization
With the right certification in place, the potential benefits of additive manufacturing for an oil and gas industry focusing on cost efficiency and decarbonization should almost speak for themselves, Cohn believes. “Additive manufacturing is the key to gaining efficiencies at different levels to positively influence the carbon footprint of our society. It offers potential to design and make entire parts in one process rather than creating elements that then have to be assembled together,” he said.
This can improve the resilience, durability, functionality and compactness of parts, he added: ”If these benefits are combined with world-leading quality and fast lead times, there can be supply-chain and energy-use benefits.”
Building up products layer by layer is far less wasteful of resources than removing material from a large block of metal or plastic. A lot of energy and effort goes into milling away maybe 90% of the block to get the final part.
“Once the trust is in place, I think the benefits could see oil and gas supply chain interest in additive manufacturing grow quite quickly,” said Cohn.
Parts made from Inconel 718 metal powder ready for finishing (Photo: Protolabs)
Lessons learned in the fight against COVID-19
As a mark of confidence in the future, Protolabs is continuing to invest to react quickly and scale up if needed to meet demand from industries including oil and gas. It is increasing production capacity and capabilities across Europe, including building a new 5,000 square metre additive manufacturing facility near Munich, Germany, due for completion summer 2021. Its investment in more advanced 3D-printers includes the recent purchase of GE’s Additive Concept Laser X Line 2000R and Concept Laser M2 machines. These allow Protolabs’ customers to order larger and more complex 3D-printed parts.
The company says it can usually deliver ordered parts in 24 to, at most, 48 hours from its major sites across Europe and in the US. The agility of its additive manufacturing capability was illustrated when Protolabs rapidly switched some capacity to making personal protective equipment (PPE) and breathing ventilators in the fight against COVID-19 in 2020. “It was the right thing to do but also created wider awareness of what our industry is capable of,” said Cohn.
This showed that additive manufacturing is mature enough to produce functional end-use parts and can be adapted extremely rapidly to changes in demand and the industrial environment – faster than any other technology, Cohn concluded. “The PPE and ventilators story in the pandemic has also proved that an additive manufacturing provider needs to have its processes under control and be able to constantly and repeatedly deliver high-quality parts in the shortest possible lead time. Certification helps assure customers that they can expect those qualities from a manufacturer.”References:1.
‘BP identifies ‘transformational’ potential of 3D printing in oil & gas’, T Vialva, 3dprintingindustry.com [online], 02 January 2019
‘3D printing: A series of first for the oil industry', D Hurst, Total, viewed at www.ep.total.com