Industry News | 3D Printing in Oil & Gas Industry – Advantages & Challenges

Date: 2019-01-02
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Additive manufacturing or 3D printing is now increasingly used in automotive, aerospace and tooling industries. As the acceptance deepens, we are also seeing a steady penetration into the oil & gas industry. 3D printing in the oil & gas industry is estimated by some reports to reach $1.5 billion by 2025.

3D Printing in Oil & Gas Industry – A Transformative Revolution

3D Printing has heralded a transformative revolution in many of the application across various sectors. The main reason for its growth is its ability to accelerate the pace of new product development. It also has the capability to produce – previously impossible – complex shapes & rapid on-demand manufacturability.

Accelerating the pace of New Product Development

Industry News | 3D Printing in Oil & Gas Industry – Advantages & Challenges
Above: Siemens’s 3D printed gas turbine blades/Image Credit: Siemens

This is one of the key advantages of 3D printing which makes it one of the most sought-after manufacturing technologies today. Experts believe that by using 3D printing in the oil & gas industry, the oil & gas extraction will be more efficient, quick & costs effective. This will naturally impact every aspect of the economy of any country.

Speaking on the impact of 3D printing in the Oil industry, David Eyton, British Petroleum Head of Technology, in an interview to The Telegraph – the media group, said, “3D printers are fantastic for making quite bespoke devices. The internals of our reactors is really quite bespoke. We can make anything now. The components can be produced quickly on site or nearby as and when required, helping reduce waiting times when equipment is obsolete until replacement parts can be sourced from a manufacturer.”

Capability to Produce Complex Shapes

The oil & gas industry has stringent norms for environmental safety. This drives the companies to constantly innovate on their product designs which are more efficient, cost-effective and at the same time be environmentally safe. All these parameters are difficult to achieve but additive manufacturing can strike a perfect balance.

3D printing has the capability to produce complex shapes with ease. It can also reverse engineer and turn a complex assembly involving multiple parts into a single assembled product, thereby reducing the assembly time at the site.

So, instead of assembling multiple parts by bolting, welding, etc., all these joints can be combined and built into a single product. This improves the overall efficiency of the system.

According to Jenny Nilsson, Siemens’ manager of design for AM, “One of the biggest advantages of using 3D printing is that we’re able to come up with more complex geometries, meaning that we can be more innovative and build efficiencies into our designs and products. For example, the printed blades can be designed in a way that helps to reduce metal temperatures more quickly and therefore means that they can be less expensive to operate.”

Rapid On-Demand Manufacturability

Industry News | 3D Printing in Oil & Gas Industry – Advantages & Challenges
Above: GE Oil & Gas uses 3D printing in its nozzle production line/Image Credit: GE Additive

Rapid on-demand manufacturability can shorten the development cycle of oil and gas components. This also helps in engaging in multiple design iterations, testing them and finalizing the most suitable ones.

Rapid on-demand manufacturability also helps in case of replacement parts. Many of the components are low-volume products and are made-to-order. Such pats are relatively expensive to manufacture. Moreover, the spare part stock of such products is even costlier to maintain as the threat of obsolescence always looms large over it. 3D printing is the perfect answer to all these problems of the oil & gas industry.

Advantages of 3D Printing in Oil & Gas Industry

3D printing brings certain advantages to the oil & gas industry. These benefits will drive the future of the industry.

Reduced costs

With constant pressure to reduce oil prices, oil & gas companies are influencing component manufacturers to reduce their manufacturing costs and shorten the lead times. With this backdrop, manufacturers are turning to additive manufacturing to help them ride the tide. Unlike traditional manufacturing technology, where excess material is cut away to waste, AM is reducing the waste generation, and building the products from scratch.

Efficient Designs

Industry News | 3D Printing in Oil & Gas Industry – Advantages & Challenges
Above: GE engineers 3D-printed a new fuel nozzle (top) that allowed them to push up the efficiency of a GE HA-class gas turbine to 64 percent this fall/Image credit: GE Power

Since AM has the capability to create complex shapes with relative ease, manufacturers are now looking for turbine design innovations. These new designs are not only cheaper to produce but are also efficient in terms of performance.

As more and more manufacturer embrace the 3D printing technology, the components will be designed for additive manufacturing building the overall efficiency of the system.

Better Inventory Management

According to John Bolto, a senior adviser at Advisian – consulting arm of Australia’s engineering giant, WorleyParsons, “The reduced build cost isn’t the only driver. With the ability to produce much-needed parts in a shorter time, it will be possible that they could be printed on demand. For ageing assets with obsolete parts, operators would be able to quickly and easily buy replacements to their desired specifications.”

He adds, “Physical inventory will become virtual inventory, as companies can opt to print parts as and when needed, instead of keeping stock. As a result, warehouses will get leaner, inventory management will be optimised and costs reduced.


The bright advantages of the 3D printing technology will only be achieved if the companies are able to solve the numerous challenges 3D printing faces.

Part Identification

It is important to understand which parts will genuinely result in benefit to the organisation and which won’t. Blindly manufacturing all parts by 3D printing will result in a collapse of the production process. So, the selective identification, production, and its benefits analysis are crucial to successful incorporation of the 3D printing technology.

Legal & Regulatory Concerns

It will be difficult to transfer the stringent performance and safety standards, currently set as per the traditional manufacturing technologies, to 3D printing technologies. This transition will be difficult and may create friction.

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)

From the beginning, 3D printing is facing a strong challenge of IPR. This challenge is also faced by sectors like automotive and aerospace. But a universal solution is still not achieved. This challenge will also be faced by the oil & gas industry.

Access to specialist knowledge

Being a new technology undergoing rapid research & development cycle, the scenario is turning a new page every single day. This creates an entry barrier to companies who may not find the ideal knowledge partner to help them incorporate the technology into their manufacturing fold.  

As John Bolto puts it, “Access to specialist knowledge will enable manufacturers to accelerate their design processes and the creation and delivery of 3D printed parts, including valves and pump casings.”

Moving Forward

According to David Eyton, “In future, pipes and other components for the offshore oil industry could be 3D printed on offshore platforms. The components can be produced quickly on site or nearby as and when required, helping reduce waiting times when equipment is obsolete until replacement parts can be sourced from a manufacturer.”

He added, “It could be transformational for product supply chains if you can make it where you need it.”

As the world focuses on sustainable development, 3D printing will gain further importance. The companies will embrace the technology with open arms resulting in better operational efficiencies. This will be the sole way to transform the industry and the world.


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