3D Printing improves efficiency for oil and gas companies
Industrial 3D printer
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Lately, oil prices have been falling.
This brings joy to consumers, but means less revenue for the oil and gas industry. Oil and gas companies have been looking for ways to cut costs in preparation for what Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden calls “lower forever” oil prices. Each company has different ways of accomplishing this, but several (including Shell) have turned to 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing.
They can do this thanks in part to the federal Research and Development Tax Credit.
In late 2015, President Obama signed the bill into permanence, which allows companies a credit of up to 13 percent of what they spend on research and development of their products and processes. Companies can receive this credit as long as the research is 1) toward a new or improved product, process, or software, 2) it’s technological in nature, 3) the research and development eliminates uncertainty, or 4) the spending is for the process of experimentation.
Though it seems to have come to light very recently, 3D printing is a technology that began in Japan in 1981. Today, it’s used to build everything from plastic components in toys to entire houses. Large oil and gas related companies such as Siemens have taken part; the Germany-based company has developed new gas turbine blades using 3D printing. Among many things, 3D printing helps Siemens build prototypes and test modifications quickly, and with less cost than more traditional methods.
General Electric Oil and Gas has been dipping their toes into 3D printing as well. As a whole, GE is using 3D printing rather extensively, going so far as to build a lab in Florence, Italy dedicated to advancing 3D printing technology. Through 3D printing, GE was able to develop a process that it calls a “Fastworks approach,” which speeds up the time new products take to meet the market. Thanks to the Fastworks approach, GE has been able to develop prototypes very quickly for components in its new NovaLT16 gas turbine. 3D printing has been able to reduce the prototyping timeframe for some parts from 12 weeks to 12 hours.
GE is also preparing to unveil what it calls the world’s largest metal 3D printer. Its design lends itself to the aerospace sector, but it will have applications in other industries such as the oil and gas industry. GE has an Aviation division, and is a major supplier of airplane components, including engines.
Shell believes that 3D printing will eliminate the need to cut products out of blocks of material, which is costly and creates waste.
Building them up in layers instead using 3D printing is a cleaner and more efficient method, and reduces maintenance costs and procedures. The Netherlands-based company, like General Electric, discovered the timesaving benefits of the technology as well, creating a finalized product in 60 hours rather than weeks.
In a time when the oil and gas industry is somewhat reeling from the low cost of oil, 3D printing technology is encouraging not only to cut costs, but to work more efficiently. The benefits of 3D printing extend to many different industries, and it’s likely that even more benefits for the oil and gas industry are still to be discovered.
- Header Photo Attribution:Mike Mozart via flickr
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