Yet, as has been experienced in the aerospace and automotive sectors, the technical and economic benefits far outweigh the obstacles. The oil and gas industry’s growing focus on operational efficiency is slowly driving change and a realisation that the barriers are not insurmountable.
Additive layer manufacturing enables designers to create geometries which were previously considered too difficult or costly achieve. It lends itself to consolidation of various parts into a single manufactured component bespoke to requirements. As manufacturing need not be constrained to a central factory, further reaching benefits also include reduced supply chain, manufacturing time and component cost.
Two main technologies can be of particular benefit to the oil and gas industry. Power bed fusion and directed energy deposition which can both use a diverse range of metals in wire and powder form, to be fused together using lasers, electron beams and electric arcs.
As well as enabling the rapid creation of unique, complex and bespoke parts, additive manufacturing is also an effective method of repair and re-manufacture. It can be used to replace parts that are no longer in production, or to modify existing parts for improved performance. Laser metal deposition repair procedures for example, can be used to weld complex oil and gas components or as an alternative to cladding. Though there is a high cost and lead-time associated with this, it can be used to extend life of ageing assets, avoid scrapping and alter design to maximise efficiency and optimise equipment, such as for hydraulic control manifolds and subsea control modules.
Research carried out by the AFRC research has shown that additive manufacturing can, under some circumstances, offer opportunities to improve existing routes of material production or even to replace some of them. However, further research is needed to fully understand the influence of different process parameters on microstructure and properties of the final product.
Stephen Fitzpatrick is a senior manufacturing engineer with the AFRC