Shell accelerates its 3D printing business for offshore spare parts
Oil and gas giant Royal Dutch Shell has used 3D printing for design prototyping and tooling for some time, and is now turning to additive manufacturing of aftermarket parts.
Using metal powder bed fusion (PBF) technologies, the company 3D prints spare parts for hard-to-reach areas such as its offshore platforms. The move to a digital supply chain will allow Shell to address issues related to local sourcing, obsolescence and just-in-time inventory implementation.
Shell’s global AM projects
Shell began 3D printing operations in 2011 with an in-house metal laser PBF system to produce custom lab test devices at its Technology Center Amsterdam (STCA). The firm now has more than 15 3D printers in its centers in Amsterdam and Bangalore.
In August last year, Shell announced a four-year pilot project at its Singapore refinery to test digital twin technology. Planned to increase productivity while improving reliability and safety, the system is expected to be fully implemented in 2024 and will serve as a complete virtual representation of the refinery and its processes, with 3D models for easy visualization.
Over the past year, Shell has increased its reliance on 3D printing and digital parts management, having embarked on several recent global additive manufacturing projects in the energy sector. The company used 3D printing to achieve significant cost reductions in its offshore operations around Nigeria, by repairing a small, conventionally manufactured polymer seal cover on a large mooring buoy. The part was scanned to produce a digital model that was sent to a 3D printing service provider and delivered in just two weeks, reducing manufacturing costs by 90%.
Shell has also partnered with energy company Baker Hughes to 3D print spare parts at its Pernis refinery in the Netherlands. Baker Hughes 3D printed a set of impellers for a critical seven-stage centrifugal pump that could pave the way for delivery time reductions of around 75%. Using 3D printing to produce the components on demand would mean that Shell would not have to physically store any of the components produced.
Production of offshore spare parts
Managing spare parts is a major logistical challenge for large energy companies like Shell, which must balance producing too few parts and risking supply shortages, or manufacturing too many and not having enough physical space to store them, resulting in waste. In addition, some Shell assets are reaching the end of their life due to major components that have become obsolete and are no longer manufactured.
To meet these challenges, Shell is using its in-house 3D printing capabilities to digitize and reverse engineer some of these components at STCA to extend the life of its assets and reduce costs and parts delivery times.
In 2019, STCA obtained a best practice qualification for its PBF 3D printing facility from independent valuation company Lloyd’s Register. Qualification results from an audit of Shell’s systems and procedures, including personnel skills, compliance with rules and regulations, and material handling.
Following certification, Shell is currently developing a pressure vessel using 3D printing which, when completed, would be a world first. The company is compiling a digital passport database to confirm the suitability of 3D printed spare part designs, which will allow Shell to produce technically guaranteed, certified and additively manufactured spare parts on demand.
By using 3D printing, Shell will pursue its goal of reducing physical inventory and waste in its supply chain, and will also reduce costs and parts delivery times.
3D printing spare parts
Providing on-demand 3D printing as a service could strengthen supply chain resilience in the future, with digital spare parts inventories helping to reduce the need for large-scale parts storage, and hence warehousing and logistics costs. Like Shell, several other companies in heavy industry sectors are turning to 3D printing and digital parts storage for their spare parts needs.
In April 2020, the Indian Navy partnered with the think3D 3D printing service office to help produce on-demand spare parts using additive manufacturing, for both on and off-shore scenarios. Later in the year, Brazilian petrochemical company Braskem adopted the DigiPart program from French 3D software startup Spare Parts 3D (SP3D) to help it optimize its inventory supply chain.
Elsewhere in Singapore’s maritime sector, digital parts storage specialist Ivaldi Group recently assumed the role of project manager in a Phase II Joint Industry Program (JIP) to advance 3D part printing. spare. The JIP aims to achieve these goals, bringing together 14 key industry players to 3D print, certify and install end-use parts on board ships in the region. Meanwhile, German engineering conglomerate thyssenkrupp has officially entered into a joint venture with Wilhelmsen Ships Services, one of the world’s largest shipping service providers, to provide 3D printed marine spare parts.
More recently, the German automotive multinational Daimler AG and its service brand Omniplus created a mobile 3D printing center for the decentralized production of spare parts. The container is equipped with an industrial 3D printer allowing Daimler to produce series production quality parts in-house.
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Featured Image Shows the 3D printing laboratory of the Shell Technology Center Amsterdam (STCA). Photo via Shell.