British multinational oil and gas company BP has confirmed it is using 3D printing to manufacture components for its petrochemicals business. The company previously began integrating additive manufacturing to produce parts within its chemicals division, including agitators used inside catalytic reactors.
According to recent comments from David Eyton, BP’s head of technology, “3D printers are fantastic for making quite bespoke devices.”
“It could be transformational for product supply chains [as] you can make it where you need it.”
BP and 3D printing
BP is said to invest approximately $400 million a year on research and development and commercial pilots and trials of new technology. As one of the world’s seven largest oil and gas publicly traded companies, commonly known as “supermajors” it invests a further $200 million annually in energy-based innovation through its in-house fund BP Ventures.
Using additive manufacturing, BP is aiming to create pipes and additional components for offshore platforms. The company is also exploring other industry 4.0 technologies as well as 3D printing, such as drones for routine inspections of pipelines in Alaska and “crawlers” – robotic devices used to monitor corrosion in pipes and risers.
According to Eyton, who has overseen BP’s global technology operation for a decade, the company’s use of Big Data has increased its oil production from the UK North Sea to Alaska and Indonesia. Eyton added:
“The potential here is massive. You learn how to do things better.”
Additive manufacturing and the oil & gas industry
Focusing on specific parts that could benefit from the process, Eyton explains, “Making pieces of metal pipe [today] you have to very accurately measure what you need,”
“You have to wait for somebody on land to make up the piece of pipe and then ship it out and install it. It would be really cool if you could print it in situ. It would save an awful lot of trouble […] there are some things we would love to do but the devices are not there yet.”
As an example electron beam manufacturing (EBM)has been previously used to make components for oil and gas pipelines. Nanfang Additive Manufacturing Technology Co. previously 3D printed a prototype pressure vessel cylinder for an offshore project with the China Nuclear Power Research Institute.
In 2018, global quality assurance and risk management company DNV GL notably published its first classification guideline for additive manufacturing in the maritime and oil & gas industries.