During the company’s annual meeting – AM2020 – which was held this week within a very large dedicated space inside Florence’s Leopolda Station, energy giant Baker Hughes extensively discussed and showed new technological solutions that will enable to company to meet its decarbonization goals by 2030. It may seem almost paradoxical for an oil and gas giant to promise clean and sustainable energy however the exact opposite is true. Baker Hughes, with its partners and senior management teams, are entirely focused on identifying real solutions for clean energy, not the impossible promise of doing away with fossil fuels at once, but a clear strategy toward a sustainable energy mix, which includes all renewables and is enabled by technology. Clean energy does not just mean cleaner energy sources but also a more efficient and streamlined production of energy generating systems – across the entire system manufacturing, energy generation and energy distribution supply chains. And you guessed it: additive manufacturing is at the core of this strategy.
Baker Hughes – which is no longer BHGE since October 2019 – has been leading not just the energy segment but the entire industry in terms of implementing additive manufacturing in production. Today the company is showing off some of the most advanced AM workflows across any vertical, all the way from part production and optimization to part testing and certification – all integrated into a complete, end-to-end, AI-driven workflow.
For 3dpbm it was a great honor to be the only leading additive manufacturing industry media invited to participate in this event. We had the opportunity to speak directly with some of the top management involved in advancing AM production globally at Baker Hughes – through the company’s various AM facilities around the world – and visit the enormous Nuovo Pignone facility in Florence, where BH is conducting many of its R&D activities for AM (which are shared with the AM production facilities in Northern Italy, Texas and Germany).
We found a refreshing enthusiasm and a clear vision of what AM can bring to the energy industry. This enthusiasm is not uncommon among large firms that have begun to realize the promise of AM and it is now becoming less uncommon in the energy industry as well. In this segment Baker Hughes has been pioneering some impressive applications: the company now has over 450 AM parts in production and over 25,000 parts 3D printed to date. This rate of adoption is comparable and even superior to many leading aerospace AM users.
Beyond drills and turbines
The best-known current applications for additive manufacturing in the oil & gas segment are for downhole (upstream) applications, such as drill bits, and for in-land power generation applications, such as gas turbine components (nozzles, injectors). BH showed off both of these types parts, which are already in production: a custom drill bit produced by adding metal using a DED process to a casted core, and a set of nozzles and inserts for its aeroderivative turbines, produced using metal PBF technologies. In general Baker Hughes leverages DMG Mori’s Lasertec 65 system for DED and a set of different metal PBF technologies which have included EOS, SLM Solutions and, recently added, Renishaw (RenAM 500) systems.
The turbine parts are unique in that they need to withstand incredibly high temperatures which are above the requirements of any commercially available metal PBF powders. BH developed its own high-temperature nickel superalloy to produce them and then adapted the process to this non-weldable alloy.
The company has been conducting some very interesting research on upcoming or existing advanced parts. These include copper PBF printed heat exchangers and – especially – subassemblies. One particular component – an integral fuel burner for the NovaTL16 turbine already in production (shown in the image above, top right) – showed how five cast parts could be turned into a single, much more efficient and durable, part. BH is also exploring multi-material subassemblies via DED.
“We have been looking at real solutions with additive manufacturing for several years now,” Scott Parent, Vice President Engineering and Technology told us at AM2020. Mr. Parent is in charge of coordinating all the different facilities working with AM within Baker Hughes. These include the Baker Hughes Additive Center of Excellence in Florence and the TPS (Turbomachinery & Process Solutions) production facility in Talamona (Northern Italy), as well as drills and downhole tools production facility in Germany and the Baker Hughes headquarters in Houston, TX. “We’ve produced more than 25,000 additive parts and qualified more than 450 individual parts,” he revealed. “It’s growing at a very fast pace and in 2019 we qualified as many parts in a year as we did in all the previous years we’ve been working on it.”
Another very interesting application case showed how a ring, used in the downhole device in the picture below, had to be 3D printed in order to be able to accommodate the expanding rubber ring under high pressure. The unique geometry of the ring (shown below in the front of the image on the bottom right) could only be produced by AM in order to ensure higher performance.
Generating better energy
During the conference, we also had the opportunity to attend a round table with Richard Ward, Vice President Strategy and Solutions, who showed genuine enthusiasm and a deep understanding for how AM can truly help the company achieve decarbonization. The key benefits he highlighted are those weight reduction through AI-generated part geometry optimization.
In the company’s view, additive manufacturing greatly reduces materials waste and cuts shipping distances, improving the overall efficiency of the production and supply-chain process. The parts themselves are lighter and many are already out-performing their subtractive-manufacturing ancestors. “Additive design has the possibility to create parts that could not be made nor even thought of in the past,” Mr. Ward stated during our meeting. “The design boundaries have been enlarged in a very significant way, so that product developers can do things that were not possible to be done in the past. And additive allows innovation in a very different time frame to traditional manufacturing processes.”
Better parts are achieved through design and Baker Hughes is now partnering with generative CAD and CAE software leaders such as Ansys and Autodesk in order to leverage its experience and integrate the massive amount of data collected into new generative design capabilities. However, better parts are also achieved through workflow optimization, and this is where Baker Hughes’ latest venture, Waygate Technologies, comes in.
CT scanning as an enabler of AM production
Waygate Technologies just introduced its new Phoenix Speedscan HD, which is expected to become available in April 2020, specifically with additive manufacturing in mind. This advanced, highly automated (see the video) CT scanning system is used for highly accurate NDT of intricate AM parts. The system is able to find ad recognize the tiniest imperfections and holes. Its software interfaces with the overall MES in order to tell the 3D printer to make temperature variations where needed. The amount of data collected is staggering and Baker Hughes is using powerful supercomputers to manage it all. And this is just the beginning. The company is working on high-energy CT scanners that can see inside parts that are up to 2 meters in height by two meters in diameter. No automated AM factory of tomorrow will be able to exist without automated inspection and NDT testing. Waygate’s systems are now becoming so fast that a single one can manage demand from multiple additive manufacturing machines.
Inside Baker Hughes Additive Center of Excellence
During a quick break from the intense two days of conferences, 3dpbm and Reuters had the opportunity to visit the place where Baker Hughes has been conducting some of the most advanced R&D on AM for part production since 2012. Giulio Ardini, Manufacturing Leader Turbomachinery & Process Solutions took us around the facility, where a number of EOS systems and a new Renishaw RenAM 500Q 4 laser system develop the internal guidelines to mass-produce AM parts. While the company is clearly focused on metal and developing advanced alloys for high-temperature resistance, some research is also underway on 3D printing of composites for metal replacement activities. A large Argo 500 system from Roboze is now working on this and Mr. Ardini told us that some applications look promising.
The road to cleaner energy
While AM was definitely the core of the event for 3dpbm, for Baker Hughes this event is about a broad range of technologies. The company is very much focusing on AI to streamline all processes and launched BHC3 Production OptimizationTM, an AI-based application that allows well operators to view real-time production data, better project future production, and help optimize operations for improved oil and gas production rates. It’s the latest addition to the growing portfolio of BHC3 artificial intelligence applications.
However, the event was also first and foremost an opportunity for Baker Hughes’ senior management and global energy market stakeholders, including both governments and private entities, to come together and discuss solutions to the issue of decarbonization. A fossil-fuel-free world is unfeasible, and overexploiting sustainable energy risks creating the same issues. Streamlining energy production, using less energy to produce and distribute energy, and achieving a balanced, optimized energy mix, which also includes natural gas and hydrogen, is likely to be the only way forward. And, fortunately for us, AM can play a big role in making it happen.