After first adopting 3D printing for new design prototyping and tooling, energy giant Shell is now increasingly implementing AM for spare parts, especially in very hard-to-reach areas such as its offshore platforms. Spare parts printing, leveraging metal PBF technologies, enabled Shell 3D Printing to move to a digital supply chain addressing local supply, improve obsolescence management, implement just-in-time inventory and other material supply chain opportunities.
For very large energy companies, managing spare parts is a major logistical challenge. Too few and the facility might need to shut down. While too many produce waste in terms of capital and storage. The challenge is more acute offshore as there is limited storage capacity and the cost of sending spare parts can be huge. The availability and obsolescence of parts are also a challenge, as obtaining a part for a piece of equipment that is no longer made can be impossible.
Several of Shell’s assets are aging and reaching end-of-life. Some major components such as pumps dictate the asset lifetime, as they are so expensive and critical. Without 3D printing, if the compressor is obsolete and it stops working, the whole compressor needs to be replaced because the individual components within it cannot be manufactured. 3D Printing has the potential to radically simplify the supply chains, extending the life span of obsolete equipment by producing parts that are no longer manufactured.
Shell 3D printing has an in-house capability to scan, reverse engineer, optimize, print and post-process parts at Shell Technology Centre in Amsterdam. By 3D printing spare parts, the company can effectively extend the life of its assets. In some cases, this approach can also reduce cost and lead times for parts.
The Shell Technology Centre Amsterdam (STCA) has been awarded a best practice qualification for its powder bed fusion 3D printing facility from independent assessment company Lloyd’s Register (LR). The qualification followed a robust audit which included a full review of Shell’s systems and procedures including personnel competencies, rules and regulation compliance and materials handling throughout the build process. Proof of additive manufacturing process and quality control excellence, it shows that the facility has demonstrated best practice in 3D printing capability.
Following certification, Shell is developed a pressure vessel using 3D printing which, once complete, looks set to be an unprecedented global first. “We see huge potential in using digital manufacturing to create innovative solutions for the markets we operate in,” said Andreas Nowak, Site Manager at Shell’s Technology Centre in Amsterdam. “This qualification demonstrates that our 3D printing facilities are among the best in the field and we are now looking at ways in which we can use this technology to create components and other assets for Shell.”
To date, Shell’s engineers have also manufactured numerous parts such as impellers which are already operational in the company’s assets. The team is developing a database of digital passports to confirm the suitability of 3D printed spare part designs. This will enable technically assured, certified, on-demand printing of spare parts and further the goal of reducing stock and waste in the supply chain.