Northern Italy-based Aidro Hydraulics & 3D Printing is part of a Joint Innovation Programs (JIPs) focused on 3D printing of functional production parts for the Oil, Gas and Maritime industries. Participating companies in the project include giants such as Equinor, BP, Total, Rolls Royce Marine, TechnipFMC, Vallourec. Members include companies specialized in additive manufacturing such as Aidro, SLM Solutions, Additive Industries, Voestalpine, OCAS, Ivaldi Group, Quintus, HIPtec, University of Strathclyde and Siemens.
The adoption of additive manufacturing in the oil and gas segment can generate advantages in areas such as fast delivery of spare parts and stock reduction, fast prototyping, accelerating R&D and introducing new and innovative solutions. SmarTech Analysis just published a new 180-page report on the upcoming business opportunities for AM in the oil and gas segment. The future looks bright.
Aidro contributes to the JIPs with its technical expertise as a valve manufacturer and as a first adopter of metal additive manufacturing. Aidro’s CEO, Valeria Tirelli, established an internal department dedicated to the design and production with laser PBF systems. The technical experience acquired by Aidro in AM, certified AS/EN9100, enables Aidro to be taken as a model to be compared with the requirements of the guidelines. 3D Printing Media Network spoke with Valeria Tirelli to learn how AM is changing the oil and gas segment for the better.
3dpbm: How did you come to be one of the world’s leading experts in hydraulic valve additive manufacturing?
Valeria Tirelli: “Aidro, our family’s company, was founded 40 years ago and operates in the field of hydraulic valves and systems. About 6 years ago we introduced 3D printing technology, or additive manufacturing, and specifically laser powder bed fusion, to create components for special applications. Not just prototypes but also functional parts. Lately, we have been involved in working groups related to the oil and gas world. It is a very rich sector, but also a very conservative one. The oil and gas giants are starting to look around, maybe because they see AM adoption in aeronautic and motorsports and the say to themselves: “‘What do we do?'”
3dpbm: How do you see the oil and gas market as a possible adopter of additive technologies?
VT: “Today there is a great deal of interest from large groups. Many of these were already doing some experimenting with the technology, both in polymers and in metals. Lately, several working groups have been created: one is European – I say “European” because it’s headquartered in Europe, but in reality, it covers companies worldwide – which is managed by DNV GL, one of the most important certification bodies. They are based in Norway, but they cover the oil and gas industry worldwide. There is also the support of Berenschot, a Dutch consultancy company. We also participate in this group and work towards two goals: on the one hand the oil and gas stakeholders that have an interest in understanding the technology and having guidelines to be able to adopt it. The oil and gas is highly dependent on certifications and approvals, so if these are lacking at a regulatory level (a bit like they were lacking even in the aeronautics segment) they rely on these private certifying bodies. The purpose of this group, which started last year and will conclude in early July is issuing these guidelines.
The other purpose of the working group is to develop case studies. We chose interesting components for several participants, and we printed them using SLM and WAAM technologies. Now we are doing all the various tests (of fatigue, traction, and so on) to put together a package of rules that serve to qualify 3D printed parts that can be used in oil and gas plants.”
3dpbm: And the second group?
VT: “While the former is a private group, the other working group that has just been formalized (it will start in May) is connected with API, which is the global association of oil and gas companies. Thanks to the sponsorship of two large oil and gas companies, API has agreed to promote a workgroup that aims to define the minimum requirements for adopting additive manufacturing within the oil and gas industry. So API, like Nadcap in aeronautics, has agreed to create this working group that will issue standards within the next two year and a half.”
3dpbm: What has changed compared to the recent past?
VT: “I would say that today there is much more sensitivity toward AM at the higher industry levels: they have approved the technology, and this is the first step because no large oil and gas company adopts a piece in 3D printing if it is not sure that it has all the certifications. So this is a fundamental aspect.”
3dpbm: In which phase of the oil and gas supply chain will 3D printing be adopted more quickly?
VT: “I would say all the steps. The first case studies that have been taken as examples are parts that have a relatively low criticality. The main reason, however, that these companies look to additive manufacturing is production speed. There is no urgent need to invent new and innovative shapes, lighter or more complex: the most important thing is to have fast spare parts. This is the first goal.”
3dpbm: What are the project’s goals for the long term?
VT: “The idea in the future, but much later down the road, is to have a printer on each platform. In this way the file of a spare part can seamlessly go from the technical office to operators on the platforms. I think that this will take some time, but this is the dream of the largest oil and gas companies. Their goal is to avoid downtimes that can cost millions of euros a day. So the first goal is to have spare parts fast. Then, more long term, there is also a will to find innovative solutions that can solve some technical problems. In fact, in the case study we did for this workgroup we took a part made with traditional manufacturing and we reproduced it almost identical using 3D printing. Clearly it had been optimized for 3D printing, but general shape and dimensions remained largely the same.”
3dpbm: Aidro is investing a lot to develop know-how in 3D printing these parts. Why now?
VT: “We see it as an investment for the future, in the sense that we have been involved in these working groups as technology experts. The largest oil and gas giants do not know always practically understand what it means to use a laser powder bed fusion process, or what its limitations are: our function in these workgroups is to create realistic guidelines. There are also others who are printer manufacturers and who also bring their specific machine experience, as well academic realities who have experience with WAAM technology.”
3dpbm: Have 3D printed valves and manifolds already been produced as final components for oil and gas applications?
VT: “I know that some companies have already printed spare parts with additive manufacturing, but many of these are experiments that have not yet been publicly released. If you look around, there are not yet many manifold manufacturers that use 3D printing. This is also why we offer a consulting service that allows our customers to understand what the real benefits are. Especially when it comes to high volumes, today the technology is not yet ready except for some very small pieces. But thinking of producing 10,000 manifolds by 3D printing is an ambition for the future.
We have printed several demonstration pieces and right now we presented material for the OTC fair in Houston. We were present in the Italian pavilion to bring our 3D printed parts. We are also working on a design for a valve, which has been completely redesigned. At last year’s edition of the show, Italian companies were among the few perhaps who already presented a number of 3D printed applications.”
3dpbm: What are the specific benefits of AM in the production of these components?
VT “AM is not needed or ready for large volumes at the moment. We use it for special series or cases where shape and weight can make significant improvements to performance. Using 3D printing we are also able to improve the flow inside, through new geometric shapes. For example curved canals and the ability to do away with 90° intersections, which are typical of traditional manufacturing. We have found many benefits with 3D printing, including low weight and improved flow. However, since it costs more, we need to find a balance with the applications that justify these costs. AM will not replace traditional production; more than anything else it will create new opportunities. This applies to many sectors in which oleo-hydraulics is a factor: from agricultural machinery to cars, airplanes, industrial plants and chemical plants.”
3dpbm: How does an AM-optimized manifold differ from a traditional one?
VT: “One of the main goals of AM is to reduce a part’s size. Compared to a traditional manifold, we reduce the weight between 50% and 80% and consequently also the dimensions. In some applications not only lightness but also compactness becomes important. A manifold fits inside a system, where there are tubes, cylinders, pumps, and all the various components. Agricultural machines, for example, are increasingly full of components, especially for safety and environmental protection, which increasingly reduces the space for the hydraulic system. With additive, we managed to create a manifold that can be installed exactly in the available space and has connections exactly where they are needed. Even the largest agricultural machines, in some cases, need small components adapted to the shape.”
3dpbm: What steps did you have to take to implement the different mentality needed to think about components in an “additive” way?
“Thanks to our general manager’s foresight, we already had pretty clear ideas about what we wanted to do. We were, therefore, able to pass on these new approaches to our designers and we also recruited new people who had worked with AM in the past. The approach was twofold: to train the people we had and at the same time to introduce new resources. By combining new, fresh resources, which perhaps knew nothing about valves but knew about additive, with people who know more about the world of mechanics, we have built a team of designers, who are involved in designing and are able to think in an ‘additive way’. Not only to print it but also in terms of post-processing, given that even today many constraints are linked to support removal. It is very important, therefore, that the designer goes, physically, every so often, to remove the supports, so as to realize how complex it is.”
*This interview originally appeared on our sister website for the Italian AM industry, Replicatore.it.
**This interview is one of several interviews conducted to produce the latest market report on additive manufacturing in the oil and gas industry, published by SmarTech Analysis. The report is available here.