Not long ago, 3D printing, sometimes referred to as additive manufacturing (AM), was solely relegated to being used for rapid prototyping in the design phases of a product. However, as AM has evolved from using polymers to metal-based materials with greater durability and higher tensile strength, it is increasingly being deployed to print parts for production applications.
Particularly in the process industries, such as oil and gas, this has been beneficial for several reasons. First of all, because the materials being moved are of high value, even a moderate amount of unplanned downtime could result in large revenue losses. Moreover, with obtaining spare parts sometimes involving lengthy procurement processes, oil and gas companies often stock high levels of inventory to be able to respond to maintenance needs quickly. That’s why 3D printing of spare parts can help companies surmount both of these issues by offering on-demand access to whatever replacement components they may need while also reducing physical safety stocks.
|Watch this video on 3D printing for production applications.|
Over the last few years, flow control company Neles has been helping the process industries put this idea into practice. Neles has been testing the suitability of 3D printing technologies that use metal components for many years, and provided the first valves with non-pressure retaining, 3D-printed metal components in 2018. More recently, the company has expanded its offerings to include the manufacture of 3D-printed pressure-retaining valve bodies for real-world field testing.
This is a significant advance because valve bodies are subject to stringent regulatory conditions that govern their material requirements due to the high amount of pressure they are placed under during operation.
“The valve body is a pressure-retaining component and thus its material properties need to be well known. However, industry standards for 3D printed materials are under development. It has been necessary to test the valve body material extensively, and, for example, the tensile strength and impact resistance to make sure it is safe and reliable in the process,” said Jukka Borgman, director of technology development at Neles. “3D printing can help us to optimize valves for customer-specific needs in various applications and with all valve types. These tests will also provide valuable information for our product development teams, as they are constantly looking for new ways to improve reliability, performance, and material efficiency.”
Currently, one of Neles’ customers has initiated field testing with the company’s 3D printed valve bodies. Following installation, observations will be made regarding how the material performs over time to gain insight into the feasibility of 3D printing other components for field applications in the future. Neles expects that the information from the field tests will allow the company to achieve quicker delivery times, more efficient use of materials, and improved performance for future product releases.