Applications of 3D printing

Spare Parts Printing

Engineer inspecting 3d print

Spare Parts Printing supports Shell in moving to a digital supply chain addressing local supply, obsolescence, just-in-time inventory and other material supply chain opportunities. Managing spare parts is a major logistical challenge. Too few and your facility might need to shut down. Too many is wasteful 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 is also a challenge. How do you get a part for piece of equipment that is no longer made?

Several of our 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 Without 3D printing, if the compressor is obsolete and it stops working, the whole compressor needs to be replaced because the individual components within it cannot be manufactured. 3D Printing has the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 with the potential to extend life span of obsolete equipment as we can produce parts not manufactured anymore.

Shell 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, we can effectively extend the l​ife of our assets. In some cases, we can also reduce cost and lead times for parts.

We have manufactured numerous parts such as impellers which are operational in our assets. We are 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. 

Novel design

Engineer inspecting 3d print

Novel design studies aim to make components that function more effectively, with improved performance. This practice is well-established in industries such as aerospace, where aircraft parts are 3D printed to make them lighter while retaining the strength characteristics of conventionally manufactured parts. 3D printing can also be used to create parts impossible to manufacture using traditional techniques such as casting and forging combined with conventional machining techniques.

Similarly, Shell also manufactures novel designs with 3D printing. Multiple novel designs have been printed to support various research projects.

Rapid prototyping

Engineers inspecting 3d printed model

We use 3D printing for rapid prototyping of engineering designs. This enables us to test components on a small-scale in materials such as plastic before developing them on an industrial scale. For example, working on the Stones deep-water project in the US Gulf of Mexico, the project team were able to save several months as they developed a mooring system for a floating production, storage and offloading vessel.

At the Coulomb field, 3D printing was used to validate the design of structures on the seabed floor. The Coulomb field is 80 kilometres off the coast in the Gulf of Mexico and one of Shell's deepest subsea projects. At more than 7,000 feet below sea level, the project requires laying a foundation called a mud-mat. The mud-mat design featured hinged "wings" that could be folded up when being transported and, once on the seabed, could open up to reveal the mud-mat's full size.

A 3D printed scale model showed the team that the bolt used to connect the two parts of the hinge together was too large for proper alignment; a difference of 0.5cm that could have had a giant impact. 3D printing helped avoid construction issues and kept costs low.

Shell’s 3D printing lab

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).

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