Can ‘printed’ parts make oil and gas operations smarter and greener?

Metal 3D printers (DMLS). Direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) is an additive manufacturing technique that uses a Ytterbium fibre laser fired into a bed of powdered metal.;
  • Additive manufacturing could boost efficiency and help to decarbonize oil and gas operations

  • It could also mean equipment makers and suppliers reinventing their business models to integrate just-in-time manufacturing

  • DNV GL is leading collaborative projects to evaluate applications of additive manufacturing technologies and build trust in them

Additive manufacturing — the more sophisticated, industrial equivalent of 3D printing — could become the most disruptive technology the oil and gas industry has ever seen for sourcing and using materials (Figure 1). The potential efficiency gains include shorter lead times for sourcing parts, and less need for storage as digital design files replace physical stock. By enabling on-site production, additive manufacturing could also eliminate the need to transport some components, thus reducing the carbon footprint of operations.


The key is using digital designs to direct the printing of physical parts, larger structures, or additional layers of materials. The raw materials include, among others, plastics and metals, typically supplied as powders and wires. User-friendly digital platforms can connect files, machines and users to facilitate the sharing of digital files within organizations and among their supply chains. This can enable efficient optimization of design and manufacturing.

Iterations can be tested rapidly: there is no need for costly retooling of machines as in car manufacturing, for example. Driven by digital connectivity and the distributed manufacturing capabilities of additive manufacturing, making equipment and components could shift away from centralized manufacturing. It could move instead to locations exactly or close to where the products will be used, such as on an oil platform.

“It is easy to envisage additive manufacturing technologies helping to extend the functional life of ageing oil and gas assets,” said Brice Le Gallo, regional manager, South East Asia & Australia, DNV GL – Oil & Gas. “For some, replacement parts are hard to get or make, but keeping stock for spares that may never be needed is expensive. It is not just about whole parts. A form of additive manufacturing could potentially add new material to an eroded area. This could extend the lifespan of that part and reduce the lifecycle cost of equipment.”

Additive manufacturing also presents potential challenges and opportunities for the business models of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the oil and gas industry. One common model is to make and deliver equipment, then collect after-sales revenue by supplying spare parts to local or regional resellers. Another is to supply equipment and keep it running efficiently over a contracted period.

“Some OEMs think it could let them generate revenue in markets where they are currently unable to supply spare parts on demand,” said Sastry Kandukuri, principal specialist at DNV GL’s Global Additive Manufacturing Centre of Excellence, which advises manufacturers. “In some of these places, there are ‘grey’ markets in non-OEM parts.”

To recapture market share, OEMs could take advantage of emerging digital supply-chain platform models to protect their intellectual property (IP) rights. They would supply digital files securely to selected local resellers equipped with additive manufacturing capability, thereby reproducing parts legally and safely. This would reduce the cost of parts and boost their availability.

“These relationships need to be built on trust. OEMs want to protect their IP when sending design files to third parties,” noted Kandukuri. “Key questions include who should be responsible for the part working, and for how long? Who should offer the warranty? If it is the OEM sending a design file, what do they need to know, and what needs to happen, all the way through to printing, for it to still be a part that the OEM is comfortable about its name being on?”

“Some software solutions for protecting IP in additive manufacturing involve using blockchain technology for auditing the life history of designs and parts,” said Pamela Joslyn, senior software developer, DNV GL. “This can create an immutable register of what the part is. Other software detects if someone is trying to print a counterfeit product. Artificial intelligence and its subset, machine learning, can also help in this area.”

Some OEMs foresee themselves being rewarded for their designs by receiving royalties for each part printed and/or sold, said Kandukuri: “However, some end users tell us that when they buy equipment they also want to receive design files for spare parts. They hope it would mean them not having to rely in all cases on supply chains set up by OEMs.”

Early interest is evident among oil and gas operators

Adoption of additive manufacturing is in its infancy in the oil and gas industry. BP, Shell and Woodside are among the widely cited, but as yet few, oil and gas operators pioneering its usage.

“The industry has traditionally been conservative in the speed with which it will adopt new technologies,” noted Le Gallo. “However, the new oil price era, and the competitive and regulatory forces in the energy transition mean the industry needs to keep raising its efficiency and competitiveness through technological innovation.”

Additive manufacturing presents an opportunity to do that, he suggested. “Oil and gas sector companies can shape the technology to their purposes as they begin to adopt it, while learning from each other and other industries. Aerospace is quite advanced in this regard. Others, such as maritime, are also beginning the journey, and their experiences will have synergies with those of oil and gas, with which they overlap in the offshore context.”

New collaborative project evaluates additive manufacturing

Illustrating Le Gallo’s point, a programme studying the feasibility of the technology in the maritime industry is underway, with DNV GL leading the research at the company’s Global Additive Manufacturing Technology Centre of Excellence in Singapore. The joint industry project (JIP) will see DNV GL and 15 member companies of the Singapore Ship Association collaborate to see how printing spare parts can help the capital-intensive maritime industry cut costs and downtimes.

In another development, DNV GL and Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University have signed a four-year research collaboration agreement, supporting academic advances in additive manufacturing for the oil and gas, maritime, and other industries.

A further 18 companies are involved in JIPs managed from DNV GL facilities in Norway, which have as their aims the development of a guideline and accompanying economic model to facilitate adaptation of 3D-printed functional metal parts for oil and gas, and maritime industries.

Building trust in additive manufacturing

Issues of trust remain key to additive manufacturing gaining acceptance. For example, the lack of a systematic qualification process, standards, and specialized knowledge of additive manufacturing towards qualification and certification of printed components and materials.

Through its various Singapore facilities, and its global network of laboratories and experts in various sectors, DNV GL is addressing this:

In 2017, it published the first-ever guideline to help manufacturers, suppliers, and end users of materials, parts, components and related services to confidently adopt additive manufacturing technologies in the oil and gas, and maritime industries.

In 2018, it released the first Approval of Manufacturer scheme for additive manufacturing producers wishing to supply products that comply with DNV GL’s rules and standards.

In June 2019, it published a class programme specifying requirements that manufacturers need to comply with to obtain, maintain, and renew DNV GL’s Type Approval certificate for manufacturing of metal powder and wire feedstock, intended for products made by additive manufacturing.

Additive manufacturing offers huge savings to oil and gas companies

While additive manufacturing is in its infancy in the oil and gas industry, the potential rewards convince analysts that demand will develop rapidly. Market researchers SmarTech Publishing forecast that additive manufacturing by printing will become a USD450 million market in the oil and gas industry by 2021, and USD1.4 billion by 2025.1

“The pay-off for operators and OEMs will be enormous once hurdles are overcome. The challenge now is to get everyone talking and looking at how to ensure that everyone benefits from this promising manufacturing technology. The JIPs that we are involved in and are planning through the Singapore facility aim to do just that,” Le Gallo concluded.


  1.  ‘Additive manufacturing opportunities in oil & gas markets 2017: An opportunity analysis and ten-year forecast’, SmarTech Publishing, Report # SMP-AM-OG-2017-112017, Publ. 14 November 2017.

Article reproduced by permission of DNV GL. Copyright © DNV GL AS 2020

About the author

Aditya Chandavarkar

Aditya Chandavarkar

Aditya Chandavarkar is a established entrepreneur with business interests in manufacturing, innovative technology and consulting. He is the co-founder of CNT Expositions and Services (acronym for Catalysing New Technologies), which was subsequently formed by the acquisition of Inkjet Forum India – a leading knowledge sharing platform for inkjet printing technology founded by him. At Inkjet Forum India, Aditya was single handedly responsible for conceptualizing and organizing conferences and educations programs, in the area of digital textile printing and industrial inkjet.