In many sectors 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is changing the way the global supply chain operates and interacts with all the other moving cogs and gears of the respective parts of the industry. A primary driving force behind this shift in production can be attributed to consistently decreasing material and equipment costs, while 3D printing capabilities have skyrocketed over recent years, even implementing the use of high-energy lasers.
This application is expected to become a vital component for industries that lean heavily toward machines, robotics, large and small equipment, and more complex components. Within an industry such as energy, oil and gas companies find themselves at a critical stage of replacing, retrofitting, and maintaining large portions of their equipment and physical infrastructure.
3D printing is proving to be the hopeful answer to these issues, with possible applications giving rise to benefits such as increased visibility and sustainability over the production, transportation, and inventory of new parts, a large reduction in time spent within the research and development (R&D) stage regarding new designs for equipment and infrastructure, as well as bringing customer and company closer together.
Consider the scenario of the process involved regarding the requirement of new parts: shipping would be the initial step from an off-site location, taking days or even weeks, followed by the arrival of the part on-site and its installation. This process has already incurred high fees and lengthy delays; all the while money has leaked away as the machine that requires this specific part has not been operating, resulting in heavy losses per day.
Now multiply this by all the different machines with parts or pieces of equipment that are needed at all the extremely remote sites by a single oil and gas operator. The prospect of replacing this process with a more efficient, cost-effective method would make a significant difference. Possessing a host of features, 3D printing can also add sizable value to the prototyping phase, improving collaboration and reducing the initial costs involved with wasted prototypes.
Usually throughout the process of prototyping many iterations of a new component are evaluated, and typically they are all physically made, which is an expensive task. With the use of a 3D printer in this process, the prototype models can be constructed, reviewed, and then modified through real-time digital blueprints. At a time when oil and gas operators are investigating ways to reduce operating costs, 3D printing dramatically limits wasted materials and expensive metals which are primarily used to manufacture the industry-specific equipment and infrastructure.
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