Industrial Scale 3D Printing on the Rise

March 01, 2016

Contributor: Susan Moore

Consumer product design and medical uses of 3D printing have been widely publicized, but heavy industries like oil and gas stand to benefit too.

While 3D printing technology is not yet ready to replace large-scale industrial fabrication of equipment, it offers considerable potential for industries that operate on a massive scale, like the oil and gas (O&G) sector.

“ Gartner predicts that by 2019, 10 percent of all O&G companies will be using 3D printers for the production of parts and equipment used within operations.”

In the near term, it can significantly reduce the time required for prototyping, producing, reworking and redesigning components.

In the longer term, 3D printing is positioned to transform how components of a wide range of equipment are produced. This will be particularly valuable in remote locations where the supply of ordinary parts is limited, or where shipping and customs clearance is likely to cause time delays.

Speaking at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Dubai today, Morgan Eldred, research director at Gartner, said CIOs and other IT leaders must play central roles in determining how innovative ideas can be transformed into business opportunities.

“Engineers and operations leaders might make the 3D print technology decisions, but IT leaders and their staff will be responsible for supporting those decisions with a robust and secure IT infrastructure,” he said.

Why IT must be involved

Concerns over intellectual property confidentiality and security, especially within the engineering domains, remain a drag on 3D printing’s progress.

O&G companies, like other users of 3D designs, need to manage the associated intellectual property issues with great care. They are entering uncharted territory when it comes to intellectual property and design risks. Licensing and manufacturing stipulations for legally and safely reproducing parts using 3D printing are in their embryonic stages. Senior managers are only now beginning to address these issues.

Take for example the opportunity to use 3D printing to manufacture replacement parts on-site, which is particularly attractive in remote O&G drilling locations. This could lead companies to fall foul of patent and other legal issues surrounding the duplication of parts without permission or payment. Every 3D-printed part must meet the manufacturer's quality and performance specifications.

The geographically dispersed nature of the upstream O&G industry can also create challenges in terms of where and how to store data - which can include 3D printing data - as well as with industry and government standards for the transporting or sharing of data. Using 3D print service bureaus with regional or multinational facilities can help alleviate some of these issues.

Ultimately the impact of 3D printing on IT will be substantial, requiring O&G CIOs to provide the flexibility needed to foster innovation while enabling access control and security.

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