Oil industry joins world of 3D printing

NEWCASTLE, England - General Electric's oil and gas division will start pilot production of 3D printed metal fuel nozzles for its gas turbines in the second half of this year, a major step towards using the technology for mass-manufactured parts in the industry.

Full production of the printed fuel nozzles is expected in 2015, Eric Gebhardt, Chief Technology Officer at GE Oil & Gas, told Reuters.

The move follows hot on the heels of GE Aviation, which said last year it would use 3D printing to produce fuel nozzles for its LEAP jet engine, a high profile decision that for many sealed the commerciality of the technique.

Oil services firm Halliburton has also used 3D printing to produce parts used in drilling although not on such a large scale.

Forms of advanced manufacturing are increasingly vital in the oil and gas sector as companies move into extreme environments such as ultra deep-water or the Arctic.

3D printing allows complex shapes to be built up in layers from particles of plastics or metal, enabling engineers to realise designs impossible to mass-manufacture before.

GE Oil and Gas, one of GE's fastest growing divisions, is investing US$100 million (S$127.84 million) over the next two years on technology development with a "significant portion" going on 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing. The division has installed dozens of plastic and metal 3D printers across its businesses.

Fuel nozzles, which feeds combustion in a gas turbine, are currently made by welding together a number of sub-components, a process hugely simplified by printing it in one piece.

The other piece of kit that GE Oil and Gas is looking to produce using 3D printers is electric submersible pumps used to artificially bring oil to the surface.

"Most of these are about four or five inches in diameter and then about an inch or two in height. It's the right size to put into some of the additive manufacturing," Gebhardt said.

Become a fan on Facebook