Worth 1000 words

Sarah Parker Musarra

October 3, 2014

For rig crews sitting miles away from the coastline – and sometimes on the other side of the globe from their home offices – communication can be difficult.

Barry Calnan, of Houston’s 3d-Printing Solutions (see Spotlight, page 93), points out that 3D printing can help close that gap between the inland office and the coastwise platform, at least from a com- munications perspective. Companies can use 3D printing to replicate pieces of equipment found on the rig, like a blowout preventer (BOP), to allow them to collabo- rate more effectively. It’s a visualization tool that triggers clear communication, along with serving as a manipulatable model that allows for employees be exposed to large equipment quickly, easily and at low cost. The same cannot be said for training on the real thing.

“They’ve got the equipment there; they can take it apart and they can say, ‘We need to look at this today and make sure this is functioning properly.’ It’s much easier than bringing the actual pieces [onshore],” he says. “Communication offshore is so important. Equipment can be changed and upgraded and training is ongoing.”

In addition, viewing a 3D print of an engineered design – from the newest rig worker to the highest executive occupying a corner office – allows everyone to see an issue and its possible repercussions immediately. 3D-printed models, some replete with stress or flow analysis, can be printed to allow quick analysis of a problem.

In a part’s more nascent stages, seeing a 3D-printed, visual solid model can speed up the engineering process by allowing engineers to check functionality.

The entrance of 3D print- ing into the industry also helps address the so-called “crew change” that will occur with the wave of industry retirees. “The younger generation is used to video games and are used to a tactile and interactive inter- face. They really catch on to 3D models. That’s been proven,” he explains. “That’s why people use it in training. If you are on a rig, you can actually print a connec- tor, put the connector in front of the guys, disassemble it, and give them their instructions.

“They’ve got their manual and their model.”

However, while Calnan is pleased to see the industry embracing 3D printing as associated with visualization, safety and communication purposes, he is ardent in that the technologies can be used for much more.

“Companies have gone from see- ing models like toys to seeing them like tools,” he said.

Left: A model of a valve body showing stress analysis, left, along with a companion part showing specific manufacturing instructions in color.  Middle: Calnan created a model depicting detail of a turbine blade, left, which shows stress. His other model shows design intent.  Right: A pipe layout model which was used to find problems with a design before construction.  Photos from Barry Calnan 

Print-to-use

Companies like GE and Maersk, who have begun to forge ahead in printing parts directly on metal printers, are attracting industry attention, but there are a lot of misconceptions and misinformation. Calnan says that this type of printing would be ideal for a specialty or a legacy part that needs to be repaired.

“Are they going to put a 3d printer on a rig? Probably not for quite a few more years. But the driving factor that is what can really be effective,” he says. “The companies have not jumped onboard because it has to be a proven procedure, has to be a proven manufacturing tool for them to really want to sink their money into it.”

Calnan points out that while com- panies might not be able to print, for example, a BOP, they can print its components. Before exploring that route, he suggests companies do some homework to learn how 3D printing can be the right tool to meet its objectives; what pieces or equipment could be printed; and, importantly, if the skillsets necessary for wide-scale 3D printing is readily available on their staff.

“There are some cases where stan- dard manufacturing is always going to be cheaper, like for very large objects. But for specialized objects, you can’t beat 3D printing as long as you can match the materials,” he says. “The biggest mistake companies can make is purchasing too little of a machine or the wrong machine for what they need, capacity and material-wise. It may not match what they’re trying to accomplish.

“You may also need to have more than one technology to accomplish what you’re looking to do. Most people think 3D printing is just one thing. It’s many, many tools.”