3D printing applications in oil and gas

Accenture study sees 3D printing edging into mainstream. But technology fails to consumerize.

A recent study by Accenture, ‘A new dimension of opportunity; 3D printing’s potential for the energy industry’ claims, without much conviction, that ‘the consumerization of three-dimensional printing technologies will bring new opportunities for value creation in upstream and downstream operations.’ Three dimensional printing (3DP) has seemingly ‘been around for more than 30 years’ but is only now ‘edging into mainstream manufacturing.’ A trend driven by a ‘convergence of increased technology sophistication, lower equipment costs and diversification of 3D-printable materials.’

Who is using 3DP in oil and gas today? One example is GE Oil and Gas which has used plastic and metal 3D printers to reduce the design loop for prototyping some parts from 12 weeks to just 12 hours. The company is also ‘reported to be considering’ using 3DP to produce electric submersible pumps.

So much for the evidence, but what of the potential? For Accenture’s researchers, ‘We are now at an inflection point with 3DP. By integrating 3DP into the fabric of their operations, oil and gas companies will be able to transform the effectiveness of upstream supply chains, as well as bringing new markets and new sources of revenue to their downstream businesses.’

According to Accenture, the 3DP market is expected to quadruple over the next decade to $12 billion as it moves from prototyping to manufacturing. But a report in the Financial Times, ‘3D printers still not printing money’ has it that shares in 3DP manufacturers have halved in value in 2014 as the technology appears to be failing to ‘consumerize.’

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