Additive manufacturing — more widely known as 3D printing — refers to the process of creating a physical object by joining successive layers of material under a computer controlled program. In a bold first for our industry, Total is innovating by using this technology for operating equipment.
We first used additive manufacturing to make a methanol injection device for the Akpo offshore field in Nigeria. The device, made of polyamide, was used in March 2018 on subsea modules at a water depth of 1,300 meters so that the FPSO Egina’s gas export line could be tied into Akpo’s export line. A hydrate formation in the in-line tee assembly (ITA) had halted the connection work, raising the very real possibility that the FPSO would not be commissioned on time. After several failed attempts to remove the plug and reach the connection, we purpose-designed this cylindrical device to inject methanol at the specific areas where hydrates had formed in the plug to dissolve them.
In another project, we designed four titanium inducers that were installed in February 2018 on transfer pumps for the high-pressure Culzean natural gas and condensate field off the coast of Aberdeen, Scotland. The pumps showed a high risk of cavitation, but producing modified impellers would have pushed back the delivery date in Singapore by 24 weeks. To avoid losing time, we designed and 3D printed four small inducers to be installed in the wheel shaft of each pump, in partnership with Norwegian supplier Eureka. Made of titanium alloy, these inducers prevent cavitation by reducing suction head, without compromising performance.
In addition to offering a great deal of freedom in terms of design, 3D printing helped us save time and cut costs:
- The Akpo methanol injection device was delivered in Port Harcourt just ten days after it was designed. It only took Hutchinson 36 hours to 3D print the device. What’s more, topology optimization (TO) made it possible to cut its weight in half. The injection campaign was conducted at sea without halting Akpo’s production. The pressurized plug was removed after four hours and the FPSO’s gas export line was connected on schedule. The overall operational cost was reduced by a factor of 10 compared to the conventional solution of replacing the ITA, that would have cost more than €10 million.
- 3D printing of the Culzean inducers made it possible to optimize their triple propeller shape compared with conventional milling. The parts were delivered and installed in two weeks and the facilities were commissioned on time, as planned. The final cost came to under €23,000, or €200,000 less than all the alternatives, which would have also caused scheduling and management issues.
Simplifying the Supply Chain
3D printing is primed to shake up our industry’s entire supply chain thanks to its technical, logistical, cost and environmental advantages. These include:
- Reduced design costs and constraints.
- A faster development cycle for tools and a drastic reduction in production time.
- Digital storage and onsite printing on demand, reducing the need for costly physical inventories of spare parts.
- Improved performance.
- Rapid maintenance and in situ repairs, limiting dips in production and drilling rig downtime.
- Lighter, more compact equipment for redeveloping and upgrading brownfield projects.
- An improved carbon footprint thanks to local production and the use of fewer raw materials.
Current certification processes are holding back wide-scale use of 3D printing, but we are working closely with the relevant organizations to adapt these processes to the simultaneous production of objects/materials, in particular by designing prototypes and launching pilot experiments in the field. We have also created an internal network to promote 3D printing and develop ties with other sectors, notably the aerospace industry. Already, this initiative has led to several other projects, including new subsea tools and 3D printing of drilling equipment, pump wheels and ceramic liners.
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