ARTICLE - 04/05/2017

Energy+ Magazine: 3d printing, the future of manufacturing

The way we manufacture is changing. Many new technologies are being harnessed to increase production efficiency, reduce costs, make customization easier and better optimize products. Additive Manufacturing (AM) (or 3D printing) is one area that is growing quickly due to its ability to produce larger components and to meet the specific mechanical and metallurgical composition requirements of the manufacturer.

Why are leading companies investing in this technology for the future of their businesses?

Components need to be analysed to see material composition and where benefits of AM may be realised. It may be there is a production bottleneck which could be eased if AM were used. Other benefits and reasons for adopting AM may include the high cost of machining a particular part, or a part that is in some way compromised by machining constraints. Flexibility in supply can be an issue, for example the ability to produce small batches or products that are easy to customize. The next step is to consider what requirements are connected to the component and whether technology exists today to meet these or not. If not, can a special metallic or alloy powder be developed that will meet the needs of the component?

Designing new metallic or alloy powders for use in AM is an iterative process. The powder is designed for specific chemical or mechanical requirements based on existing material properties. This then needs to be trialled in pilot production and the product tested to verify its characteristics to meet the given specification.

With AM, geometries, ergonomics and overall design is optimised. This revolutionises component design, removing the constraints of the traditional manufacturing process, enabling geometries to place strength and integrity precisely where they are needed. This increases component reliability and helps ensure consistent high quality.

An increase in reliability and quality has general appeal but in industries such as O&G, it is of particular importance and interest. O&G installations are often located in some of the harshest environments. As AM technology develops to offer ever increasing component sizes, the technology presents many benefits in wider applications. Special metallic and alloy powders can be selected or developed that can specifically handle extremes in corrosion, pressure and temperature. RINA’s specialized technology centre in Rome Centro Sviluppo Materiali (CSM), offers this service. RINA specializes in helping companies that wish to incorporate AM into their business. It can help with everything from the feasibility of the process for a given application through to the selection of material, development of specific materials with special characteristics, if required, and the verification of the completed product. They can also test and validate new products, offering customers the ultimate guarantee of safety and security.

In the future 3D printing will become an enabling technology complementing and competing with the “standard” manufacturing process.

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Jacopo Nardi