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3D Printed Oil Tanker Parts Approved after 6 Months of Evaluation Use

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The oil and gas markets, along with maritime, are less exploited sectors for the additive manufacturing (AM) industry. However, progress is being made in this regard, with a group of companies, including ConocoPhillips, having validated 3D printed parts after six months of operation on an oil tanker.

The joint development project was developed by the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), ConocoPhillips Polar Tankers, Sembcorp Marine Ltd and 3D Metalforge. In February 2021, the team produced and lab-tested functional 3D printed parts before installing them on the Polar Endeavour.

The parts included a gear set and shaft for a boiler fuel supply pump, a flexible coupling for a marine sanitation devices pump, and an ejector nozzle for a freshwater generator. The gear set is made up of a drive gear that rotates an idle gear attached to the pump, generating a suction force to fill the cavity with fluid. The shaft links the impeller to the device’s motor. The flexible coupling attaches a driver shaft to a driven shaft to transmit power. Finally, the ejector nozzle drives fluid velocity to convert high static pressure into velocity pressure. The 3D printed parts operated on the tanker for six months and have been retrieved and inspected by its crew, while also examined remotely by ABS.

Robert Noyer, ConocoPhillips Polar Tankers Engineering Superintendent, said, “The superior performance of these parts in service is a testament to the rigorous engineering, manufacturing and post-production testing put in place by the team involved with this venture. We look forward to future opportunities to support our vessels with this technology.”

The Polar Endeavour oil tanker. Image courtesy of ConocoPhillips.

As the second largest maritime classification society, ABS has now approved these 3D printed spare parts for use on ships. ABS begin working on the classification of AM for use in the industry in 2017 and published a guide on 3D printing for maritime in 2021, focusing on powder bed fusion and directed energy deposition.

Patrick Ryan, ABS Senior Vice President, Global Engineering and Technology, said, “We are delighted with the performance of the parts and the successful completion of the project. It’s an important step forward for a technology that certainly has a significant role to play in the future of the marine industry. ABS is committed to ensuring these types of parts are introduced without compromising safety.”

Interestingly, ABS and U.S. shipbuilders are competing with similar endeavors on the other side of the planet. Specifically, DNV, the world’s largest classification society, has been certifying a number of maritime and oil and gas projects, having published its first guide on AM in 2017. Wilhelmsen, one of the largest maritime companies globally, has been exploring the 3D printing of spare parts for some time with validation from DNV. The projects have even extended to the delivering of 3D printed parts to ships via drone.

Of the parties in the ConocoPhillips most skilled at 3D printing for maritime use is obviously 3D Metalforge, which has previously received DNV and Lloyds Register certification for 3D printed parts. Sembcorp has also been exploring 3D printing since at least 2017 as an effort to implement industry 4.0 technologies.

Matthew Waterhouse, 3D Metalforge Managing Director, added, “We are proud to work as a trusted partner, with companies like ABS, Sembcorp Marine and ConocoPhillips Polar Tankers to provide greater value through new and innovative manufacturing solutions, and to help meet changing component manufacturing, supply chain and sustainability challenges. The inspection and validation of these additively manufactured components support our belief in this technology and its application. This exposure to Additive Manufacturing’s capabilities will broaden its commercial applications and acceptance in the future.”

Once a part of the Standard Oil giant, ConocoPhillips is a US$36.670 billion oil company by revenue. The Guardian ranked it as the 14th most polluting company in the world. Its Polar Tankers division is dedicated to transporting oil using ships built by Northrop Grumman Ship Systems. The company has five Endeavour-class tankers operating in the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline System (TAPS) trade, carrying crude oil in Valdez, Alaska and delivering them to ports on the West Coast of the U.S. and to Hawaii.

The project was initiated just a month after the Polar Endeavor was struck by a tugboat at the Valdez Marine Terminal, the point of departure for the Exxon Valdez just before its massive 1989 spill. The boat tore the hull of the tanker and injured a member of the tugboat, but no oil was spilled. By embarking on a unique 3D printing project, ConocoPhillips could deflect from the incident while demonstrating that it was a future-thinking company.

As global warming melts the glacial waters of the Arctic, numerous companies are planning to further their oil and gas exploration northward. In fact, ConocoPhillips made four major discoveries on the Norwegian continental shelf across 16 months from 2018 to 2020, including the largest of 2020. As these businesses tap the last of the Earth’s accessible oil and gas deposits, they will enter more dangerous waters that will require more frequent and more remote repairs. For this reason, 3D printing could prove to be a crucial tool for making repairs, such as those tested by the consortium in this story. By producing spare parts at nearby ports or even on the ships themselves, they could be much more likely to weather the journey.

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