Aramco to 3D Print Part of New Saudi Oil Processing Facility

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While many people are excited about 3D printing houses in the US and Europe, I’m more enthused by 3D construction printing in remote locations. The economics are much better if a location is hard to access or if building is time-critical. Although house printing will happen, remote construction 3D printing is more likely to drive very profitable installations for clients and contractors in the near term.
JGC Holdings will use a COBOD 3D printer at the Zuluf AH Oil Increment Central Processing Facilities in Saudi Arabia. Zuluf is an enormous offshore oil field in Saudi Arabia. To give you an idea of the project’s scale, JGC was recently awarded a $2 billion contract for a part of the site. The field is said to contain 31 billion barrels of oil-equivalent (boe) and currently produces 800,000 barrels per day, with construction aiming to expand this by 600,000 barrels per day. At $64 million a day currently and a possible $94 million later, the amount of money involved here is staggering.
However, the project is just a small part of Aramco, which had a net income last year of $121.3 billion and an annual capex of around $42 billion. This is greater than many countries’ GDP and underscores why being just a blip on Aramco’s radar may be more fruitful than pitching to developers in Texas.

Why 3D Printing?

The rationale behind using 3D printing here is to lower waste and energy usage. JGC has been testing the COBOD printer since 2021. JGC, a Japanese construction firm with $7 billion in revenue, specializes in oilfield and energy-related construction mega projects. The firm builds LNG terminals and other large projects and has a solid reputation in the field. Danish firm COBOD is also building its reputation in 3D printed construction, so it’s not surprising that their printer is being used here. JGC previously used the COBOD machine in Japan to construct buildings for a biomass plant.
With this project, the printer will be used to make a wall for a 340 square meter chemical storage building at Zuluf. Work will start in 2024, and JGC will collaborate with a local Saudi COBOD partner to use their printer at the site. This partner could be developers Dar al Arkan or Elite, but it’s likely to be a third, more oil and gas-related partner.

Three Huge Opportunities

JGC believes that 3D printing will be more efficient since no formwork will be needed. Additionally, it hopes to spread 3D printing throughout its companies to construct buildings more efficiently and combat labor shortages, which is likely a significant issue for the firm domestically in Japan.

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JGC and Aramco seem to be carefully exploring their options with 3D printing. However, their engagement alone points to huge market opportunities for construction 3D printing. This single initiative reveals three distinct opportunities simultaneously.

First, large engineering, oil, and gas companies are like economies in and of themselves. Giants such as Bechtel, China Railway, Vinci, and Bouygues subsist on the largest projects in the world, often specializing in specific areas like bridges, toll roads, or infrastructure. Penetrating one of these companies and working deeply within it can lead to millions in business from a myriad of projects worldwide. For these firms, a construction printer doesn’t need to do everything; if it can efficiently print a particular structure, it could be used extensively for that purpose alone.

Second, labor shortages are a significant issue, particularly in first-world countries. While other industries may pay too little, creating their own labor shortages, the construction industry is often willing to pay well but still struggles to find workers for what is now considered hard labor. Many prefer cushier office jobs, leading to a gap in available labor for construction work.

Third, the amount of construction in energy infrastructure is immense, often located in remote areas where the economics of construction 3D printing are particularly favorable. This points to a future where there is an opportunity to develop a general construction 3D printer that performs well overall. Additionally, creating a specific construction 3D printer and material for energy infrastructure or particular tunnel parts could lead to a highly profitable market worth billions.

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