Will the Oil & Gas Industry Transform?

3D printing will ‘transform’ the oil industry, says BP

In the attached article Dave Eyton, BP’s Head of Technology talks about the potential of using 3D printing (Additive Manufacturing) in the oil and gas industry. BP has used this technology in its petrochemical business, so can it be used in the oil and gas industry?

There’s no doubt the technology could and can transform the oil and gas industry’s manufacturing supply chain as it has in the aerospace, automotive and medical industries, but the transformation will only happen if the industry needs, desires and, more importantly, wants to put the effort in to aid the transformation.

We all know the oil and gas industry has been through brutal times these past few years and it’s not easy to see the positives generated from this period of time. However, there are always positives from hard times and the industry’s supply chain will gain if the ‘want’ is truly there to adopt this technology.

Let’s have a quick look at the Oxford English Dictionary definitions for ‘Transform’ and ‘Innovate’ and see how they relates to the industry:

Transform – Make a marked change in the form, nature, or appearance of.

Innovate – Make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas or products.

These definitions are both driven by change and are very much seen and used in the industry as if they have the same meaning. Companies continually claim to be going through ‘transformation’ or ‘working on the latest innovation’. In simple terms they are working on change.

Change – Make or become different.

The oil and gas industry isn’t renowned for change, so it can be hard to believe the ‘want’ to transform/innovate will be achieved. The ‘want’ has to be cultivated in each company or the industry will drift back to ‘the good old days’ and the dinosaurs from the historic way of operating will continue to walk the corridors of the self-claimed innovative, transformational companies.

In the industry, companies have created dedicated innovation or transformation teams to look at new ways to introduce change, but do they really understand change and do they really want to be the first to adopt new technology?

I ask this as I see two distinctive types of innovative companies developing as a result of the industry downturn.

The first is the Historical Company – the companies we all know well. They create big teams, catchy initiative names, give presentations to customers and preach to suppliers on how they are leading innovation and transforming the industry.

In reality their teams don’t have the ‘want’ to change, willingness or freedom to take risks and challenge the norm. Which would mean having to stick their heads above the parapet – which doesn’t encourage transformation.

Here’s an extract from an email I received from one of these companies which preaches that it’s leading the industry with innovation and transformation:

It’s not an ambition of ********* to be the first in this development, we are happy for others to be first. However we would then like to be a close second!

The Alternative Company is typically a few people who’ve created companies after redundancy or leaving the Historical Companies. They have the ‘want’ to disrupt the industry by simply implementing change through innovation and transformation by doing this as part of their day-to-day business.

They don’t need the dedicated teams, the catchy initiative names, or talk about innovation or transformation as a separate initiative because it’s part of their everyday business fabric. They’re willing to take risks, they challenge the norm and ask why we do the norm. They always have their heads up, as there is no parapet to fear, thus encouraging true transformation, innovation and change.

Here’s another email extract, this time from one of these companies:

We want to understand how Additive Manufacturing can benefit the manufacturing of our product and potentially add value to our client’s business and challenge how we manufacture today.

Typically, a start-up company dreams of being one of the big players. They look up at these companies and dream of growth and rapid development to get on the same playing field as them. But, if the oil and gas industry is to truly transform, the big players have to admire the start-ups’ mindset and adopt and maintain a start-up approach to transformation and innovation.

Historically, the big players don’t normally do much innovation directly themselves – they encourage smaller companies to take the risks to develop the technology and then they purchase the company/product. But that approach by default stops future innovation due to the differences in culture between the acquiring firm and the startup. This brings a short-term gain to the industry, but kills innovation longer-term and the cycle starts again. The risk is the industry will have to wait for the next wave of innovation and transformation until after the next industry downturn.

Forgive me if I sound negative on the oil and gas industry’s approach to transformation or innovation – this is not my aim. One of the benefits of running an additive manufacturing business is we work with various industries and see the differences between not just these industries or companies, but the differences in their approach to change.

The aerospace, automotive and medical industries have gained from additive manufacturing by investing time, money and, more importantly, having the ‘want’ for it to be a success in their industry. I believe the oil and gas industry can be the same, but it needs both the start-ups and the larger established companies to have the ‘want’ and not to settle for being a “close second”.

It is great to read articles from companies like BP where they discuss the use of additive manufacturing technology in the industry. This will encourage companies in their supply chain to look at using and adopting this technology, which can only be positive.

Let me finish on a positive note. Angus 3D Solutions Ltd have been working with oil and gas companies in Aberdeen who have the ‘want’ to be the leaders in the industry and have shown they are truly innovative and transformational.

I’m not going to name the individual companies as most are start-up businesses which will make their own industry transforming announcements in the coming months. These companies have all approached the use of additive manufacturing differently – some are looking at using the technology only in the design stage, some to manufacture parts to be used in their end product, others to even manufacture their product, manufacture obsolete parts to extend asset life (circular economy) or even to create a virtual warehouse to store parts digitally and only print (manufacture) when required. They all have one thing in common which I believe the big players need to acquire.

They all have a ‘want’ to disturb.

There are companies in the industry travelling the road of additive manufacturing already. they are all small start-up companies and not the big players we all know. So maybe for future articles like the one we started with we should be asking these companies for their views, rather than the big players as the start-ups truly understand transformation, innovation and the benefits additive manufacturing can bring to the oil and gas industry.

Angus 3D Solutions Ltd was formed in January 2017 to support and service manufacturing industry in Scotland and has already been identified as one of the leading additive manufacturing companies in Scotland – awarded a £175,000 grant from Zero Waste Scotland’s Resource Efficient Circular Economy Accelerator Programme in October 2018. This will be used to develop plastic vacuum casting and introduce the latest 3D metal printing technology – Atomic Diffusion Additive Manufacturing (ADAM) – with the Markforged Metal-X, which will be the first of its kind in Scotland and the first commercially available in the UK. The equipment will be used in the manufacture of the latest designed components and in the reverse engineering of obsolete parts. This will be focused on developing a circular economy in Scottish manufacturing. Find out more about a Circular Economy here.

We work with inventors, designers, SMEs, global companies and anyone who wants to explore the benefits additive manufacturing can bring to their business by reducing time-to-market, mitigating risk and save costs on your reverse-engineering, design, rapid prototype and production requirements by using both Additive Manufacturing (3D printing) and traditional manufacturing technology.

The industries supported by Angus 3D Solutions are varied: from individuals and general manufacturing to oil and gas, medical, automation, satellite and satellite launch projects. We aim to continue to develop this further.

Scotland has an impressive engineering and manufacturing history. We believe to maintain and further develop this reputation we must embrace the latest manufacturing technology and encourage the next generation to look at manufacturing as a career choice.

The Angus 3D Solutions website can be found at https://www.angus3dsolutions.co.uk