Onshore/Offshore Facilities

ConocoPhillips Tests Additive Manufacturing

Field trials in Alaska and Canada are set to determine if 3D printing can ease supply chain challenges and reduce costs.

Global production experts, from left, Enzo Savino, Hernan Rincon and Carlo De Bernardi display 3D printed parts. Savino is holding a valve seat made of polyetheretherketone, Rincon is holding a heat exchanger, and De Bernardi is holding a titanium net.
Source: ConocoPhillips

Spare parts are sometimes hard to come by on Alaska's North Slope.

Take burner plugs, for instance. These consumable parts, found within ConocoPhillips’ original gas turbines at Kuparuk (a 40-year-old field), aren’t manufactured anymore.

So, when one of these components wears out—they eventually succumb to what’s known as heat erosion—it’s a challenge to replace them. In such remote locations, lead times for certain equipment can stretch from 30 to 60 weeks.

To remedy this supply chain issue, Alaska business unit teams—in collaboration with ConocoPhillips’ Global Production experts—have been testing 3D printed burner plugs in its Ruston gas turbines at Kuparuk.

The plugs are printed using Inconel 718, a high-strength superalloy with a nickel-chrome base material resistant to high pressure and extreme temperatures. In the case of these outdated burner plugs, which are no longer covered by intellectual property laws, it’s possible to go from a set of drawings to a printed object in about a week and then have it shipped to the field location.

“So, you’re taking something that would traditionally be a 30-week thing down to a 2- to 3-week thing,” said Curt Andersen, an instrument, control, and electrical engineering supervisor for the Alaska business unit. “And so far, the printed plugs are working fantastic. They're performing as good, if not better, than our conventionally made plugs.

“This was an opportunity for us to trial something that had a lot of potential advantages to it and also use this as data for the rest of the company. For us, this is a new method of manufacturing that comes with a lot of questions, such as what does the part look like when we put it in service? How does it act? Does it act like another piece of metal that was rolled, forged, or cast?”

In another Alaska pilot project, ConocoPhillips teams have partnered with an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and additive manufacturers to 3D print choke cage valves, which are flow-control devices used in water-injection wells.

In this instance, the Alaska team identified numerous choke valves obsoleted by the OEM. The solution: retrofit the existing valve bodies with 3D-printed valve cages made of Inconel 718.

“We’ll be able to extend the life of the choke valves using an optimized design,” Andersen said, “replacing parts only when we need them. With additive manufacturing, you don't have to go out and buy a whole new valve, plug, or whatever the piece."

These 3D printing trials, he said, exemplify the Alaska business unit's continual search for innovative, cost-effective ways to maintain and optimize its operations.

“Additive manufacturing is an exciting technology with extreme potential to not only maintain 40-year legacy assets and equipment," Andersen said, "but also improve the performance of those assets in a cost competitive way."

Canada Field Trial
In British Columbia, ConocoPhillips is field testing 3D printed water-valve parts at its Montney water hub.

In this example of additive manufacturing, the Canadian business unit has been trying to resolve corrosion issues with a swing check valve trim assembly used at its water-treatment facility, which retreats saline produced water for reuse in future fracturing operations.

The team improved the internal design of a 4-in. swing check valve and developed a 3D printed polymeric version of it. If the 3D printed valves prove worthy, the business unit is planning to retrofit more than 20 valves with the same solution. Not only will this solution prevent business unit personnel from having to replace the entire valves with a more expensive super duplex stainless (SDSS) steel solution but it will also enable them to print the internal valve parts in only days compared to the 32-weeks lead time associated with the SDSS solution.

“The Montney is a tremendous asset for the ConocoPhillips Canada business unit,” said Lee Osness, Senior Facilities Engineer. “This asset carries its own unique set of challenges, and we look for innovation in these challenging spaces. It’s all about being creative. It’s about noticing a problem that needs to be fixed.”

Read the full story here.