The international classification society DNV has issued CE certification to Shell and US-based manufacturer of fittings and valves, Bonney Forge, for a 3D printed gate valve. Shell and Bonney Forge collaborated on the part, which was printed in stainless steel alloy UNS S31603, at the 3D Printing Center of Excellence (CoE) and Workshop located on Shell’s Energy Transition Campus Amsterdam.
Angeline Goh, the head of digital supply chains at Shell, noted on LinkedIn that Shell will share more information about printing the gate valve at ASTM’s International Conference on Advanced Manufacturing (ICAM) 2023, in Washington DC (October 30-November 3). Goh has been an integral part of the oil & gas sector’s gradually increasing exploration of additive manufacturing (AM) that has taken place over the last several years.
Goh led the effort that in 2021 resulted in Shell’s becoming the first company to gain CE certification for a 3D printed oil & gas part — also a pressure vessel — produced in-house. Goh and the team at Shell followed up on that success in early 2022 by installing 3D printed impellers on a centrifugal pump at the Shell Energy and Chemicals Park in Rotterdam, a joint project with oilfield services giant Baker Hughes. The gate valve printed with Bonney Forge will also be installed at the Rotterdam site.
At Formnext 2022 in Berlin, Shell displayed a 3D printed oxygen hydrogen micromixer demonstration part that the company produced with GE Additive, and, finally, in January, 2023, Shell and four other oil & gas majors signed a two-year agreement to pool resources on a digital inventory ecosystem for oil & gas spare parts. Regarding that particular partnership, Goh told me in an interview published earlier this year, “What encourages me to see is that as a sector, we certainly are taking steps to move [the scaling of AM] forward: it’s no longer about only prototyping, but really making a commitment that this digital inventory is part and parcel of the new way of using material.”
Thus, while the oil & gas sector has certainly taken its time with its AM efforts, this is the only approach that could’ve had any hope for success, given the stringency of the relevant regulations, the unusually high cost of investment for oil & gas operations, and the uncertainty about the future pervading fossil fuels, to name just a few issues. But this also means that every certification milestone reached is a quantum leap for the overall landscape, especially since — as can be seen from the example of the team at Shell led by Goh — every tactical move is so closely aligned with a broader long-term strategy.
In other words, all the parts are falling into place to suggest that, if they choose to, oil & gas companies could soon enough make a huge accelerated push to digitalize their spare parts inventories. The reason this matters so much is because, insofar as the world cannot scale up the transition to renewable energy without reliable supplies of oil & gas at steady prices, the oil & gas sector needs to find ways in the short-term to decarbonize that don’t involve simply producing less fossil fuels.
This also means that maintenance operations for oil & gas infrastructure will be more important than ever, as companies are hesitant to shut down for repairs when demand is high, while simultaneously reluctant to invest in new fixed capital when the future is so uncertain. Concerning Shell, itself, news just broke that it will no longer shutter its Australian liquified natural gas (LNG) platform, Prelude, for a year, but is now instead aiming for an overhaul schedule of only “several months”. I will certainly be on the lookout all throughout 2024 for how the digitalization of supply chains might be playing a role in similar moves by other giants across the oil & gas sector.