Under a partnership with additive manufacturing specialist, Additech AS, metal powder provider, f3nice, and subsidiary Aker BP ASA, Norwegian energy giant Aker Solutions 3D printed a series of tubing hanger protectors, including one made of scrap metal. The protectors shield hydraulic controls exposed when production tubing is inserted into a well.
The benefits of 3D printing, or additive manufacturing (AM), are many, starting with weight. Lightweight parts — a stainless steel protector uses 227 kilograms of steel; the 3D printed ones used just 13 kg of steel powder — are often safer to use.
While reducing waste, AM for subsea can speed deliveries with parts on-demand to eliminate long lead times for tools and equipment. The smaller emissions footprints of AM parts will also change the cost calculations of subsea wells for emissions-conscious operators.
Why 3D print?
In a competitive market, challenges sourcing commodities are real, especially for metals. Countries have tabled plans to make resource use more circular, with the parallel aim of lowering emissions. Yet, even in Norway, with its innovative energy sector, just 2.4 percent of the economy is circular, according to a consumer report.
Circular economy is about conserving resources by introducing new ways to produce, share, reuse, repair and recycle. With this project, Aker Solutions and partners Aker BP, F3nice and Additech, have taken an important step toward a more circular economy.
The additive manufacturing pilot project is showing great potential to conserve resources in adding waste to production processes. The partnership is 3D printing tubing hanger protectors for subsea wells using a powdered mix of recycled scrap taken from our workshops in Tranby, Norway.
Subsea wells produce oil & gas. Production tubing is lowered into them and suspended by a tubing hanger fitted with hydraulic and electric controls. Tubing hanger protectors shield these critical parts during tubing installation.
Partnering up to save
Tubing hanger protectors are usually made of stainless steel and produce 237 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, mostly from their manufacture and transport. When they are 3D printed, this footprint is reduced to 34 kg of CO2 per hanger protector. “The process only requires 13 kg of steel powder versus 227kg (forge and transport), so that’s a significant reduction in C02 emissions and material waste,” sais Ådne Østebrøt,” Senior Services Specialist at Aker Solutions.
This means that 3D printing removes 203 kg of CO2 emissions per hanger protector. At today’s carbon price, five installs would buy about 10 USD worth of tradeable emissions credits. The CO2 values may seem small, but the resource savings potential lies in the industrialization and scale-up of AM using recycled waste. This circular economy process is an opportunity for change away from carbon-intensive commodities when global supply chains are constrained.
The job of converting waste metal from Aker’s workshops in Tranby into additive powder was left to the specialists at f3nice. They processed the raw metal scraps and supplied the experts at Additech, who printed the parts.
“Over 80 percent of the protector additives originated from our Tranby site’s own steel waste,” Østebrøt said.
To cut transport costs and the use of carbon-intensive imported materials, decommissioned steel found locally was added to the milled shavings and workshop scraps.
Printing subsea parts of recycled steel was a breakthrough. Cooperation between partners passionate about challenging the status quo seemed to ensure the success of a project that started when Aker BP wanted a sustainable tubing-hanger solution.
The partners’ AM technology produced a circular economy product using repurposed waste. Their processes kept to strict industry standards: API Level 1 certified to DNV-SE-0568 Qualification of Additive Manufacturing Service Providers and Manufacturers plus DNV-ST-B203 Parts, Additive Manufacturing of Metallic.
AM is revolutionizing industrial supply chains worldwide, as it curbs waste and delivers complex parts on-demand. For precisely timed offshore operations, 3D printing can eliminate the “long lead times” for tools and equipment that can break schedules.
“Continued collaboration in AM and new opportunities in waste recycling offer an exciting future for the business,” said Gary Milne, VP for Engineering P&T and Technology Partnerships at Aker Solutions. The tubing hanger protector may be a small part, Milne added, but it seizes on the opportunity to save resources, get greener and deliver customer value.”
Aker Solutions possesses tools that measure the costs of emissions and scarce natural resources in just about every piece of equipment. Those tools detail how 3D printing offers resource savings, less emissions footprint and flexibility.
“This is when the partnership with operators and assessing the costs of a well get very interesting,” Milne said.