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3D printing and metal additive manufacturing (AM)

3D printing, more accurately known as Additive Manufacturing (AM) is quickly turning from a disruptive, fringe technology to a requirement in our industry, and we are already using it extensively to solve supply chain challenges and innovate faster, boosting productivity and cutting costs from oilfield to refinery.

Additive Manufacturing (AM) is a method of producing physical objects such as mechanical parts by adding material layer-by-layer based on a 3D model, eliminating the need for complex production processes and machining. This means that 3D-printed components can be made on-site, when and where they are needed, eliminating lead times, warehousing and transportation.

3D printing

What is 3D printing?

3D printing, or more correctly, Additive Manufacturing (AM), is a production process that enables the production of geometrically complex parts, prototypes, and components. It allows the production of items that were simply not possible to produce economically with traditional manufacturing, and can shorten delivery times drastically when carried out on-site or close to transportation hubs.

Additive manufacturing is just one of a raft of exciting new digital technologies that are being rapidly adopted in Equinor, saving costs, lead times, warehousing and emissions.

Additive Manufacturing

Additive Manufacturing (AM) is a method of producing mechanical parts by adding material layer-by-layer based on a 3D model.

There are seven technologies within AM and some of these are 3D printing. Most materials can be used, and so far, Equinor has tested Titanium, 316L stainless steel, Inconel 625 and 718 and super duplex in addition to various polymers and composite materials.

Products can be printed in metal or plastic. In recent years, 3D printing has gone from being science fiction to an industrially mainstream technology.

The term 3D printing is typically used to refer to all types of additive manufacturing. However, this is not quite accurate. Strictly speaking, 3D printing refers only to the transformation of a digital CAD (Computer-Aided Design) file into a three-dimensional physical solid object or part.

Digital inventory illustration
Digital Inventory, also called Digital supply Network. This is a way of connecting all suppliers and end users in the Energy industry, and to combine the digital recipe with on-demand manufacturing of spare parts. This will transform the supply chain. Equinor has teamed up with TotalEnergies, Shell, ConocoPhillips, Vår Energi and Fieldnode to develop and implement this globally.

Additive Manufacturing – an enabler for the Digital Inventory

Additive Manufacturing is where the digital world meets the physical world.

Combined with digital inventory it is possible to order digital parts from anywhere in the world, transfer the files digitally and order local manufacturing close to the site. Equinor has been participating in the development of the Fieldnode Digital Inventory solution and is now collaborating with TotalEnergies, Shell, ConocoPhillips, Vår Energi and Fieldnode to implement digital inventory solutions globally. The Fieldnode Digital Inventory is connected to Equinor’s procurement system and the first digital parts have been ordered, produced, and delivered.

Illustration with the benefits of 3D printing, which are reduce lead time, repair of parts, on-site repair, improved functionality, visualisation, reduced costs, alternative material, temporary fix, digital inventory


3D printing is a prioritised technology in Equinor, and our Additive Manufacturing strategy is based on four pillars: sustainability, cost efficiency, improved supply resilience and local ripple effects.

Benefits of additive manufacturing

AM and 3D printing provide opportunities for more sustainable production because it reduces waste and consumption of raw materials. The combination of a digital inventory with local 3D printing facilities will reduce logistics, warehousing and transportation.

With Equinor’s digital inventory, we can purchase and order a specific part from all over the world. By purchasing a part via the cloud there will be no need for transportation over far distances. The physical part can be produced when the need arises, where you need it.

The plan for the next three to five years is to reduce physical warehousing by 25%, and in 10 years, by 50%, equating to many tonnes of equipment. Today, this inventory works as insurance in case something happens, and we need a part quickly to assure business. This opens for a new more cost effective mindset: fewer raw materials, less consumption, reduced costs/taxation, and reduced CO2 emissions.

Cost efficiency

Additive Manufacturing has proved that it is an enabler for reduced maintenance cost, reduced warehouse cost, reduced cost related to long lead times and improved performance.

Examples of reduced maintenance costs are the ability to 3D scan, redesign and 3D print any part which is missing or obsolete. Another example is the possibility of repairing components or larger structures by using AM as a repair method. If the component is corroded, eroded, or worn new material can be added with perfect results. This can extend the lifetime of equipment and many replacement projects can be avoided.

By introducing the Digital Inventory, the physical production is postponed until the need is there. Therefore, the physical inventories can be reduced. Finally, reduced lead time of spare parts by using AM has already shown that we can reduce downtime after technical breakdowns. These are all examples of why we use the slogan: “From just-in-case to just-in-time”.

The largest 3D printed component in the energy industry

A flange used when installing a thruster at the Norne ship. Approximately three meters in diameter and weighing three tonnes. It was 3D printed in Larvik, Norway. The reason for using 3D printing was to reduce lead time from 40 weeks to 10 weeks. Materials used: steel and inconel.

Supply resilience

By moving the physical production of spare parts to a site close to the end user, delivery reliability will increase.

Additive Manufacturing is one of several automated manufacturing methods which are highly flexible and use a 3D model as a basis for production. A local, on-demand factory can produce a spare part for a pump one day, for a valve the next day, and a part for a fish farm the third day.

By using 3D scanning, 3D modelling, and 3D printing discontinued parts can be recreated. We can ensure faster production time with fewer parts. The technology also ensures greater design freedom. We can 3D print structures that are not possible to produce with other methods, this results in components that are stronger, lighter or have better performance.

Case example 1: From 40 to 10 weeks delivery time

At Oseberg Field Centre there was a great need to replace five hydraulic valve blocks. To solve this challenge, we used a 3D printer. 3D printing a polymer replica was a good way to ensure that the 3D model was precise and correct. The results? Much shorter delivery time. The needed time spent following traditional methods would be approximately 40 weeks. However, using the 3D printer, the need time was reduced to 10 weeks.

Case example 2: A more flexible supply chain

With a fully digital inventory, local and modern manufacturing facilities, and the use of drones for transportation of the 3D printed spare parts, our whole supply chain becomes more flexible, significantly reducing emissions and costs due to fewer resources spent.

Local ripple effects

3D printing enables us to create ripple effects in the local communities where we operate, creating value locally through so-called «homesourcing». Most of the 3D printed parts which have been put in service in Norway have been produced by a supplier in Norway. Equinor is actively supporting the establishment of 3D printing hubs in northern Norway.

With the technology, we can download a design from anywhere in the world – be it at our locations in Brazil, northern Norway, or Canada – and produce it locally with 3D printing. It is efficient for us, and it contributes to communities by creating local jobs.

Case example 1: World record in the industry

At the Norne field, we produced the largest steel and metal object in our industry by 3D -printing. Ship needed to be replaced as part of the maintenance program. To ensure correct functionality the flange had to be changed at the same time. The lead time of a traditional flange was 40 weeks, the 3D printed, 3m in diameter flange took 10 weeks to produce – in Norway. This was made possible due to the collaboration between Equinor, Welmax, DNV and Kongsberg Maritime.

Case example 2: Increased demand for new service functions

With new technology and improved processes, there will be a need for jobs within new and different types of service functions.

3D printing has opened opportunities for welding robots. With this comes an increased demand for service functions such as robot programming, obtaining robots, welding technology, and then executing this work out in the field.

Case example 3: New hubs equals new jobs

Let’s take our work in Norway to exemplify further. To bring this to life locally, we need hubs that can produce the necessary parts locally when ordered. Hubs will be needed in Hammerfest, on the Helgeland coast, in Bergen and in other locations close to our supply bases. With this, there will be new jobs and new value creation that we do not have today.