Shell uses AM to enable digital warehouse for spare part management

July 26, 2021

Shell has utilised Additive Manufacturing to optimise repair and replacement strategies as well as a digital warehouse approach (Courtesy Shell)

Global energy company Shell has reported on its use of Additive Manufacturing to optimise repair and replacement strategies, as well as enabling a digital warehouse approach to spare part management. Capable of reducing costs, delivery time and the carbon footprint of spare parts, Shell said it is working with industry leaders to advance the adoption of AM for the energy sector.

In 2011, Shell began using a metal laser-based AM machine to fabricate unique testing equipment for laboratory experiments at the Shell Technology Centre Amsterdam (STCA), The Netherlands. Today, Shell has approximately fifteen metal, ceramic and polymer AM machines located at its technology centres in Amsterdam and Bangalore, India.

The company explains that, although it has the capability to additively manufacture spare parts in-house, it will aim to source AM components from an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) qualified to supply the parts. When an OEM is not available, and in compliance with intellectual property (IP) laws, Shell will reverse engineer the part and then have a commercial supplier produce it from a 3D model. Only in an emergency case, and when IP is not an issue, will Shell additively manufacture spare parts in-house.

Shell states that its Additive Manufacturing strategy aims to develop a digital warehouse which stocks all the information required to additively manufacture components when needed, in partnership between Shell’s technical authority, OEMs and local partners. A digital warehouse enabled by local eco-systems would present true lead time reduction, responsible use of resources and progress for the local communities where Shell operates.

At manufacturing sites, access to AM services reduces the need to stockpile components with teams only needing to additively manufacture the replacements needed, saving both time and money. For example, at Pernis refinery in the Netherlands, Shell is testing the use of AM to produce impellers for a production critical, seven-stage centrifugal pump. This is said to be the first of its kind Additive Manufacturing application for components used in a critical service-multi-stage pump.

This project is undertaken in close partnership with Baker Hughes, who will be building the part. If successful, the project would mean the refinery could supply additively manufactured pump impellers on demand, instead of stocking the spare parts for years. Shell estimates that using AM to create these production critical parts reduces the time needed to supply them by 75%, compared to using conventional manufacturing processes.

“Baker Hughes has a decade long experience in Additive Manufacturing and sees 3D printing as a key service pillar for our Turbomachinery & Process Solutions business,” stated Alessandro Bresciani, vice president, Services for Baker Hughes’ Turbomachinery & Process Solutions business. “With Shell, we apply 3D printing to mitigate supply chain risks when lead time is critical. All actors in this value chain must now come together to develop the right framework where 3D printing brings enhanced value to the energy sector.”

This year, Shell also reported it had reached a milestone when, along with the Elliott Group, it successfully additively manufactured an aluminium alloy impeller for a multi-stage high pressure liquified natural gas pump. This part is used for cryogenic hydrocarbon service, which is a novel use case for the technology in the energy sector. The teams collaborated closely to establish the technical specification of the part and qualify the AM process. The building of the impeller, heat-treatment and testing was completed within forty days, which is 85% less than that of the conventional delivery time of producing such parts. Beyond this time reduction, the AM impeller reportedly demonstrated better mechanical performances compared to traditionally cast impellers.

Derrick Bauer, Elliott’s Manager of Material Engineering, commented, “Working together with Shell, both organisations learned valuable lessons, confirming the significant advantages of 3D printing: precision manufacturing, lead time reduction, higher quality component. As more material choices and larger components are rapidly being developed, Elliott will continue to explore 3D printing as a preferred manufacturing method.”

Shell believes that its approach to Additive Manufacturing is paving the way to reduce the need for holding and maintaining a large inventory of spare parts, which reduces cost and waste. Furthermore, using the technology to manufacture a part closer to where the it is then to be used reduces the emissions associated with transportation. It also helps to create shorter and more effective supply chains, supported by high-skilled local capabilities.

Further information about Shell’s Additive Manufacturing focus is available here.

In the latest issue of Metal AM magazine

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