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As a media and market research firm operating in the global additive manufacturing space, 3dpbm is now focused on understanding the actual benefits of AM adoption across the many vertical adoption segments (and helping the companies operating in these segments understand how AM can work for them). One segment where these benefits are particularly evident is fluid flow management, which can include both heat exchangers and valves. In this area, one company above all others, Aidro, has been able to show these benefits for applications in the aerospace and energy segments and, for this reason, it has become one of the most valuable recent acquisitions for the growing Desktop Metal Group of companies. At the recent IVS – International Valve Summit in Bergamo, Italy, we had the opportunity to catch up with CEO Valeria Tirelli and witness how the valve manufacturing segment – and, by extension, the energy industry – is looking and ready to embrace and adopt additive manufacturing.
A part of something bigger
One of the most evident traits that Valeria Tirelli shows, to anyone who has met or spoken with her, is her intense and contagious passion and enthusiasm for additive manufacturing as an enabling and transformative technology. In this, she will certainly fit right in with Desktop Metal CEO Ric Fulop and many of the people behind this growing reality.
“There are now several companies under the Desktop Metal umbrella,” Valeria explains, “and they have been organized primarily as hardware manufacturers, material manufacturers and parts manufacturers.” Aidro fits into this last segment. “We use metal AM technologies to produce parts, mostly for the aerospace and energy industries,” Valeria goes on: “We have already started to print the first valves with metal binder jetting technology using the first Shop system that we have installed at our facility. We are looking into valve production, leveraging our experience in terms of designing for additive manufacturing. Clearly, this is a different approach from the laser PBF technologies we have been using, and we have already begun to identify which geometries are better suited for one or the other.”
For example, Valeria showed us a seemingly bent tube. Its bent shape is difficult to replicate with traditional manufacturing (while it is very easy to do with AM) and below the surface, it hides intricate cooling channels that run along its entire length (see image above).
Another increasingly relevant application for AM is heat exchangers. While the benefits of AM in extending the heat exchange surface, thus accelerating the cooling rate of gases and fluids, are well known, seeing these intricate parts up close helps to contextualize and better understand the process. Valeria showed us a heat exchanger with a generative internal surface that can be used as a stand-alone component or as part of a modular system made up of multiple heat exchange systems.
Valves, valves, valves
But the real reason why we are here at IVS is the valves. The fourth edition of the IVS – Industrial Valves Summit marked a record number of exhibitors and exhibition areas, conferences, workshops and a focus on renewable energy with experts, decision-makers and delegations from all over the world.
To respond to the growing demand for exhibition space, the IVS organizers created an additional pavilion that expanded the Summit spaces to reach a record extension of 15,000 square meters. There are twelve countries from which nearly 300 exhibitors came. In addition to Italy, these are Germany, Great Britain, the United States of America, France, South Korea, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, South Africa, Turkey and the Czech Republic, representing four continents.
Within the IVS context, it should be said that the only companies that have successfully adopted AM in valve manufacturing are Aidro and Valland, which is the company from which the startup f3nice emerged, specializing in recyclable metal powder for AM,. However don’t let that fool you: the excitement around the results that Aidro has been able to obtain was palpable, both from the show’s organizers and many of the attendees, as shown by the very high turnout of the panel on AM held during the show (more on that in the next section below).
Besides the elegance of Aidro’s valve designs, the clearly stated advantages in terms of weight reduction, and the benefits in terms of fitting these AM valves within the constraints of highly complex systems, one of the most interesting aspects was seeing the difference between metal PBF and metal binder jetting production parts (as this will be the leitmotif of the years to come, across many different manufacturing segments). “Aidro is in the unique position to be able to implement our extensive experience in metal PBF technology and compare it with the newest metal binder jetting systems;” Valeria explains. “We now have a Shop System that we are using to demonstrate capabilities in terms of productivity and functionality for valve production. As we develop applications for this system we will move on to the larger Production Systems.”
Few applications can show the reliability of a manufacturing process as much as valves that have to undergo very intense pressures for long periods of time. In that sense, Aidro is the perfect benchmarking partner for Desktop Metal as the company seeks to bring its technology to market as a production solution. Aidro has been a key partner to energy companies, starting with multiple DNV-led JIPs to an API-led project, as such the company also represents a key asset for the entire Desktop Metal group entering this key and rapidly growing segment for AM adoption.
“The most evident advantages of using AM for oil and gas in particualr are weight, especially for submarine products, and corrosion resistance using stainless steel or Inconel,” Valeria explains “There is also a significant technological advantage in terms of being able to produce a valve as a single part, integrating multiple subassemblies. There is a lot of welding in traditional valve manufacturing and we can re-design the project to avoid these welds. For the oil and gas companies, this is extremely critical since every weld needs to be certified. If you don’t have to certify you can save a lot of time and money.”
While metal PBF is likely to continue to be the go-to technology for critical valves using a larger variety of corrosion-resistant metals, one immediate advantage that Aidro identified in using binder jetting is the higher precision, which means, for example, that the company is able to print relatively simple screw-on parts that don’t need to be machined, further reducing costs and therefore making the technology more cost-competitive on a larger batch of parts.
More energy for AM
This unique knowledge and contagious passion are also why Valeria was the moderator of the IVS panel on additive manufacturing in the Energy industry promoted by Confindustria Bergamo (IVS organizers) and Valve Campus. Aidro is an ideal link connecting key energy industry adopters such as Shell, Total Energies, Conoco Philips and Equinor, with AM hardware manufacturers targeting the energy segment such as Velo3D, Desktop Metal, EOS and Roboze.
The resulting nearly 3 hours of discussion, during the “Additive Manufacturing and Digital Inventory: Dreams or Reality for the Energy Sector” panel, provided literally dozens of insights into the real penetration of AM production parts in the Energy segment, as well as a detailed strategic assessment of where the Oil&Gas and Energy industries are heading, from targeting more sustainable practices to the requirements for enabling and exploiting on-demand, on-location manufacturing capabilities.
In her initial address, Valeria Tirelli presented Aidro’s capabilities in terms of valve weight reduction and also showed the results of a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study on the sustainability of parts 3D printed using recycle Green Powder from f3nice, demonstrating up to 80% fewer emissions.
The fact that the AM representatives from these Energy giants were present in-person at IVS to provide an update on their latest accomplishments in terms of using AM, gave the entire discussion even more value. Especially in light of some of the hard data presented, including the revelation that as many as 1200 3D printed metal parts are now field deployed in the Oil&Gas segment, including over 1000 low criticality parts, over 100 pump impellers, and inducers, over 30 control valve trims, and over 100 AM part repairs completed.
Brede Laerum, Head of the AM Centre of Excellence at Equinor, explained how AM is helping the company drive the energy transition through new opportunities in high-value, low-carbon solutions. These include the ability to manufacture parts more efficiently and on location, which results in a significant reduction of emissions, especially considering how remote most oil & gas upstream facilities are.
Taking to the stage after Mr. Laerum, Angeline Goh, Additive Manufacturing Technology Manager at Shell emphasized the importance of AM in optimizing Shell’s supply chain (and its resiliency), inspiring the audience to challenge even the seemingly impossible. Explaining how Shell sees AM as both developing novel designs and producing spare parts, Ms. Goh went on to show the company’s AM capabilities at its Energy Transition Campus in Amsterdam and the Shell Technology Center in Bangalore.
TotalEnergies’s Edwige Ravry, who is the Additive Manufacturing and Digital Inventory Product Owner at the giant, also highlighted the importance of driving the energy transition, starting from the fact that Total has changed its name. She went on to describe the company’s AM strategy for Africa, including over 50 low-criticality AM parts already field-deployed and upcoming projects with LMD and Desktop Metal’s BMD technologies. These will be used for the Tilenga project, an opportunity for in-country 3D printing to produce spare parts for Tilenga oil wells in Uganda that currently need to be transported overland from Kenya. The company plans to screen spare parts recommended by OEMs, find a critical mass of parts to justify the hardware investment in AM, and put a framework in place for multiple OEMs to share hardware.
Among the remaining presentations, both Carlo DeBernardi, SME Additive Manufacturing Industry Lead at Conoco Philips and Steve Freitas, R&D director at IMI CCI, illustrated the progress of their respective companies on the AM front. In particular, Freitas revealed that the Retrofit3D valve trimming service by IMI CCI has shipped over 500 parts and is starting to phase out legacy processes for many sizes.
This led to the final panel discussion with the AM hardware manufacturers which extended to the many valve manufacturers present in the audience. Desktop Metal Paul Gately was present to explain the possibilities of new metal binder jetting technologies while EOS and Velo3D represented the most established and the newest rising players in the metal PBF segment. Roboze, via Giancarlo Scianatico, was the only polymer company present, as one of few companies to be able to proficiently 3D print large parts using advanced polymers such as PEEK and PEI.
Overall the level of the discussion was very high and focused on solving real issues. The clear conclusion to take home from this IVS edition is that valve manufacturers need to believe that the limits of AM in terms of productivity, standardization, material properties, and process qualification can and will be overcome. Or risk being left behind.