CASTOR: Challenges & Opportunities of 3D Printing for the Oil and Gas Industry

For over a century, the oil and gas industry has driven many of the industrial innovations that have taken place around the world. According to research, the oil and gas industry is estimated to be ~$210B and supplies some ~10M jobs just in the United States.

When we look at the adoption of Additive Manufacturing, the oil and gas industry has yet to realize its true potential, and it has been growing comparatively slower than other industries. However, with the industry facing challenges from oil price volatility and a shift towards alternative energy sources, it is increasingly becoming essential for stakeholders to reduce operational costs, and they are searching for innovative solutions to tackle this challenge

Along with the demand for this Energy as a commodity that is never seeming to dip, innovative companies, both large and small, are looking at 3D Printing in the energy, oil, and gas industry as the next big manufacturing innovation to drive the industry into the future.

Common Examples of 3D Printing in the Oil and Gas Industry

Production of drilling tools:

Additive manufacturing is being used to produce stabilizers, drill bits, and other downhole tools for oil and gas exploration and production.

Replacement parts:

3D printing in the oil and gas sector can also manufacture replacement parts for valves, pumps, and other equipment that are no longer available or difficult to source, reducing the requirement of expensive repairs.

Customized pipeline components:

The technology is beneficial in producing customized pipeline components, including fittings, flangers, and connectors. These can be manufactured on demand while being customized to specific applications, thereby boosting performance and reducing lead times.

For instance, 3D Printing spare parts for the nuclear sector companies like IMI CCI are utilizing Metal Additive Manufacturing to outfit oil and gas pipelines. This metal 3D Printing technology is helping to both shorten and solve supply chain problems through the on-demand manufacturing capacity from direct metal laser digital manufacturing.

The Challenges of Adopting Additive Manufacturing in the Oil and Gas Industry

While 3D Printing could be a useful addition compared to traditional manufacturing methods, the adoption of the technology involves some hurdles for oil and gas companies.

Material Composition Standards

The oil and gas industry operates in harsh environments with high pressures, high temperatures, and corrosive substances, all materials used must be compatible with these conditions. While there are several options for 3D printing materials, including metal and polymer, not all materials are suitable for these harsh environments.

Governance & Regulatory Requirements

The oil and gas industry involves numerous governing bodies that set standards for the entire supply chain within the energy sector, such as the American Petroleum Institute (API). Those can hinder the adoption of 3D Printing in oil, gas & renewable energy sectors.

Lack of expertise in the technology

Additive Manufacturing is a rather new technology that is going through a fast research and development cycle. The adoption process of 3D printing is often slow, requiring an immense amount of Engineering know-how to get things operational.

How Additive Manufacturing Can Overcome these challenges

Overwhelmingly, the oil and gas industry is (and has been) at an inflection point.

It utilizes 3D printing to make parts that are complex in shape and cheap, such as spares and replacements. There are various advantages that the technology offers over conventional subtractive manufacturing. Aside from part consolidation, circular supply chain, improved quality control and a number of other benefits, Additive Manufacturing finds itself integral in a number of ways in the oil and gas industry. Continue on to learn more about some of these applications and the tangible benefits 3D Printing offers.

On-Demand Manufacturing

Oil and gas plants are spread all around the world, this means that the logistic efforts and costs are high. The high cost of downtime further exacerbates the difficulty with component supply. Most operators work to reduce unplanned downtime by keeping large inventories of vital spare parts, since creating high-quality parts for maintenance and repairs is necessary and adds expense to transportation and production.

There are numerous additive manufacturing techniques available to optimize asset maintenance. Industry leaders, suppliers, and maintenance companies are all pursuing additive manufacturing to do repairs faster and with higher design quality. 3D printing in the oil and gas industry uses on-demand printing to reduce warehouse inventories. Given the historical volatility of oil prices, the savings that follow are more significant. A large oil company like Shell or GE Oil have an array of 3D Printing applications just within the realm of offshore rigs, oil drills, and rapid prototyping. Many of these organizations use 3D Printing to maintain these rigs which contain pipes and transportation methods used for the global oil and gas industry,

a soldier using military machinery
Reducing Inventory Costs

Minimized transportation costs, enhanced design freedom, just-in-time manufacturing and more are just some of the reasons why we see an opportunity for 3D Printing to benefit the product development and overall manufacturing process within the oil and gas drilling industries. Using additive manufacturing, production costs can be decreased while lead times are shortened.

Enhanced Component Quality

In the case of GE Energy, their direct benefits related to 3D Printing come in the form of 3D Printed metal cement for gas turbines to increase wind farm efficiency. Not only is time savings a huge factor in this application, but material costs go down in addition to improved component integrity.

Complex Geometries

Some parts used in the oil and gas industry have complex geometries that are difficult to manufacture using traditional methods. 3D Printing allows for the creation of complex geometries that are precise and accurate. This 3D technology can be used to create parts suchas turbomachinery impellers, turbine blades & nozzles, and other complex shapes that are essential to energy manufacturing and alternative design. Additionally, the emergence of 3D Scanning technology has also assisted companies that are considering adopting 3D Printing. Product designers alike are quickly becoming aware of the benefits an additive manufacturing process can help with, especially for heavy manufacturing equipment, offshore drills, rigs, and other parts of the oil and gas industry.

Also, some techniques for additive manufacturing, like direct energy deposition, could be used to fix or remake old manufacturing equipment. By extending the lifespan and efficiency of worn-out and damaged components like valves, pumps, and shafts, the approach can reduce total operating and maintenance costs.

Innovating New Products

One of the best things about 3D printing is that it can speed up the process of making new products. Thanks to additive manufacturing, products may be quickly and affordably created, prototyped, manufactured, tested, and validated. The oil and gas industry can use this benefit to quickly adjust to new market opportunities and spot any problems before they happen during the design stage.

In 2016, Shell used 3D printing to make a successful prototype of an oil and gas drilling buoy. Traditional methods of making things would have taken months to make a working plastic prototype, but thanks to the technology, the experts were able to do this in just four weeks.

Another example is Siemens, which recently produced a 3D-printed burner for an industrial gas turbine. It could be produced in one piece instead of being manufactured in 13 distinct pieces to be welded together.

As additive manufacturing enables the creation of complicated components with greater performance, less weight, and increased durability, it has the potential to revolutionize the oil and gas industry. To increase the overall effectiveness of the industry, the sector must continue to create materials and procedures that work with additive manufacturing.

To summarize,

The use of additive manufacturing in the oil and gas industry might spread to regional hubs and offshore locations, revolutionizing supply chain processes. Over the next ten years, as new uses for 3D printing are found and new business opportunities with 3D printing materials and technology come up, the oil and gas industry will definitely see and take advantage of its benefits.

CASTOR: Additive Manufacturing Applications in the Defense Industry

With the demand for modern technologies to reduce production costs, and open innovative design and engineering options, Additive Manufacturing has the potential to revolutionize the Defense and Military industries.

3D Printing delivers various benefits to cutting-edge industries, such as Aerospace, Machinery, and Automotive, as we previously covered in our blog. The industry that we'd like to focus on today is the Defense industry, which can benefit from the characteristics of additive manufacturing technology, both domestically and internationally.

Recent sources project the worldwide aerospace & defense industry to be spending ~$6 Billion on 3D Printing by the year 2027. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise, given the adoption of this versatile technology for a variety of applications and use cases. There’s consistent demand projected with the growth of 3D Printing in the defense sector. According to a study by Defense Intelligence, a staggering 75% of business executives anticipate that additive manufacturing will become commonplace in that sector over the next 10 years.

Which Additive Manufacturing applications can be found in the Defense Industry?

What is the main use of 3D printing for the Military and other Defense sectors?

What used to be plastic/polymer parts for prototype and R&D has scaled into full-blown production, replacements for traditional manufacturing, and cutting-edge technology that’s positively changing the entire design and product development process. Whether it’s tier 1, 2 or 3 Defense manufacturing companies, Marine/Army/Air Force design teams, and everything in between, Additive Manufacturing has become a prevalent force for Defense and Military applications.

Below we’ll look at just some of the ways 3D Printing is impacting Military & Defense:

MRO (Maintenance, Repair & Overhaul)

In high-stakes environments, such as the battlefield, moving quickly is of the utmost importance to remain competitive. When time is of the essence, it’s often inefficient, time consuming, and wasteful to utilize technologies such as CNC Machining.

Metal 3D Printing is positioned well thanks to its just-in-time factor, along with producing consistent metal parts rivaled (or superior) to that of traditional manufacturing technologies.

Spare Parts, Replacements for Obsolete Components

In the harsh environments of outer space, combat zones, and others, having 3D Printing in the arsenal of manufacturing is crucial. Size, Weight and Power (SWaP) is also top of mind for Aerospace 3D designers, in conjunction with DfAM (Design for Additive Manufacturing).

Aviation companies like GE (General Electric) have been able to take advantage of CAD Software, FEA Mechanical/Strucutal Analysis Tools, and Metal 3D Printers to entirely re-imagine simple brackets with complex, organic geometries like the picture.

Having on-demand additive manufacturing capabilities for spare parts thanks entirely to additive manufacturing is another clear-cut application for the defense sector. With a variety of aircrafts, vehicles and systems being manufactured in short order, it’s often difficult or impossible to come by OEM parts for when something breaks.

Whether it’s manufacturing the end-use component directly from a 3D Printer, or producing tooling for a given part, Additive Manufacturing is proving itself to be a vital innovation for New Product Innovation (NPI) as well as maintaining an existing fleet.

Aircraft Fixtures, Dies & Tooling

Innovators in the aerospace industry are quickly finding success in the use of additive manufacturing for a variety of tooling, mold, and die applications. What was once previously CNC Machined, can now be 3D Printed to serve industry players such as the US Military, Defense contractors, and organizations in need of precise analysis for their additive manufacturing workflows.

3D Printed Rockets, Advanced Composites, and more

In more recent years of VC-funded startups in the US, many build their entire business model around the flexibility and agile method of 3D Printing rockets, rocket components, and many other components that go on or inside launch vehicles and payloads.

There are in fact a number of companies that solely use additive manufacturing and nothing else to manufacture natural liquid gas rockets, such as Relativity Space in California.

All of the major commercial aviation giants (ie. Boeing, Airbus, etc.) are huge adopters of Additive as well for engine components, interior plane parts, and everything in between.

Advanced Technological Research & Development

Aside from the Supply Chain shortening and efficiency increases that additive manufacturing commands, the planned US military budget for this year includes roughly $13.2 billion for technology research. One obvious sign of the growing interest in 3D printing's possibilities for defense applications is its increased support for additive manufacturing. Technology partnerships, such as the CASTOR <> Stanley Black and Decker <> EOS, are fundamental for the integration of Metal 3D Printing in the Digital Manufacturing ecosystem.

UAV Sub-assemblies, Satellites, Drones & more

The range of additive manufacturing applications for various military vehicles, aircrafts, and projects spans in many ways. Whether it’s prototyping/tooling for an aerospace component, or providing unique solutions for combat readiness (see image below), additive manufacturing has found its way into every part of the product development process.

3D Printing Applications Across All Branches of US Military

One of the most significant benefits of AM is the ability to produce complex geometries that are difficult or impossible to manufacture using traditional methods. Combined with increased design flexibility, additive manufacturing is often a much more sustainable practice for virtually all areas/branches of the military.

For example, the US Army has been using AM to create lightweight brackets and mounts for handheld launch components to help more evenly distribute weights and loads. This same project also led to a lighter weight part with comparable rigidity and flexion compared to its previously injection-molded counterpart.

3D Printing Barracks is another application the DoD has begun testing using large cement 3D Printers.

The US Navy has also been using AM to produce complex components for submarines, which are often difficult to access and repair. This technology has allowed the Navy to produce parts on demand, reducing the need to stockpile spare parts and improving the overall readiness of the fleet.

Limitations and Challenges of 3D Printing in the Defense & Military Sector

Despite the many benefits of AM in the military sector, there are still some limitations and challenges that must be addressed.

  • Material selection: The additive manufacturing materials used must be suitable for the equipment’s intended application. This can be particularly difficult in the defense sector because materials must adhere to strict standards for strength, toughness, and resistance to harsh environments, in addition to higher heat resistance.

<< Here is an example of just some of the polymer 3D Printed parts that undergo FAA Certification for commercial aircrafts


  • Quality Control: As additive manufacturing creates components layer by layer; it might be challenging to find flaws. For safety and dependability in the defense sector, it is essential to make sure that parts fulfill the necessary quality & ruggedization (ie. Mil-Spec) standards.

  • Cybersecurity Threats: Additive manufacturing defense technology is susceptible to cyberattacks, which could jeopardize the production process's security and dependability. Data security raises significant concerns in the defense sector, where reliable and secure systems, processes and components are essential.

  • Data Governance/Compliance: Vital elements to ITAR or CMMC military/DoD compliance requirements are stringent, and are top-of-mind for any US contract aerospace/defense manufacturing organization. However, having an automation-centric solution can be an essential part of one’s process to validate & certify 3D Printed components for most aerospace and military-grade specifications.

To Conclude,

Additive Manufacturing has revolutionized the way the defense industry produces and maintains its equipment. The ability to produce complex geometries quickly and efficiently, as well as the reduction in lead times, has enabled the military to become more agile and flexible in its operations. While there are still limitations and challenges to be addressed, the future of AM in defense looks promising, with new materials and multi-material printing.

The use of industrial software-driven solutions and deep analysis software tools like CASTOR offer unique insights into understanding direct costs associated with 3D printing, before the first batch has been manufactured. When it comes to analyzing and planning the digital supply chain for the aerospace and defense industry, CASTOR is a prominent industry player for parts identification and for optimizing AM production, automatically. To learn more about how CASTOR can automatically analyze your product design files to help your organization discover additive manufacturing opportunities, to and experience CASTOR - schedule your demo.

6 Key Themes & Take-Away’s from IMTS 2022 (Chicago, IL USA)

After 4 long, isolating and truly strange years, IMTS was back and in full swing after being absent in 2020 for COVID-related reasons. I was fortunate enough to have an entire day to explore the 1300+ exhibitors in the over 1.3 Million square feet of space at the McCormick Center in Chicago, Illinois. With so many exhibitors and conferences packed into IMTS, I planned by day and set out to Chicago. Here are among just some of the trends and major themes I saw during my time in the Windy City:   

Automation, Automation, Automation!

  • Robotics, PLC’s, IOT Hardware, Smart-Connected Machinery and more were among some of the constant reminders for where Automation Technology is in the world. Programming these autonomous systems is seemingly becoming easier over the years, and smart-sensors are now widely available for shops to closely monitor vital aspects of their production facility and equipment. I’m also seeing more and more factory-floor automation these days, as companies of all sizes aim to do more with less, and increase shop efficiency.

Increased Investment from Nikon in the Additive Manufacturing & Robotics Sectors 


3D Printing for Production

  • This is my 3rd IMTS, and throughout the years, I’ve seen a continually expanding Additive Manufacturing Pavilion in the West Hall of McCormick Place. After many years of overcoming the initial “hype phase,” I am seeing true end-use applications for 3D Printing with both Metallics and Polymers, that much was reflected in the booths of all 3D Printing Exhibitors I saw while walking the aisles. Whether it’s tooling for initial prototyping, doing small lot runs of an initial concept, or doing full-blown production with Additive, it’s here to stay, and is proving itself to be a viable manufacturing solution. It’s exciting to see a variety of large corporations make significant investments into Additive for Fortune 500, combined with Venture Capital funds allocated towards US-based startups. 

HP Announces new Metal SJ100 Series of Powder-Bed Additive Manufacturing Systems


Continuous Evolution of Machine Tools

  • The South Hall (Largest Hall at IMTS) has always boasted an impressive scale of the world’s largest Machine Tool companies, along with millions of pounds of sophisticated machinery. While the CNC & Machine Tool industry has had a number of decades to mature, there is still much innovation taking place for a variety of Machinery and Equipment OEM’s across the globe. Combined with cutting edge metal cutting tools and software to fine tune predictability with CAD and CAM, the Machine Tool industry continues to evolve into a highly automated, precise means towards high-volume production. 
    5 Axis CNC’s Working Envelope’s (^see cover image^) are Seemingly Endless, this Czech-based Machine Tool OEM (TRIMILL) makes some Large VMC’s with nearly 3000 mm travel in the X Axis!  

Enhanced Tooling/Workholding for Additive & Subtractive Manufacturing

  • Long gone are the days where machinists use simple 3-Jaw Chucks or Manual Vises for Machining applications. Tooling & Fixturing is now to a point where Programmers, Designers & Machinists can work in true harmony thanks to innovations in design & capabilities thanks to today’s workholding companies. Additionally, new ways to make tooling, suchas Additive Manufacturing, are breaking down the barriers for traditional tooling design. 
  3D Printing is changing the way we view (and design) tooling, while enhanced material research and manufacturing methodologies have enabled expedited product development of superior workholding pieces for CNC, Welding, and other Fabrication methodologies. Today’s design & analysis/simulation software allows us to predict how our parts will hold up in real life, while modern prototyping methods enables us to quickly test & iterate our ideas in real-time.   

Wilson Sporting Goods leverages Nexa3D Printers & AddiFab Tooling Material for Lean Product Development and R&D Workflow 


Unique Use-Cases for Robotics 

  • Although the US is considered a laggard in the robotics space, I was pleased to see an immense presence of robotics for a wide array of creative real-world applications at IMTS. Anything from simple machine tending and parts changing, all the way up to ambidextrous multi-task systems capable of various shop floor operations, robots and cobots sprawled the McCormick Place at every turn. A number of robots also assist with warehouse supervision, raw material packaging/delivery, and other repetitive jobs to free up human workers for more productive tasks. Though we are likely several decades out from complete robot takeover, there were certainly a higher number of these mechatronics at IMTS, and a wider array of tasks that they’re now capable of completing. 

OnRobot developed robotics specifically aimed at warehouse/factory floor automation  


Ever-Growing Use Cases for Industrial Software

  • As computers have grown & adapted the way we live our lives, so too has the app-based software that has supported this digital transition. Strolling through the North Hall of the exhibitors, I saw a large presence of several ERP, PDM/PLM, CAD & CAM companies that have expanded their presence along with market share in more recent years. Though not all of these different software’s might not work in complete unison yet, there seemed to be a variety of 3rd party integrators present at the show to act as the “glue” to pull all of these various systems together. 

FastSuite aims at Simulating the Robotics/Welding process prior to going into production

  While we’ve been disconnected from one another through the Pandemic, Manufacturers and Technologists alike were all able to gather in Chicago this September for a spectacular turnout at IMTS 2022. Exhibitors demonstrated an accelerated look into the future filled with Software-enabled production, Digitally-driven Manufacturing, and Equipment/Hardware to support our ever-evolving Global Supply Chain.    It’s fascinating for me, who’s only been involved professionally in Manufacturing Technology for just 6 years to see such a vast evolution with everything, via the IMTS show. I’m ecstatic for 2024 and what it will bring, oh, and for FormNext to be in the Windy City in just 3 years!

Baker Industries and Lincoln Electric Additive Solutions Establish Strategic Relationship with GA-ASI on Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing Feasibility Study

MACOMB, MI - Baker Industries, a Lincoln Electric Company, and Lincoln Electric Additive Solutions (LEAS) today announced a new strategic relationship with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) on a research and development project exploring the feasibility of wire-arc additive manufacturing (WAAM) for producing steel layup tooling used in the manufacturing of composite lamination for GA-ASI's unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

GA-ASI sought a solution for complex tooling that was repeatable, accurate, vacuum-tight, and rigid enough to withstand the stress and fatigue caused by repetitive autoclave cycles. After a collaborative review of several tool geometries and requirements, the companies’ engineering teams determined that WAAM could be the right solution.

Our turnaround time can be significantly quicker than larger job shops, and we can usually ramp up production quickly to combat fluctuations in customer demand.

Mike Wangelin, Business Development Manager, Lincoln Electric Additive Solutions/Baker Industries

Coupled with Baker's robust post-processing, fabrication, and inspection capabilities, WAAM's ability to quickly produce large, complex components using several materials could present a comprehensive solution to GA-ASI's production tooling needs. While still in the process of qualification at GA-ASI, the process has demonstrated preliminary success toward reaching production-level use in GA-ASI's manufacturing operations. Overall, GA-ASI has seen savings ranging between 30-40% in cost and about 20-30% in lead time using WAAM in place of traditional manufacturing processes for specific tool families and geometries. In addition, the first tool produced has passed GA-ASI's initial assessments. It is vacuum-tight, has a uniform thermal survey, and exceeds target GD&T requirements.

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