A general term that describes a range of digital files to 3D printer fabrication methods, additive manufacturing gets its name from the progressive nature of the 3D printing process.
Whether it is working with plastic, metal, or another type of raw material, the right 3D printer can create an astounding array of parts and standalone items, building them up from nothing by gradually adding material, layer upon layer, according to the design of a highly precise CAD (computer-aided design) model. The additive manufacturing process is remarkably different from traditional manufacturing processes that often use subtractive processes to carve out parts and items from larger blocks of raw materials.
Despite its many unique advantages, the energy sector has generally needed to be faster to adopt additive manufacturing techniques on a widespread level. From its specialized infrastructure to its reluctance to abandon the intellectual property (IP) benefits that traditional manufacturing methods provide, this sector needs to be more active in embracing new technology for various reasons.
Additive Manufacturing Technology
However, energy companies stand to gain a great deal by incorporating additive manufacturing into their daily processes and leveraging its power to fabricate parts to support their ongoing operations and their various research and development endeavors. Providing just one example, the energy industry news authority Energy Digital reports that the use of additive manufacturing technology in the production of solar panels has the potential to cut manufacturing costs in half while boosting the overall efficiency of the final solar panel product by 20 percent.
While the specific benefits of additive manufacturing will vary significantly from energy company to energy company, the global additive manufacturing solutions provider Immensa has identified several general advantages for clients in both the traditional fossil fuel and state-of-the-art renewable energy industries.
When fabricating products, additive manufacturing offers many practical benefits, particularly for companies that need to create extremely limited numbers of a specific part or item. Traditional manufacturing makes low-volume production of this type cost-prohibitive if not downright impossible. Additive manufacturing, by contrast, can accommodate low-volume production at a far more reasonable price.
Additive Manufacturing in Prototypes
Additive manufacturing is also extremely helpful for building and testing new products in prototypes. Making new components and parts production extraordinarily fast and easy, additive manufacturing encourages creative experimentation while saving companies considerable time and money.
Compared with other industries, the energy industry suffers disproportionally from a loss of productivity due to a broken or missing operational part. Immensa’s additive manufacturing methods have a proven capacity to prevent downtime by slashing the lead times needed for spare parts acquisition. In addition to allowing energy companies to produce spare parts on-site, additive manufacturing can eliminate the threat posed by obsolete parts that are no longer widely available.
New Product Creation
Energy companies also often have greater needs regarding R&D and new product creation. As Immensa puts it, “There’s a growing need for complex equipment designs to boost efficiency in operations and supply chains due to growing competition from other energy sectors.”
Beyond its general ability to improve product fabrication and supply chain logistics, Immensa points out that additive manufacturing has provided the fossil fuel sector with far more energy-efficient engines by driving the optimal redesign of gas turbines. As just one example of additive manufacturing’s benefits in the renewable energy sector, Immensa brings up the all-too-common repair and maintenance problems of remote off-shore wind farms. No matter how inaccessible a wind farm’s location is, additive manufacturing can support the creation of spare parts right on site.