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PEEK resin demonstrates its durability in extremely aggressive environments.

Philipp Renner

November 18, 2016

2 Min Read
Fused filament fabrication deployed in oil and gas extraction

The erroneous notion has sometimes been that any 3D printer can be used for fabricating just about any solid object conceivable. This, however, is not true; in fact, there are at least eight different kinds of 3D printing technologies. Each of these technologies is conditioned for 3D printers designed for a specific material class, thus delivering different mechanical performances for parts fabricated.

3D printed PEEK parts for oil and gas applications.

Although still a relatively young fabrication method, 3D printing technology has about 30 years of practice-based evidence to prove that it has evolved to become a tool for the production of highly complex, high value, engineering critical parts. For instance, 3D printing technologies have been adopted by the aircraft industry for the manufacturing of different kinds of components including safety critical parts used in passenger airlines. Likewise, 3D printing is also now being used in the medical sector for the fabrication of patient-specific implants used for long-term application in human medicine. The entry level for 3D printing technology in the various high-end economy leveraging industries is of course understandably different but there are hallmarks to follow. 

Polyetheretherketone (PEEK), for example, already has a history in the oil and gas sector where its various valuable attributes are leveraged. PEEK brings along properties which make it suitable for use in extremely demanding operating environments. Some of these are:

- Stable mechanical performance in the temperature range -196 °C (-321 °F) to 260 °C (500 °F)

- Structural endurance up to pressures in the order of 200 MPa (~29000 PSI)

- High anti-corrosion properties ensuring mechanical stability and surface dynamics are fully retained in both seawater and aromatic NORSOK (standards developed by the Norwegian Technology Centre) hydrocarbon fluid environments

- Technically marginal (~25%) loss in tensile strength upon exposure to 100% hydrogen sulfide gas under relatively high temperature (220°C) and pressure (~4.5 MPa) conditions.

These properties make it attractive to use PEEK for components supporting down-hole equipment such as sealing systems, fasteners, gas separation systems, gears, impellers, plugs, tubes and housings.

Additive manufacturing of PEEK parts using so-called fused filament fabrication (FFF) 3D printing technology has only recently become possible. The 3D printer developed for this process is portable and equipped with easy to operate features. Such a 3D printer can be installed at onshore, offshore or remote locations where oil and gas operations are highly time-critical. An obvious advantage is that the time to realize maintenance-based goals can be significantly shortened; especially in situations that currently rely on shipment of parts from relatively distant warehouses or supplier locations to sites where they are needed in order to keep production going without interruptions. Clearly a 3D printer on-site can empower location-based crew to rapidly manufacture replacement parts or supplementary parts so as to maintain operating and production levels.

This article is an edited version of a blog originally posted by Philipp Renner, Applications Researcher, Indmatec GmbH (Karlsruhe, Germany).

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