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Downtime in the field is expensive. Really expensive.

According to a study by Kimberlite, an oil and gas market research company, a 1% downtime rate per year could cost an oil and gas company more than $5 million. To conquer the high cost of downtime, operators need complex components that resist wear longer, perform better and can be manufactured with shorter lead times. Additive manufacturing, specifically with tungsten carbide and other wear-resistant materials, offers a solution. 

carbide drillhead Kennametal
Additive manufacturing with tungsten carbide and other wear-resistant materials is producing complex, high-performance parts (e.g., the prototype solid carbide drillhead shown above) that go the distance in the most demanding oil and gas applications and help reduce downtime. (Source: Kennametal)

Tungsten carbide and Stellite materials provide excellent wear and corrosion performance in some of the most demanding environments. Kennametal is producing complex, fully finished components with improved performance and potentially shorter lead times. 

“With 3D printing, we can produce fully sintered, tungsten carbide parts equivalent to conventionally manufactured tungsten carbide components," said Jerry Dominguez, Kennametal's business development manager. "We’re achieving full density with high-carbide content, which means improved part performance and reduced risk of downtime."

Case studies

Many of these production components are already in service or being tested in the field. For example, to help a customer beat long lead times for a critical refinery component, Kennametal 3D printed the part from its Stellite 6 AM material. By leveraging binder jet printing, Kennametal delivered the component in one-fifth the lead time of the cast component. The part is undergoing a two-year field test.

In addition to shorter lead times, customers also turn to 3D printing to deliver improved product performance, often through a combination of materials and complex designs that would be difficult or impossible to produce with traditional manufacturing methods.

That was the case for an oilfield services provider. Its flow control device featured flanges, internal geometries and elevation changes that would improve performance but also would have required a prohibitively lengthy development cycle using traditional manufacturing techniques. Kennametal combined its tungsten carbide metal powder with binder jet 3D printing to achieve the desired geometries and deliver improved wear performance over the prior steel version. The part was delivered ahead of schedule and is in service in the field. 

In other cases, oil and gas customers are seeking out 3D printing to quickly iterate and test design changes for major oilfield projects without incurring additional tooling costs.

In all these cases, it’s the combination of materials and manufacturing expertise that unlocks the full value of additive manufacturing.

Interdependency between materials

“There is a tight interdependency between materials, design and manufacturing expertise needed to produce a qualified part," Dominguez said. "You can’t just add powder and press print."

Materials drive property improvements arguably even more than equipment. Composition, particle size, shape and distribution all impact material properties and the ability to produce repeatable 3D printed parts. Kennametal is optimizing tungsten carbide, Stellite and other wear resistant materials specifically for additive manufacturing processes. Examples include the Stellite powder used to produce the refinery component and Kennametal’s new Stellite 21 AM, the first Stellite powder qualified for laser powder bed additive manufacturing. 

Post-print processing capabilities are also important.

“Post-print processing can account for a significant portion of production cost and have a critical impact on the performance of the part,” Dominguez said. 

That’s why an end-to-end approach is so critical. In addition to powder metal production and 3D printing technologies, Kennametal is leveraging post-print processing capabilities, including sintering, hot isostatic pressing and machining, to produce these components and meet or improve upon the properties of legacy parts.