Since the oil price drop in second-half 2014, the oil and gas industry has been faced with considerable challenges. However, these challenges also present new opportunities for optimizing the performance of the sector. To adapt to the prevailing economic headwinds, oil and gas companies have been forced to put maximizing efficiency and productivity at the heart of their business models. Doing this not only allows them to cut costs in the short term, but it also prepares the ground for a leaner, stronger industry in the long run as the sector’s growth outlook gradually improves and normal service is resumed.

Technological innovation in particular is playing an ever more pivotal role in helping the oil and gas industry deal with the challenging climate. Leaders at GE believe there is huge potential for innovative technology to help streamline operations, making them more resilient to today’s market conditions and more robust and profitable in the years ahead.

GE Oil & Gas celebrated the inauguration in May of two new high-tech component production lines at its plant in Talamona in northern Italy. These include a new nozzle production line, which is the first completely automated line for GE Oil & Gas, and a new additive manufacturing line, which will use laser technology to 3-D print end burners for gas turbine combustion chambers.

Both advanced manufacturing lines will be used to make parts and products that previously had to be assembled from multiple components. They will serve to establish the site as a center of technological excellence for the oil and gas industry. Talamona coming online brings years of automation and 3-D printing development and investment to fruition.

Robotic technology

The official unveiling of the upgraded turbine components manufacturing facility is the result of a multimillion- dollar investment over two years to establish the plant as one of the most advanced oil and gas production centers worldwide. Previous investments in 2013 already increased the plant’s production capacity, but this latest injection of capital moves the plant toward realizing the big technological trends reshaping the industry in the 21st century.

The new nozzle production line is the first completely automated line in a GE Oil & Gas plant. It utilizes two anthropomorphic robots capable of employing 10 different technologies, including electrical discharge machining, measurement and laser beam welding. With this new line, GE Oil & Gas is now able to produce components in Talamona that it previously purchased from third-party suppliers. The new production lines already are working and will be fully operational by the start of 2017.

Next frontier for the energy industry

GE Oil & Gas also is helping to accelerate the industry’s foray into additive manufacturing, which offers increased speed and accuracy in component production. Additive manufacturing is a nascent industry undergoing something of a boom, having grown by $1 billion for the second consecutive year.

R&D work at GE has centered primarily on developing new applications for additive manufacturing. While the technology already is used heavily in the aviation, medical and design industries, it now represents the next frontier for manufacturing equipment for the energy industry. After extensive validation of additive manufacturing during prototyping of the NovaLT16 gas turbine, GE Oil & Gas decided to move the technology into full production, leveraging the design enhancement capabilities, cycle time reduction and improved product quality.

The site also is managed with software with the capacity not only to schedule activities but also to support maintenance activity that is no longer simply preventative but predictive, leveraging GE digital capabilities through the Predix platform to optimize value chain operations.

The use of automated production and new techniques like additive manufacturing allows the company to develop parts and products more efficiently, precisely and cost-effectively, accelerating the speed at which the company can bring products to market.

Investing in the future

The company has been investing and growing its work in additive manufacturing across R&D sites located in Bangalore, India; Niskayuna, N.Y.; Pittsburgh; Shanghai; Munich; and Florence, Italy, where GE Oil & Gas opened an additive laboratory in 2013.

The Florence laboratory was given a direct metal laser melting machine and since then has grown its capabilities further thanks to the addition of two further machines for the development of turbomachinery components and special alloys. The Florence additive manufacturing laboratory has been crucial to paving the way for innovation in GE Oil & Gas, and a series of collaborations with GE Aviation and the GE Global Research Centre have significantly accelerated the development of this technology.

Pushing the boundaries of innovation

The opportunities for the application of additive manufacturing and 3-D printing in the oil and gas industry are many and open-ended. They are only just starting to be explored and will require constant innovation in terms of material science, component design and production approach. GE Oil & Gas is fostering the development of this technology to produce complex components for gas turbines while cutting costs, boosting performance and reducing emissions.

GE will always be seeking to identify new applications for its technology in the years to come and will be interested in working with both new and existing partners to address a broad range of industry challenges. For example, although initial work centered on predominantly developing turbomachinery components, GE now is also in the process of applying its 3-D printing expertise to optimize other production lines such as subsea. The applications for the components being produced using 3-D printing also span the entire GE footprint, including the use of cobalt-chromium alloys for jet engines, which were originally used for joint replacements and dental implants.

Working closely with its partners, GE will continue to strive to help them overcome barriers to growth and emerge with businesses that are more efficient, flexible and productive than before. GE’s aim going forward will be to build on the technological innovation taking place at the Talamona site to develop more technological solutions that possess the potential to unlock profound value for the sector.

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