AML3D to WAM 3D print colossal eight-tonne pressure vessel for ExxonMobil

Australian large-format 3D printer manufacturer AML3D has been contracted to build a massive eight-tonne pressure vessel by oil and gas multinational ExxonMobil

Having received a $190,000 order from ExxonMobil, AML3D will now utilize its Wire Arc Manufacturing (WAM) facilities to produce the container, in a way that reduces its lead time from 12 months to just 12 weeks. As well as helping its client meet a tight delivery deadline of September 2022, AML3D says the project demonstrates 3D printing’s potential in an oil and gas sector where it’s increasingly gaining traction. 

“Signing this deal with ExxonMobil is a further demonstration of delivery against our multi-phase growth strategy,” said Andrew Sales, MD of AML3D. “We have a major focus on building our capability and presence in the global oil and gas sector as an immediate value driver for the business and this contract absolutely aligns with that objective.”

AML3D's WAM technology being used to build a large-format pipe spool last year. Photo via AML3D.
AML3D’s WAM technology being used to build a large-format pipe spool last year. Photo via AML3D.

AML3D’s freeform DED technology

Founded in 2014, AML3D is a metal 3D printer developer seeking to disrupt the traditional supply chains behind the metal parts used by aerospace, defense, maritime, manufacturing and oil & gas firms. To make this possible, the firm has combined its expertise in welding, robotics, material engineering and software, to build an automated system capable of operating in a freeform environment.

While AML3D’s flagship ‘ARCEMY’ machine is powered by conventional Directed Energy Deposition (DED) technology, in that it works by layering wire feedstock into parts, it also uses inert gas shielding to negate the need for an enclosed chamber, allowing it to avoid the geometry restrictions that having to print with one imposes. 

In practice, the company claims that this enables its aluminum, titanium, nickel and steel-compatible 3D printer to manufacture large parts 70% cheaper than traditional technologies, while yielding as much as 85% less waste. To allow clients to harness these benefits, AML3D has now fitted several of its systems at an Australian facility, from which they can order custom parts, certified for end-usage.

During September 2020, the firm announced that one such firm, shipbuilder Austal, had contracted it to 3D print naval defense parts, and late last year, it entered the space sector via a deal with an unnamed partner. AML3D has also installed units at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and University of Queensland, where they continue to facilitate both academic and industry-focused R&D.

The AML3D Arcemy system, featuring the company's WAM 3D printing technology, is being used to fabricate titanium body armor. Photo via AML3D.
The AML3D ARCEMY system, featuring the company’s WAM 3D printing technology. Photo via AML3D.

Manufacturing a behemoth container 

Awarded by ExxonMobil, AML3D’s latest contract is set to see it 3D print an entire 8m x 1.5m pressure vessel. For those unfamiliar, these are essentially large enclosed containers, designed to hold liquids, vapors or gasses at a pressure that’s significantly higher or lower than that of the environments in which they’re stored. 

The company hasn’t revealed the nature of the build, and pressure vessels can take the form of reactors, flash drums, separators or even heat exchangers, but they tend to be deployed in the petrochemical, energy and oil and gas industries, areas in which ExxonMobil is a key player and continually invests in its infrastructure. 

According to AML3D, its technology was chosen to carry out the build due to its proven ability to produce certifiable parts, and “sustainability over traditional manufacturing.” The firm also says its process should enable ExxonMobil to “address supply chain constraints” it’s currently facing, and have the container ready in time for deployment. 

When it comes to safety, due to the nature of the contents pressure vessels are often used to hold, they have to pass stringent testing procedures. In keeping with this, the eight-tonne print is set to undergo hydrostatic pressure testing, through which it’ll be verified for compliance with ASME VIII and API 20S standards, while following the processes set out in AML3D’s Lloyd’s Register facility accreditation. 

The build itself, meanwhile, is expected to be completed at the firm’s Adelaide facility using a wire feedstock with a yield strength of more than 450 MPa, and five of its eight ARCEMY systems installed there. Once finished, the container, featuring a mass which far outstrips that of a 940-kilo high-pressure piping vessel AML3D made last year, will be deployed within ExxonMobil’s refinery operations. 

“It is pleasing to note that during discussions with ExxonMobil the advantages of AML3D’s technology over traditional manufacturing were a key consideration,” added Sales. “Our proven WAM technology disrupts traditional industrial-scale metal manufacturing by producing superior components with a significantly shorter production cycle and a far more sustainable methodology involving less waste and lower energy input.”

Total's Elgin-Franklin oil rig in the North Sea. Photo via Total.
Total’s Elgin-Franklin oil rig in the North Sea. Photo via Total.

Meeting growing demand in oil and gas

Due to the remote nature of many oil and gas facilities, as well as the supply chain issues that operators continue to face, some are beginning to turn to 3D printing. In fact, Protolabs revealed last year in its ‘Decision Time’ survey that as many as 83% of oil and gas firms are considering adopting on-demand manufacturing to produce spares. 

Already, there’s evidence to support the report’s findings, with the likes of ConocoPhillips trialing 3D printing as means of overcoming the supply chain problems it’s facing at its Kuparuk oilfield in Alaska. By additive manufacturing the burner plugs found in the gas turbines of its facility, the firm has reportedly been able to reduce their lead times from around thirty weeks down to just three. 

Energy services provider Hunting PLC has also bought into the technology recently via its acquisition of Cumberland Additive. After buying the 3D printing bureau, the company said that doing so would allow it to better meet the needs of its existing oil and gas clients, while providing it with a way of entering the lucrative aerospace and defense sectors.

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Featured image shows AML3D’s WAM technology being used to build a large-format pipe spool last year. Photo via AML3D.