3D Printers

LLoyd's Register Wants You to Design 3D Printing Regulation

Lloyd’s Register Group Limited (LR) is a massive global engineering and business services organization which dates back to 1760.  It is owned by the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, which is a British charity dedicated to research and education in science and engineering. They also provide certification and quality assurance for off-shore structures, shore-based installations, power stations, and railway infrastructures.  And, they’ve been paying quite a bit of attention to the impact of 3D printing on their various concerns.  An issue that they have, though, is the need for standardization and regulation surrounding the new technology. And they want industry members to create that standardization.

Lloyd’s is concerning itself with the impact of additive manufacturing across energy, aerospace, biomedical, automotive and construction industries.  In a recent press release, they cited an Oil and Gas Technology Radar Survey where “over 60% of executives indicated additive manufacturing is a medium to high impact technology in the energy industry.”

They’ve put together a few areas of focus that they feel further investigation and research would benefit industry in driving safer outcomes using AM technologies.They are:

  • Quality control
  • Digital data integrity
  • Environmentalhazards
  • Software and hardware usability

I proceeded to download their whitepaper, titled “The opportunities for Additive Manufacturing in the Energy Industry.”  The first three pages give a standard introduction to 7 3D printing technologies, a brief description of how a CAD model is used, cite Gartner’s and Wohler’s market research to suggest the promise of expansion from a 2 billion dollar industry to 10.8 billion by 2021, and explain that the technology hasn’t matured.  The paper navigates across some examples of government spending and initiatives towards 3D printing in the US ($30 million for the America Makes National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute), UK ($25 million), Singapore, as well as mentioning a few of the larger commercial research organizations that are focused on created and capitalizing on a “sustainable commercial approach” to 3D printing, such as the European AMAZE project and the American Additive Manufacturing Consortium, which have partners or are supported by companies like GE, Lockheed Martin, etc.

The point of the whitepaper seems to be to point out that “hey, a lot of companies and governments are spending quite a bit of money on this technology, it produces a lot of results in some areas, and clearly is going to impact a wide variety of industries and processes, but we can’t quite figure out how to create standards for this new technology. But we probably should, given the billions of dollars produced by the standardization of past manufacturing processes.”

The “industry perspectives” section contains a few interesting tidbits.  In the energy sector, Haliburton’s pilot 3D printing program is used as a promising example of implementing 3D printing to streamline a supply chain, in this case for drilling equipment.  In the marine industry, the company Maersk is cited as an example of a company “insourcing” its supply chain through a pilot program to replace high turnover and high failure parts for ships by way of 3D printing.  In the aerospace industry, they cite an 80% reduction in lead times for parts from Pratt & Whitney, a “Big 3” aerospace engine manufacturer.  According to the whitepaper, they “reported “a decrease of waste and consumption of raw materials, and a 50 percent weight reduction in a new part.”

The rest of the paper focuses on how 3D printing could help solve common problems in the oil and gas industries, such as: asset aging; maintaining the integrity of equipment; preserving the infrastructure by producing now obsolete parts; using Reality Computing to capture discrepancies between the virtual design of an object and the physical object itself after fabrication; customizing the strength, type, and quality of materials on components; and cutting costs by utilizing the sped up iterative process of optimizing a design and 3D printing each one for testing, and then selecting the best one inexpensively and quickly.

The paper continues to talk about the benefits that 3D printing can offer manufacturing supply chains by creating manufacturing centers which lower transportation costs, allowing companies to rapidly redesign prototypes, and allowing companies to test and alter their prototypes, while they are designing them.  But the barriers to adoption are basically the lack of all kinds of standards: anticipatory, participatory, reference, minimum quality standards, and interface standards.  And all of this needs to be funded, adopted, and be made aware of.

As of right now, there is not enough drive from the legacy institutions that are exploring the technology to push for legislation and regulatory standards, end of story.  But Lloyd’s is convinced that their Joint Industry Project (JIP) will be of value to alleviating their concerns about regulation and commercial adoption.

And, you are invited.  This is an open discussion across industries on matters concerning the future entanglement of 3D printing with major global manufacturing and economic processes.