Figure 1. Two choke valves optimized with IMI’s DRAG technology, pictured in a VELO3D Flow software build file. (Image: Velo3D)

Keeping oil and gas production facilities running smoothly is among the toughest challenges in any industry. The stresses of the high-pressure, severe service conditions in the Oil and Gas (O&G) environment result in part failure and the need to replace critical process-control components.

O&G operators and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) alike have become increasingly open to considering metal additive manufacturing (AM) as a potential answer to such challenges. AM is being viewed as an alternative to conventional manufacturing technologies — one that can provide more efficient, cost-effective solutions to ongoing inventory and geographic roadblocks.

The first-ever O&G-industry-sanctioned specification for metal AM, API20S, was published in the autumn of 2022. This spells out processes, testing, documentation, and traceability, among other requirements, for manufacturers of metal AM components being used in O&G facilities of all types.

The API20S draft was drawn up with input from hundreds of companies, ranging from operators to OEMs to AM machine manufacturers. While not detailing complete success criteria (i.e., required mechanical or nondestructive testing acceptance criteria), API20S does outline what kinds of testing and validation will be required depending on different risk levels within an O&G operation.

IMI Critical, partnering with a major O&G operator that is also an API committee member, has delivered highest criticality (Additive Manufacturing Specification Level 3), first-article component-builds intended for field service. The parts, which also meet API20S requirements, were printed on a Velo3D Sapphire Laser Powder Bed Fusion (L-PBF) system operated by contract manufacturer Knust-Godwin.

Updating a Design for AM

For the team project, the O&G operator selected a commonly installed choke valve cage. The part had previously been manufactured with simple slotted holes for ports, which can have problems with vibration and damage due to trim erosion in high-pressure-drop operations.

The flow-control industry has evolved considerably between the time this legacy part was created and today; the CAD software file for the new design consists of an array of discrete, multi-stage flow paths that better control fluid velocity and prevent problems with vibration and trim erosion (Figure 1).

The AM system’s print-preparation software automatically responds to a part’s geometry without any complex part-specific parameter development. It applies a generalized set of recipes based on the design’s native CAD geometry and user-defined inputs relating to surfaces of importance. This allows design engineers to prioritize end-part functionality without complex, pre-print parameter manipulation.

Figure 2. Three surface finish test conditions in Velo3D Flow software. (Image: Velo3D)

The designer can also use the software to apply and test different surface-refining sub-processes to choose the optimal one (Figure 2). This not only resulted in a quick transition into the First-Article section of the project, but it also created a standardized framework to further ease setting up future builds to meet IMI Critical’s specific surface finish and flow characteristic requirements.

With API20S requirements always in mind during the project, the automation provided by the AM system’s internal quality-control software ensured the collection of a large amount of data about pre-build calibration, layer-by-layer build information, and a final build report. The raw data and height-mapper images were also useful for evaluating and assessing critical areas of the part for future production.

Finishing the Parts

Figure 3. (a & b): (Left) Two choke valves, optimized with IMI’s DRAG technology, shown on the build plate after being 3D printed with VELO3D’s Sapphire system, and (Right) the two valves after finishing. (Image: Velo3D)

The two First Article choke valve components were printed at the Knust Godwin facility (Figure 3a). From there, the valves were removed from the build plate along with test specimens. The valves were then machined to final finish (Figure 3b) and the specimens were tested in accordance with API20S, which showed compliance to IMI Critical’s materials specification. The valves were then flow tested at IMI Critical before being delivered to the O&G operator for use in upcoming field trials.

With initial testing and analysis deemed successful, production builds are ongoing, leveraging the manufacturing plan established during the First-Article build. Additional field testing is also being performed to collect more operational data. The result will be production-ready components, adhering to current API20S standards, that will be put through real-world field trials at one of the operator’s sites.

This article was contributed by Velo3D (Campbell, CA). For more information, visit here .