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A new dimension: 3D printing’s potential for oil and gas companies

Increasingly popular and affordable, 3D printing will bring new value creation opportunities to the oil and gas industry.


From printing human body parts, to handguns to food, three dimensional printing or 3D printing has reached an inflection point, edging into mainstream manufacturing and the consumer market. This trend is being driven by a convergence of increased technology sophistication, lower equipment costs and far greater diversification of 3D-printable materials. The 3D printing market is expected to quadruple over the next decade to US$12 billion, moving from just creating prototypes to manufacturing the most complex of production parts for the energy industry.

Over the next decade, technology observers predict that 3D printing will permeate the enterprise as a mainstream digital capability. By taking steps now to understand how to leverage this technology, oil and gas companies will be positioned to disrupt their existing markets and penetrate new ones. By integrating 3D printing into the fabric of their operations, they will be able to transform the effectiveness of upstream supply chains, as well as bring new markets and new sources of revenue to their downstream businesses.


Key Findings

For upstream, the clearest benefits of 3D printing relate to the optimization and compression of supply chain operations—changing the point of manufacture, minimizing delivery lead times and significantly reducing costly downtime by enabling on-demand, on-site production of machine components. 3D printing would also help prevent obsolescence by enabling instant printing of parts no longer in production, improving profitability of upstream assets. Prototyping delivers major benefits to capital projects by shortening the development and retooling process.

In downstream, 3D printing also creates new revenue streams, along with opportunities for disrupting new markets. Oil and gas companies are ideally positioned to supply the chemical powders and plastics used as ‘ink’ by 3D printers. As the technology becomes more widely adopted in the consumer market over the next decade, 3D printing powders and materials can be sold from gas station forecourts. Companies that move into this space early will have an opportunity to dominate the market.


Successful adoption of 3D printing will hinge on overcoming a number of physical, software and intellectual property-related challenges. To integrate 3D printing into the supply chain as effectively as possible, energy companies must take care of the following:

  • In upstream operations, control and visibility over the supply chain will be crucial to making proactive, data-based decisions on where 3D printing technology can be applied most effectively. Success may lie in verifying a smooth transition to a digitalized supply chain without compromising existing structures.

  • Companies should begin by building models to become more familiar with the current state of the technologies, as well as creating strategies that target areas of the organization where this technology can provide the most value. Outside their organizations, operators should also begin working with suppliers to see how they plan to use 3D printing in their supply chains in the future.