Big Data for Big Oil

big data for big oilBig Data for Big Oil

Everyday equipment failure tends to cost oil and gas companies millions of dollars in downtime and repairs. However, it certainly doesn’t have to stay that way. In fact, by adopting predictive analytics software, or “Big Data” solutions, operators could plan for equipment problems well in advance of anything actually going wrong, pinpoint likely causes, and plan downtime strategically. The savings of these techniques could be significant.

Predictive analytics may sound obscure to some in the oil and gas industry, but investing in the use of this software is a strategic business move and a wise investment. Big data allows companies to harness the massive amount of information available in every aspect of the business, feed it into programs that recognize patterns in all of the noise, and come out with up-to-the-minute analysis and warnings of possible red flags.

The solutions offered by predictive analysis aren’t all glamourous — the programs might simply point out screws that need tightening on a specific piece of machinery. Seemingly trivial fixes like these can represent massive savings for companies by preventing any wear and tear from building up.

Currently, less than a third of executives are using big data techniques to improve their businesses. By applying this technology now, oil and gas companies can come out ahead in various ways.

  • Geology Interpretation: Analyzing geology takes great risk out of well development. Any real ground breaking is a costly affair, and geo-modelling can limit the guesswork involved by predicting the behaviour of shale basins in extraction. Big data provides the analytical tools to create responsive and accurate modelling systems.
  • New Well Delivery: Once a location has been modelled and chosen for development, drilling and connecting to new wells can also be improved through the use of predictive analysis systems. In order to reduce non-productive time on new wells, operators can use case-based-reasoning artificial intelligence systems to harness past experiences for future gains. These systems recognize patterns in streams of data and compare that to real-time information, and can warn operators of potential issues well before they actually appear, vastly reducing the amount of time lost in solving problems.
  • Well and Field Optimization: Big data techniques allow companies to analyze large swaths of data to optimize other aspects of the extraction process as well. Unlimited by data sets, companies can not only optimize drilling, but also well spacing and completion techniques.
  • Predicting Equipment Failure: Using the same pattern-recognition techniques used for well delivery, oil companies can harness information to understand if a specific piece of equipment is at risk of failure. This integration would rely on sensors within wells and on drilling equipment, and would help spot trends and provide reliable solutions. Not only that, but such data could also shift the way maintenance is scheduled, to a pattern that best responds to equipment needs.
  • Intelligent Pipelines: The Intelligent Pipeline Solution is designed to improve human decision making about assets in the pipeline industry. Designed to work on a large scale, the GE and Accenture-designed software includes enterprise asset management, risk modelling tools, monitoring and alerts and is specifically tailored to pipeline needs.

Because predictive analytics remains in the early stages, it is hard to know all of the possibilities it can offer. However, there are a few areas where this software is guaranteed to be of immense value to early adopters within the oil and gas industry, providing significant advantages over the competition. At the very least, executives in the industry would benefit from considering the integration of predictive analytics in their businesses.

Enhanced Oil Recovery Techniques – What Are They?

enhanced oil recovery techniquesEnhanced Oil Recovery Techniques – What Are They?

Canadian researchers have made recent advancements in enhanced oil recovery with a new method that boosts production by 10%

The Basics: Primary and Secondary Phases

Oil production employs the use of various methods that allow oil to be extracted from deep within ground reservoirs or offshore sites. At its core, the extraction consists of three phases: primary, secondary, and tertiary.

The primary phase of production is limited to hydrocarbon deposits that are more accessible and easier to extract due to their tendency to rise closer to the surface. This phase employs the use of the symbolic oil pump jacks seen in popular media.

The secondary phase follows the primary. Gas or water is injected into the reservoir in order to move oil closer to the surface and to make extraction easier.

However, even with these two methods combined, up to 75% of the oil reservoir can remain untouched!

The Tertiary Production Phase: Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR)

The tertiary phase is also known as enhanced oil recovery, or EOR for short. It is a collection of methods that allow for more effective oil extraction when the primary and secondary phases aren’t sufficient. Typically, it is used on hard terrain that is difficult to penetrate and irregular in formation. It is also useful in wells that contain heavier oil that is evidently more difficult to extract. Typical EOR methods can yield up to three times more oil than primary or secondary phase methods. The most popular EOR methods are thermal recovery, chemical injection, and gas injection.

Thermal recovery is the most popular in the US, accounting for 50% of EOR operations conducted. Put very simply, it’s very much analogous to soaking your dishes in hot water, which loosens up grease to make them easier to wash. Dry heat or steam is injected into the reservoir in order to loosen up the oil and reduce its thickness, making it easier to extract.

Chemical injection is one of the least used EOR methods, representing only 1% of EOR applications. Again, using the dishwashing analogy: chemical injection is like using soap on crusty (and greasy) dishes. Soap is formulated so that it undercuts caked on food, releasing the tension between the gunk and the surface of the plate. Chemical injection uses long-chained polymers which are in fact found in many modern dish washing detergents. Similarly, these polymers loosen up the oil along reservoir channels, making the surface tension have less of an effect.

Lastly, gas injection in EOR is unlike secondary phase gas injection. Secondary phase mainly uses the gas to displace or move oil to the surface to make it easier to extract, whereas EOR gas injection utilizes gases such as carbon dioxide to both mix and displace oil more effectively, and increasing flow. CO2-EOR is quickly gaining popularity for its ability to use naturally occurring CO2 deposits, or CO2 created as a byproduct from an industrial process.

The Future: Cyclic Production with Continuous Solvent Injection (CPCSI)

A team of Canadian researchers from the University of Regina are developing a new method of EOR called Cyclic Production with Continuous Solvent Injection (CPCSI). The intricacies of the method are very complex, but ultimately, how it differs from other EOR methods is the continuous cyclical and injection process that it employs.

Let’s bring back the dish washing analogy one more time… but turn it up a few notches – we’re now talking about your average home dishwashing unit. It contains the dishes in an almost pressurized manner and goes through soaping and rinsing cycles until a set number of cycles have been completed and the dishes rendered pristine.

This is basically CPCSI, except you’re now dealing with oil reservoirs and heavy industrial machinery. With CPCSI, reservoirs are pumped with a vaporized solvent (analogous to dishwasher detergent). The vaporized solvent maintain high pressure in the oil reservoir, all the while loosening up all the nooks and crannies of oil.

Shut-in/open wells are used at the bottom of the reservoir to depressurize the reservoir before it once again cycles through into re-pressurization. Oil flow becomes foamy and easy to control, while internal mechanisms filter out the solvent. Experiments show a 10% increase in oil production using CPCSI methods (85% reservoir recovery versus up to 75% recovery using existing EOR methods). This new technology is still under development but is garnering much attention and interest with multiple journal publications. More announcements are to come in the near future.

Play it Smart in the Intelligent Oil Field

Play it Smart in the Intelligent Oil Field

To rapidly move forward in the competitive upstream oil and gas sector, companies need to develop a comprehensive hybridized skill-set comprised of production processes and information technology.

While competition for natural resources is driving exploration for oil and gas to extremely remote locations, business leaders are looking for ways to improve production and yields, monitor and improve business operations, improve quality, and ensure worker and environmental safety.

These business leaders are well aware that the environment is growing increasingly unpredictable, locations more demanding, and the business challenges more convoluted.

IOF Defined

In the Intelligent Oil Field (IOF) however, business leaders are now capable of processing mountains of information quickly and efficiently in unprecedented ways.  Where decision support once may have taken days to process, it is now within hours that executives can expect to differentiate between beneficial new initiatives and dead-end projects, then deciding whether or not to give their approval.

IOF is known by many names, including “Digital Oilfield”, “Field o’ the Future”, “i-Field”, “e-Field”, “Real-time Ops”, and “Real-time Optimization”.  Also well-known is how IOF can reduce the uncertainties of the looming “great crew change” and ever-increasing project complexity. IOF shows great promise for a future of higher productivity, increased recovery, lower costs and reduced health, safety and environmental exposure.

Combining People, Processes and IT

According to a Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) study, the benefits of the Intelligent Oil Field can include lower operational costs, earlier and increased production, lower capital investment, increased recovery of oil and gas, and finally lower abandonment costs.

By enabling redefined and proactive asset management and using frequently captured and distributed data converted into relevant knowledge, all critical data for decision support can be evaluated and acted upon effectively in real time.

In other words, huge amounts of sensor data can be delivered to technicians who can then remotely analyze the data, convert it to accessible, meaningful knowledge and distribute it accordingly.

By using predictive analytics, companies no longer have to maintain unwieldy data stores and thereby allow raw data to remain at the source.

According to Emerson Process Management, when you have the right information delivered to the right person at the right time, you’re able to:

  • Identify risky operating conditions and provide guidance on how to resolve critical safety issues;
  • Provide true real-time operational data to onshore operations centers, thereby reducing the cost and risk of offshore staffing;
  • Share data with subject matter experts, regardless of location;
  • Enable dynamic production optimization – including model predictive control – to ensure repeatable, safe, and profitable operating strategies
  • Identify changes in equipment performance to proactively resolve problems and avoid failures;
  • Remotely monitor real-time asset health for predictive maintenance practices, allowing prioritization and planning of maintenance trips offshore at the best cost and schedule;
  • Provide specific, targeted information to maintenance personnel on equipment problems, including which tools, parts, and work processes are required to correct problems;
  • Streamline compliance documentation and reporting.

Not a Cookie-Cutter Approach

Less than 30 years ago personal computers were first introduced into the workplace. At that time, a production engineer’s only data source was located on an operator’s clipboard or in a stack of old, daily reports found in a file cabinet.

It took weeks to route an Authority for Expenditure (AFE) for any type of well or facility work. Planning, scheduling and implementing a simple work-over took weeks to months.  These factors and many advancements since have set the stage for use of IOF.

Promise for the Future

Although IOF is not a cure-all, it is capable of addressing many current and future issues facing the upstream oil and gas industry. Implementation of Intelligent Oil Fields should be designed with the exact nature of the need and the status quo in mind.

In other words, there is a large probability that no two IOF programs will be identical as there are no two wells in the world that are exactly alike.

Utilizing Drones in Oil and Gas Industry

drones in oil and gasUtilizing Drones in Oil and Gas Industry

Drones in the oil industry? They have made their way into mail delivery and hurricane hunting, so it seems natural that there would be a place for drones in the oil and gas industry. In fact, a number of big names in the industry have already jumped on board, launching aerial tests in remote parts of North America.

These unmanned aerial machines made their first real appearances in the industry in 2013, with new experiments and tests shifting the way we understand extraction technology. Smaller than conventional tools like helicopters, drones can reach areas that have historically troubled mapping efforts. And since no humans actually have to be along for the ride, drones can achieve mapping and monitoring at a fraction of the cost of human employees.

Worldwide, new applications are emerging. Recently, geologists in Norway demonstrated that they could use drones, equipped with laser scanners, infrared sensors, and digital cameras to model an area’s minerals and rocks, making it much easier to find oil. As we move closer to having drones approved for use in conventional airspaces the pursuit to use this technology in the oil and gas industry isn’t so far off.

The First Oil Company Drone

ConocoPhillips is using the Boeing ScanEagle drone in trials in the Chukchi Sea near Point Barrow, Alaska. The company began trial flights on September 25, 2013, marking the first-ever commercial drone flight in American airspace.

Its maiden voyage took 36 minutes, just enough time to test its sensors and navigation systems for the approval of American regulators. Since then, several other companies have been approved for tests, mostly in Alaska and Arctic regions.

Terrain Mapping

Using drones to complete land surveys is more affordable than manned efforts, making the process quick and efficient. The Norwegian team of researchers mentioned previously use their drones to generate 3D terrain maps that can be integrated with geological and seismological data to produce images of the interior of the Earth’s crust.

All of this data allows experts to predict the likelihood of finding oil both on land and underneath the seabed, at a fraction of the cost of manned helicopters and other conventional techniques.

Monitoring Oil Fields and Pipelines

In June, BP became the first American company approved to use drones to survey its properties. Their drones come from AeroEnvironment Inc, the same company that provides 80% of the Pentagon’s drone fleet.

Their Puma drone, a hand-launched craft about 4.5 feet long and 9 feet wide, will perform flyovers of their Prudhoe Bay oil field to monitor maintenance activities on roads, oil pipelines, and infrastructure. The tool can also aggregate data to create three- dimensional models of roads, pipelines, and topography. And, like other drones, the Puma’s tiny size means that it will be able to reach and map areas out of the range of conventional techniques.

Oil Spill Detection

Thermal infrared and multi-spectral imaging capabilities enable the unmanned aircraft to detect leaks that would otherwise not be visible. Not only will this help crews respond rapidly to potential problems and provide additional information to first responders, but it will also help make decision-making simpler and more straightforward.

It is even possible that as technology develops, drones using advanced imaging techniques could detect toxic particles in the air from defective pipelines, taking safety to a whole new level.

Oil and Gas Greenhouse Emissions: Turning to Science to Reduce C02 Emissions

Oil and Gas Greenhouse EmissionsThe Oil and Gas Industry Turns To Science to Reduce CO2 Emissions

There’s no doubt that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are a global challenge.  It’s estimated that natural gas flares emit as much carbon dioxide as a million cars a year.

According to a publication released by Statistics Canada in 2008, even though Canada is only 0.5 percent of the world’s population, we are the highest per capital emitters by contributing about 2 percent of the total global GHG. This is largely due to the size of our country, our low population density and our climate, which generates high demands of energy. Furthermore, natural gas flaring causes approximately 0.5 percent of all CO2 fossil fuel emissions in Canada.

To find viable solutions to the GHG emissions, initiatives are being spearheaded from around the world to encourage leaders in the oil and gas industry to think outside the box.

For example, Alberta’s Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation (CCEMC) has turned to science. CCEMC is using part of the per-tonne charge imposed on large CO2 emitters to fund a global competition to find new ways to turn wasteful carbon emissions into valuable resources.

So far, the $230 million dollars invested seems to be money well spent.  Last year, the CCEMC received 344 submissions from 37 countries using a variety of technologies and winning entries that received $500,000 have the means to further advance their technology. According to the CCEMC, to date, there are 90 projects being adopted that are expected to reduce 20 million tones of CO2 by the 2020.

Other initiatives are also underway.  In North Dakota, Mark Wald of Blaise Energy (and his team of engineers) has come up with an idea to convert natural gas flares into electricity. With the development of fracking, new wells are popping up in North Dakota at lightning speed.  In the last five years, North Dakota has seen a 600 percent rise in oil production, leaving dozens of natural gas flares to light up the skies. Blaise Energy is able to use a mobile generator at each oil well site to capture natural gas, convert it to electricity and sell the electricity back to the power grid.  The downside is that most drilling rigs are powered by diesel, and the cost of running the generator is quite expensive.

Blaise Energy has also figured out how to pull out the heavier propane and butane from lighter gases.  Today, oil companies are able to reduce the size of the flare and are able to sell part of the gas. The next step is to make the entire process more economically feasible. Blaise Energy is using the $375,000 grant received by the North Dakota Industrial Commission to continue its scientific exploration.

Compact GTL and Velocys are also among those who are trying to turn natural gas into a synthetic fuel oil.  Using catalytic reactions, natural gas is combined with steam to create a waxy synthetic mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. At this point the chemical process created by Compact GTL and Velocys are only available on a large scale. The challenge is to scale down the technology so it can fit on offshore platforms or floating barges.

Carbon utilization seems to be an underdeveloped area of science, as many technologies are still in their infant stages. It’s hard to predict how long the natural gas flames with shoot across the sky, but with CCEMC’s initiative and the global community putting their scientific minds together, viable ways to capture and recycle natural gas may be closer than we think.

Social Media for Mining: The Benefits

social media for miningThe Benefits of Social Media for the Mining Industry

With over 1 billion Facebook users, it is clear that this is the place where people are hanging out online. Along with the millions of location updates, baby pictures and recipes, Facebook is proving to be a viable marketing tool for many businesses; including the mining industry. Utilizing social media for mining companies is a fast growing need for those wanting to stay in the public eye. Keep in mind that when it comes to social media networking, Facebook isn’t the only major player. There are many social media platforms that can prove to be helpful for mining marketing. Here’s how these websites can be put to work for mining operations:

On Facebook

Every person, business, group, and even television show can have their own Facebook page. The status updates posted by the page’s administrator will be sent out to everyone who “likes” the page. The more followers, the greater your message’s reach will be. One of Facebook’s greatest attributes is that it is extremely user friendly. The ability to post photos, videos and documents is not only easy, but instantaneous. The Australian Institute of Mining and Mineralogy (AusIMM) has created their own Facebook group where they are actively sharing news and articles that would be of interest to their followers. They are also able to stimulate conversations about various mining industry concerns. Facebook can also be used by mining operations to create a platform where employees, working across various shifts, can stay connected and share information.

On LinkedIn

In the social media arena, LinkedIn has proven itself to be an effective networking site for business professionals. It is similar to Facebook in that you set up a profile and can add connections of friends and companies. However, there is less random posting as the information shared on LinkedIn is much more focused. The details of a LinkedIn profile act as an online resume. This enables LinkedIn users to network with companies who are hiring and grants the interested employer instant access to their applicable job history. Many recruiters are using LinkedIn to find new hires. Using this attribute of LinkedIn could help the mining industry find the next generation of engineers and geologists.

On Twitter

Like Facebook, Twitter is all about the “status update.” However, because the message is limited to 140 characters or less, it has to be direct and to the point. Just because the Tweet is limited doesn’t mean you can’t include links. Many businesses use Twitter to announce special promotions or company news. By including a link with a short description or catchy title, you engage your followers who can then open the link to view the complete article, case history, press release, etc.

On YouTube

YouTube can be used for more than just watching cat videos or pranks. Companies and individual users can set up their own YouTube channel and post educational videos such as safety videos, training videos or even company news. For many, being able to watch a video instead of reading a long article or safety manual will allow the information to be more easily understood and retained. Online videos are also easily accessible, even for remote mining operations. For some examples of how mining machine manufacturers are using YouTube, see how Joy Mining Machinery and Thiess Mining are utilizing this social media platform. If your company is using social media as part of company operations, you need to establish posting policies for your employees. They are free to post their personal news on their own pages, but if they are speaking for the company, they should have a unified voice. The mining industry should take advantage of the opportunities that social media provides. Due to the mining industry often having a negative public image, it is extremely important that mining companies be more proactive in communicating with key stakeholders such as environmentalists, investors and the government.

Mining Technology: Wearable Technology Valuable for Training

mining technologyWearable Technology is Valuable for Training Miners

Many technology companies believe wearable technologies are the future.  Products have been created to track your fitness and to remind you of your daily appointments. Google is among the first to take advantage of these new technologies. They developed wearable technology called Google Glass, which is functional in real life. The headset has received a lot of positive attention. It is even creating a community of people, who are amongst the first to be invited to wear it. Google Glass frees its users from their smartphones, laptops and desktops. It has many features, including the ability to give and receive video and audio, as well as display web content. Users are capable of doing anything with Google Glass that a typical computer accomplishes.

We believe that the mining industry could benefit tremendously from Google Glass in the following ways:

Training Delivery: Mining companies could use the technology for training their employees. The glasses have 12GB of usable memory. When synched with Google’s cloud storage, it allows users to access large amounts of content. This means that training courses could be delivered anywhere at any time. Training classes, and other materials, can also be stored directly on the device for students to communicate wirelessly with a Learning Management System (LMS). Trainers would be able to track a student’s progress with the LMS. This allows miners to learn on the field instead of in the classroom. They a will also have quick access to important information that may be otherwise forgotten. The benefits include a shorter training cycle, which in turn translates to fewer mistakes made.

Coaching: The glass has the ability to record videos and take photos hands-free by using voice commands. This would allow the trainer to watch their employees in real time. Trainers can be anywhere, while still talking them through a task or answer their questions. By seeing exactly what the students see, the trainer has the opportunity to guide the students during job procedures that may involve complicated dangerous equipment. Trainers could also record videos themselves, so students can watch exactly how a task is done.

Since the trainer would no longer have to be by the trainee’s side, this type of real-time coaching is perfect for training miners. Mining companies can record videos for their employees to show them how a certain task needs to be completed. The trainer can also speak to the trainee in real time, possibly eliminating hazardous situations. Google Glass can help with safety training, which is vital in the mining industry.

Intelligent Assistant Software: The Google Glass software can help in training. If miners have a question, they can ask it out loud and the software will pull up relevant resources, such as a step-by-step video on how to solve the problem. It is a possibility that Google Glass could help companies, where language is a barrier. Mining companies are international and are located in remote regions; therefore, language can become an obstacle. It would be hard to communicate key concepts and lessons if the trainer and the student do not speak the same language. By using Google Glass, real-time translation can be implemented, which would help overcome any language barrier.

Canada’s Marine Shore Power Technology Program

Canada's Marine Shore Power Technology ProgramCanada’s Marine Shore Power Technology Program

The shore power technology program for ports in Canada, also known as marine shore power, is a $27.2 million dollar program. It allows marine vessels to plug into a local electrical grid when their vessels are docked at a port. Instead of having ships idling and releasing emissions, they will use the port’s electricity for power. The ships, who dock at ports with shore power, will not burn diesel fuel. All of the power needed on the vessel will come from the electrical grid that it is plugged into.

First announced in January of 2012, the goal was to improve Canadian air quality by reducing emissions around marine ports. The Canadian government has committed to reducing emissions, air pollution and greenhouse gases by 17% before the year 2020. Transportation is the largest contributor to emissions, so having electrical power at port docks will help to reach this goal.

Benefits of Shore Power Technology

The Shore Power Technology for Ports program will increase competition in Canadian ports. It will also create new jobs across Canada and present new opportunities for expansion in Canadian tourism. The program will attract new businesses to Canadian ports, because it will significantly reduce diesel fuel costs to ship operators.

Halifax Port Authority Signs Up

In January of 2013, the Halifax Port Authority announced that it was undergoing construction for a shore power system. They are proud to announce that once the system is ready, ships will be able to dock and plug in to the electrical power grid. This will allow the ships to then shut down their engines. This has many benefits for Nova Scotia. Those benefits will include a reduction in emissions, which will help the environment and air quality for the surrounding residents. Since ports are usually close to cities, this particular benefit is important. Another great value for the province will be the increase in economic prosperity.

Transport Canada’s Marine Shore Power Program ran from 2007 to 2012. The Transport Canada funded $2 million dollars to Port Metro Vancouver, so they could effectively create shore power for cruise ships. Additionally, Transport Canada funded $1.6 million dollars for shore power to the Port Authority of Prince Rupert, so container ships could dock and plug into their electrical power grid.

Applying for Funding

The Canadian government made an official judgment for proposals on May 4, 2012. Ports may continue to apply for funding until December 31, 2015. In order to apply, the port must submit a project proposal and a funding application. Eligible participants have to be Canadian Port Authorities and the companies that own or operate marine ports or terminals in Canada.

The shore power program for Canada will reap many benefits, especially with reducing emissions from ships idling and burning diesel fuel. This may also be a great step toward reducing the use of fossil fuels for energy.

Renewable Energy for Mines

renewable energy for minesRenewable Energy for Mines : Alternate Resources to Power the Mine

Generally, the mining industry relies on diesel fuel. Diesel fuel can be shipped through supply lines, which are thousands of kilometers long. Another way for it to be shipped is to have it flown in; however, that essentially burns more energy via shipping.

More Than One Power Source Needed

Diavik Diamond Mining, from 2001 to 2012, was relying solely on diesel to generate power for their arctic mine. It cost approximately 70 million dollars every year for 50 million liters of diesel, which had to be delivered over an ice road. In 2006, they experienced a problem with the delivery of their diesel fuel. The ice road was constructed late, melted too early and never reached the weight capacity necessary. That year, Diavik had to have several million liters of fuel flown in. This showed the company that having one source for fuel was not ideal. It was time to search out alternative energy sources.

Alternative Energy Options for Mines

Solar power was not an option, because the location does not get enough sun. They decided to do some meteorological tests with a tower to see if using wind turbines was an option. They determined it was realistic. They found that a wind farm with four wind turbines would supply 10% of the mine’s energy. However, the turbines had to be ramped up to deal with the mine location’s harsh weather. Each wind turbine at this mine is 100 meters high with three 33 meter epoxy-resin blades. The blades were specially designed with de-icing technology, so they can take on temperatures as cold as negative 40 degrees Celsius. These blades created a new way to naturally generate power in very cold climates.

Wind Turbines Supply Energy to Mines

This wind farm generated 8.5% of the mine’s power in 2013 and 11.2% of the mine’s power the first quarter of 2014. Last year, this saved the company 5 million dollars in diesel fuel, which is 3.8 million liters. Additionally, this reduced the load on the ice road by about 75 loads. The 31 million dollar Diavik Diamond Mining Company invested in the turbine farm will pay for itself in eight years.

They were able to use the power generated by the wind turbines starting in September of 2012. Some adjustments did have to be made due to the extreme weather. The defrosting technology needed an adjustment after the blades started to get a buildup of frost on them. This was replaced and the base of the tower and the nacelle were both retrofitted with heaters to keep the frost away.

The amazing thing here is that Diavik Diamond Mining did all of the assembly themselves. They learned everything they needed to know to put the wind farm together and to maintain it. That is an advantage for them, because if anything goes wrong, such as frost building up on the blades of the turbines, they can fix the problem themselves.

3D Printing for Metal Fabrication: Helpful?

3D Printing for Metal Fabrication

3D Printing for Metal Fabrication: Helpful or Not?

The implementation of 3D printing has revolutionized modeling and prototyping for metal manufacturers. The 3D printers allow for rapid prototyping from AutoCAD designs, including custom components, which enable complex designs that are difficult to produce with conventional machining, molding or casting.

At first, 3D printers were used to create plastic models. This restricted its capabilities to only certain types of projects for sectors such as construction, consumer product design and engineering projects. They were primarily used to develop models for demonstration purposes. Unfortunately, 3D printers are found inadequate in heavy industries like mining and metal fabrication.

Restrictions linked to metal 3D printing

Although 3D printers simplify manufacturing and product conception, it is important to keep in mind that its technology is still restricted to working with liquefiable materials such as plastic and polystyrene. When considering materials like metal, the challenges significantly increase.

  • Consistency in finish: The widespread use of 3D metal printing, in the Canadian mining industry, has been delayed, because the proper finishing required for the final product remains inconsistent. Consistency with internal finishes is important for products such as engines, moving parts and gears. However, with 3D metal printers, this is difficult to achieve as most metal casts may have liquid or air passing through them at a high speed, which results in uneven interior surfaces that may lead to corrosion.
  • Achieving the required strengths to withstand stress: Products and tools that are used in the mining industry are consistently under high pressure and stress.  They must be reliable, without cracking, bending or breaking, after repeated use. However, certain metal alloys used in mining components are difficult to work with, because tool manufacturers require high production capacity at low cost.
  • High costs in producing simple machine parts: Large companies mainly use 3D metal printers for low-volume complex designs on the shop floor. Currently, mass-production of simple mechanical products is expensive in correlation to traditional mass-production techniques such as casting or welding.
  • Difficulties in working with certain metals: Creating components out of certain metals, like titanium, makes 3D metal printing laborious. Aside from the cost of titanium, the main drawback is that it is challenging to work with, because it has a tendency to harden during cutting and forming, which results in high tool wear.  Additionally, when welded, it weakens the welds if the proper precautions are not followed.
  • Technical challenges still need to be addressed: Various challenging areas have yet to be addressed such as faster build times, better quality prints, and easy to use CAD-CAM software. Unless these areas are improved upon, many manufacturers will become aware of the indirect costs of building components, through the use of 3D metal printers, being higher than that of traditional metal fabrication methods.

The 3D printing technology has made it possible to challenge the manufacturing processes of many industries such as medical, aerospace and consumer products; however, it has become relegated to niche components and products. In the mining industry, where components and tools must be strong, relatively simple and built in mass quantities, 3D metal printers will inevitably fall short in delivering the perceived benefits.