Lifting plugs are safety-critical components designed to act as the junction between the rig elevator and the pipes. They are used on the rig’s surface to allow operators to handle and move long tubular products in a safe and secure manner. Such components are usually heavy as they are meant for load carrying applications.
As part of a commercial project, Vallourec, a multinational manufacturing company headquartered in Boulogne-Billancourt (France) has produced two lifting plugs for Weatherford; a wellbore and production solutions company.
The announcement follows the completion of Vallourec’s first 3D-printed safety-critical component for TotalEnergies.
Weatherford’s request consisted in the production of a VAM® TTR HW Riser Lifting Plug capable of 100T for a customer’s workover scope off the coast of Australia.
A lifting plus is usually made from forged thick-wall bars. Being a safety-critical component used on the surface, these parts require non-standard material with unique mechanical properties which result in long lead times. As lifting plugs connect with existing equipment, production of customized dimensions is sometimes needed to ensure the compatibility between all components which further extends lead times. In addition, keeping inventory of raw material in non-standard sizes is not cost effective and may generate waste if they end up never being used. All of this leads to urgent deadlines not being able to be met, Vallourec explains.
To address these constraints, the Vallourec team decided to rely on Wire-Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM), a technology Vallourec has expertise in. The process combines automated metal inert gas (MIG) welding or laser hot wire welding with direct deposition 3D printing. For those who do not know, Vallourec is recognized for its extensive experience in welding. Once all the material is deposited, the blank is machined, tested and VAM® threaded.
Using WAAM brought a lot of advantages as part of this fabrication, as the process was affordable, faster and enabled to include tailor-made non-standard diameters that were compatible with Weatherford’s existing equipment – thanks to a new design of the component.
The new design enabled to alleviate weight without affecting lifting performances. The lifting plugs’ outside diameter (OD) was therefore increased by 15% as per the customer’s request.
These new lifting plugs were 3D-printed with the Vallourec WAAM robot located in Singapore, only a 6-hour flight away from the end-customer. The safety-critical components were delivered in just under 2 months instead of the usual 3 to 4 months.
“Thanks to WAAM, we were able to manufacture a lifting plug in half the time of the traditional process with the same mechanical properties and meeting the customer’s specific OD requirements with no minimum order quantity. This wouldn’t have been possible with traditional processes as we would have been limited to the OD of the available solid bar or we would have had to purchase a new solid bar with a larger OD further extending the lead time”, Jinwei LiAsia Pacific Sales Manager at Vallourec states.
Lastly, apart from the advantages in terms of weight, time, cost and freedom of design, this manufacturing process allows to create a digital or virtual warehouse through which they can order spare parts as a printable file.
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