innoVentures insight: 3D Printing

Posted on 26th February 2014

Almost daily we hear about exciting technologies and it can be easy to get carried away when a cool new toy is available. In reality however, how many of these technologies are likely to change the world, our lives or the way we do business?

The Castrol innoVentures team’s collective eye-on-the-future means they see these new technologies and there is the experience across the team, and the wider business,  to enable us to understand where many possible cross-overs and benefits lie for Castrol.

Every quarter innoVentures will bring you a brief summary of a new or emerging technology and one technology capturing increasing attention is 3 Dimensional printing. This isn’t exactly a new technology – in fact it’s been around in various applications for many years, but recently it has resurfaced with a number of low cost printers coming to market and some patents expiring potentially allowing lower cost metal printing.

To give you an idea of what we’re talking about, dental and surgical implants and aerospace components (Airbus-1, Airbus-2, BAE, Rolls-Royce) combining strength and low weight are routinely “printed”.  A wide range of printing ‘inks’ are available (e.g. extrudable thermoplastics, metal laser sintering, pottery) creating possibilities for the manufacture of a near endless range of products from varied materials including for domestic use.

How  could 3D Printing affect Castrol?

It’s difficult at the moment to predict how or when manufacturing industries will adopt 3D printing but there are some obvious impacts and opportunities for our future core Castrol business if 3D printing proliferates.

For Instance:

  • 3D printed components will require no or limited machining requiring no or limited metal working fluids?
  • Finished goods may be “printed” close to their market which will reduce the requirement for shipping. We may see less KM on road, air and sea for finished goods.
  • The increasing legislation for more economical and cleaner cars may force car manufacturers to “print” more components as this may be the only way to make strong and light car
  • Industrial 3D printers require lubrication, do we know what their requirements are, do our existing formulations do the best job for these machines? What will future 3D printing machines require?

It’s clear, as far as 3D printing is concerned, that it’s a technology that we need to stay close to, we could be at the beginning of a revolution in distributed production.

But where else might we see it in our industry – might it used in offshore manufacture for instance, reducing downtime on rigs? It would be invaluable to get broader insight into where we may see 3D printing, or any other potentially disruptive technology, impacting our business. Please get in touch and let us know your thoughts.

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