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Protolabs first to gain DNV certification for 3-D printing service

Posted on 20 May 2021 and read 991 times
Protolabs first to gain DNV certification for 3-D printing serviceInconel 718 parts being removed in preparation for finishing

Trust is key to the oil and gas industry – and to the energy sector as a whole, so the announcement of DNV certification for Protolabs’ metal additive manufacturing (AM) service will provide important assurances around part performance and equipment safety for the harsh conditions the sector operates in.

Protolabs, a world-leading digital manufacturer, which has facilities in the EMEA region (Europe, the Middle East and Africa), the USA and Japan, has worked closely with DNV to achieve ‘Qualification of Manufacturer’ certification.

It is now the first certified manufacturer using powder bed fusion technology in its AM process – ideal for high resolution and geometrical accuracy.

Daniel Cohn, general manager and 3DP lead for Protolabs EMEA (pictured below), said: “Trust is, rightly, an important necessity for the oil and gas industry and also the wider energy sector. But now assurance can be given with the work we have conducted under the keen eye of DNV - the independent expert in risk management and assurance for the sector.

“Audits of our manufacturing facilities and processes prove that we comply with the general demands of the oil and gas industry so we can now move forward with even greater support for the sector as a whole.”

The certification applies to Protolabs’ direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) technology, specifically for the superalloy Inconel 718 – a high-strength, corrosion-resistant nickel chromium. Combining the exceptional properties of the material with Protolabs’ expertise in DMLS means the company can rapidly produce complex geometries for parts which are exposed to the harsh environments typical of the sector.

Achieving the certification is a process of technical evaluation of a number of probes within the machinery in combination with the material, individually and the system as a whole. The independent certification provides reliable proof that the probes meet the high qualification standard set out by DNV.

Dr Sastry Kandukuri, senior principal materials specialist in DNV’s energy systems business unit, said: “I am very happy our Global Additive Manufacturing Technology Centre of Excellence was able to support Protolabs to reach this milestone, as the first certified manufacturer using powder bed fusion technology in their additive process. We look forward to continuing our relationship with Protolabs that gives the assurance and confidence of AM products as their use grows in the oil and gas and energy industries.”

Certification of Protolabs’ DMLS process and its Inconel 718 superalloy provides a new level of assurance, but the company offers a variety of materials and technologies that are relevant to the oil and gas, maritime and offshore industries, as well as the broader energy sector.

Mr Cohn explained: “We offer a number of metals and plastics for AM, each suited to the specific needs of a project. We naturally see possibilities in the sector for Inconel 718 but also, in a less extreme temperature range, for stainless steel 316L. We also see possibilities with functional polymers in applications where conditions are not so extreme. The DNV certification applies to our Inconel 718 but we see it as testament to our quality process and expect to see that trust extend to our whole offering.”

CohnMr Cohn predicts initial responses to the certification to include the 3-D printing of spare parts where the original moulding casts no longer exist. He continued: “I believe the sector will turn to AM technologies to replace what was formerly cast, but also to look into design possibilities to increase efficiency and create more robust designs for parts such as pumps, valves, components for turbines or sensoring equipment.

Moreover, the certification assures customers that they can use the AM route to unlock decarbonisation benefits. “AM can grow even faster in this way if there is trust in the technology, materials, processes, and in the manufacturing companies themselves.”

Protolabs, as part of its drive to offer 3-D printed parts even faster through a growing portfolio of materials and services, is building a new 5,000m>sup>2production facility in Putzbrunn in Germany that will give customers greater access to the company’s automated manufacturing processes and quality systems. The 13.5 million euro investment will increase its 3-D printing capability by 50% to meet the growing demand for this technology.

Mr Cohn concluded: “We are the world’s fastest digital manufacturer that can provide assurances needed, but a major goal for us is to produce parts even faster and deliver on an even wider envelope of service for our customers.

“When a finished design enters our online ordering platform it goes through a short feasibility check by our expert design team, and then on to be printed. The DNV certification will give us the trust needed and the new facility will give us the capacity needed to deliver even more projects in as little as one day.”