3D Printing Aids Pipeline Integrity

Daniel Lucaci leads Industrial Inspection Systems (IIS) Ltd., located in Ontario, Canada. IIS provides automated Non-Destructive Testing and Examination (NDT/NDE) solutions to the oil and gas industries.

An Industry of Integrity

Oil and gas pipeline integrity is extremely important. Pipelines can fail due to defects such as corrosion, cracks, or dents. These can result in property damage, injuries or, in the worst cases, fatalities. Daniel Lucaci’s company provides testing and automation solutions to pipeline manufacturers that certify and ensure the safety of their pipes. IIS solutions allow manufacturers to automatically inspect their pipeline welds for defects. If a defect is encountered, it is marked and an alarm is activated so the proper actions can be taken to correct the problem.

Up on Technology

One of the commitments IIS makes to their customers is providing them with the latest NDT technology. Looking at their history, IIS has always been ‘up on technology’ and adopted 3D printing around the time it appeared on the market. They began 3D printing in-house when the printers were made out of balsa wood. “Prior to 3D printing, we had to involve a machine shop to create our system prototypes out of aluminum. With each change and improvement, the costs were adding up so we looked to a less expensive solution. We found 3D printing to be instrumental to our business, giving us the power to make changes on the fly, quickly and easily,” says Lucaci.

‘Shocking’ Time Savings

After switching to 3D printed prototypes, Lucaci explains “the biggest shock factor was that we could quickly print parts that would take a very long to machine.” Saving time is one of the biggest benefits of replacing external machining services with in-house 3D printing.

“Machine shops work on multiple projects, so we entered a queue which often took weeks to complete. With our Afinia 3D printer, we can pre-prototype many versions of any item and save that time for developing innovative solutions and focusing on our clients success.”

Reducing prototyping time allows IIS to focus on other projects and give their customers more attention. In fact, they deliver local 24-hour response time and visit their customer sites every 3 months, helping with training operators, system backup, and maintenance.

“We also use the Afinia 3D printer to manufacture cable attachment fixtures and enclosures for electronic components. All of our inspection systems are custom-made for our clients and many times we can’t buy these items off-the-shelf.”

Making the Switch

Lucaci’s company didn’t always use the Afinia for their 3D printing needs. Originally, he used a different brand. “We chose because, at the time, it had the best reviews. It was rated as the best for resolution and volume area. In some ways, it was a great printer. But at the same time, it was a learning printer – we became familiar with axes, temperatures, feed rates, materials, and print speeds. We got a lot of failed prints because they were either too complex or too big, or the computer would fail.” After months and months of ‘messing around’ with his first 3D printer, Lucaci knew it was time to search for another solution.

His search led him to MAKE Magazine’s review, which was really helpful. MAKE tested from 15 companies and they awarded the Afinia 3D printer the Best Overall Experience, Easiest To Set Up and Easiest To Use. Lucaci also found that the Afinia was ready to go, right out-of-the-box “Getting started right away is very important and set up is a breeze. We can leave it to print, knowing it will come out great.” Not only that, but “the Afinia has the best slicing software out of all of the 3D printers so far. The difference between our Afinia 3D prints and the previous ones is ‘night and day’– you don’t have to mess around with feed rates and other settings. I just click print and it goes! The support material is better, too.”

Necessary Support

Afinia’s customer support was also one of Lucaci’s deciding factors. “The customer support line is a highly beneficial advantage. Every Tom, Dick and Harry can make a 3D printer. Unfortunately, not all have the parts, technical support or a reliable supply chain. If you call with questions, they will say: Go to our blog. It is great to have a customer support number with helpful experts, especially for companies like ours who need answers right away.”

“Although I am a big supporter of open source, it’s a double-edge sword. There is no conformity or standards built into it. It is great for Afinia to remain closed source because it allows them to offer better support,” adds Lucaci.

We Want More!

“We are looking forward to the time when Afinia offers a unit with a larger print area,” admits Lucaci. Our existing printer comes in handy for so many jobs, so it’s no surprise that IIS would be excited to see a bigger Afinia 3D printer.

For now, Lucaci enjoys running the Afinia 3D printer for both company use and for some hobbies on the side. The printer is rarely idle. As Lucaci informed us during his interview, “The printer is busy, even as we speak!”

You can read Scott Grunewald’s coverage in 3D Printing Industry here.