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New 3D-Printed Lifting Plug for Weatherford, a New Success for Additive Manufacturing

Vallourec has recently produced 2 lifting plugs using Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM) meeting Weatherford’s urgent operational demands.
01/05/2022
Innovation and R&D

The 3D-printed safety-critical components weighed 175kg each with a tailor-made diameter of 50cm and were designed for load carrying applications of around 100 metric tons. 

Optimizing long lead times and urgent deadlines

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. 

Lifting plugs are traditionally 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.

When Weatherford approached Vallourec with an urgent request for a VAM® TTR HW Riser Lifting Plug capable of 100T for a customer’s workover scope off the coast of Australia, Vallourec proposed a more economical and faster solution using Additive Manufacturing (AM) in order to meet the deadline. 


The lifting plugs were re-designed with WAAM to include tailor-made non-standard diameters that were compatible with Weatherford’s existing equipment. The lifting plugs’ outside diameter (OD) was therefore increased by 15% as per the customer’s request. Leveraging WAAM’s flexibility, Vallourec was able to mitigate any weight increase by re-designing the component without impacting lifting performances. 

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.

“We approached Vallourec with an urgent request for a lifting plug for a customer of ours operating in the Timor Sea. Their solution was to use WAAM, a more economical and quicker option to the traditional route”, explains Shane Ferguson, Project Manager for Weatherford. “They executed this on time and delivery was made well before operations commenced. We were extremely happy with the finished product and will look to Vallourec and this method for future requirements.”

Revolutionizing the industry

Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM) is an additive manufacturing (AM) technology that uses a welding source and a robot arm to direct a printing nozzle to deposit material, layer upon layer, in near-net shapes. Once all the material is deposited, the blank is machined, tested and VAM® threaded.

Welding is a staple part of manufacturing processes for industrial components, and a field in which Vallourec holds recognized expertise. Vallourec’s first 3D-printed safety-critical component was a waterbushing done in collaboration with TotalEnergies and installed in their EIG Franklin well in the North Sea back in the beginning of 2021. This successful project opened a door to new possibilities including this latest success with Weatherford. 

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.
Junwei Li
Asia Pacific Sales Manager at Vallourec

WAAM – and AM more widely – offers numerous benefits for the oil and gas industry, one of the most important being shorter, guaranteed lead times, which would make a huge difference to end users. WAAM also allows for greater freedom of shape – parts can be created to the exact size and specifications of each customer – as well as for printing of very large components. The ultimate benefit of this process is to allow companies to create a digital or virtual warehouse through which they can order spare parts as a printable file. 

Thanks to WAAM, Vallourec is able to eliminate the traditional concerns regarding the unpredictability of material sourcing and minimum order quantity requirements, providing customers with solutions meeting their specific requirements any time. “We look forward to making possible future projects such as this one, providing customers with the high quality they are used to from Vallourec with faster delivery times”, concludes Junwei.