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Saudi Aramco eyes disruptive tech as 3D printing growth awaited

by Oscar Rousseau on Nov 26, 2018

Saudi Aramco is eyeing disruptive technologies for its construction projects [representational image].
Saudi Aramco is eyeing disruptive technologies for its construction projects [representational image].

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State-owned oil titan Saudi Aramco is “aggressively pursuing” the use of disruptive technology to implement its multibillion-dollar construction pipeline. Continuous investment in technology and innovation is central to the Saudi Arabian hydrocarbon heavyweight’s efforts to stimulate productivity growth across its industrial and infrastructure developments.

General manager of community infrastructure and public projects at Saudi Aramco, Motaz Al-Mashouk, outlined the emerging technologies the company is exploring.

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Speaking at The Big 5 2018 trade show on 26 November at Dubai World Trade Centre, the Aramco executive, responsible for implementing a portfolio of building and infrastructure projects worth more than $20bn (SAR75bn), said it was too early for 3D printing to have a transformative effect on construction.

He said 3D printing “still has a way to go and requires further development” to become a mainstay for Aramco’s construction projects, the vast majority of which are located in Saudi Arabia. Through joint venture agreements, Aramco also carries out projects in Asia, Europe, and North America, he added.

While 3D printing is yet to take off on Saudi Aramco projects, the kingdom’s government built its first 3D printed home earlier this year as part of its Vision 2030 strategy, which US software firm Autodesk told Construction Week could not be achieved without disruptive technology.

Proximity sensors fitted within health and safety equipment is one example of Aramco’s technological deployment. Al-Mashouk said the sensors alert workers to potential hazards and help mitigate accidents, as well as avoid delays on site.

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tracking was used on an unnamed Aramco gas project to monitor and schedule materials delivery and handling. This helped the contractor ensure that pipes were delivered to the right place, which lifted productivity levels, Al-Mashouk added.

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Drones to inspect construction sites and monitor dangerous areas, such as the flare stack at a refinery, are also part of Aramco’s tech adoption strategy. Al-Mashouk even said that drones could be “very useful” in contract disputes by providing robust visual data about a project.

Saudi Aramco is also looking at reinforced thermoplastic piping, vacuum excavation technology, advanced piling foundations, and non-destructive wireless systems to monitor and evaluate its pipe network. Alongside the adoption of these solutions, Aramco’s engineers have developed robots that can carry out pipeline inspections or clean sand from solar panels.