3D printing to streamline part replacementNovember 2, 2022
Paulo Oliveira, director-general of Indústria Comércio e Serviços (ICOS), talks to The Energy Year about the company’s advantage as an indigenous player and what it is doing to support the training of engineers in Angola. ICOS provides metalworking, hydraulics, pneumatics, 3D production and engineering for the local extractive industry, as well as associated maintenance and technical assistance.
Can you give us a history of your company’s evolution?
Our work started in 2010 with hydraulic systems, i.e. rebuilding cranes and hydraulic cylinders and supplying spare parts, which was instrumental in reducing machine downtime. There were not many companies in Angola doing this work because it is difficult to develop the necessary technical skills.
Currently, we have established our shipyards and evolved into a manufacturer of hydraulic-related metals. We provide a full scope of services including initial engineering, industrial design, fabrication, installation and maintenance services.
Our engineering work is done by local engineers. This includes dimensioning, technical drawings, analysis and interpretation of all components up to the production process of engineering parts.
We eliminate the need to import designs from India, Italy or China.
What are the main advantages of 3D printing engineering?
The main advantages are the reduction of production costs and increase in productivity since 3D printing engineering acts as an alternative to traditional processing and production. That is, 3D printing with metal and plastic is faster and cheaper, being able to create small quantities directly for the final consumer. So far, it is our fastest-growing activity. Thanks to constructive communication with customers, we can present the best solutions for them, as it is often a piece that solves a big problem.
From a comparative perspective, today we are able to provide tailor-made solutions for specific customers, which is difficult in the traditional global market, and we have been working daily to produce components locally that are not available at the moment, such as custom-made seals and transmission components that are hard to find in Angola. It is often necessary to order them from Europe or the United States, which takes time, which we propose to reduce significantly because we can print them in different sizes in two days.
Over the years that ICOS has worked with companies in the mining, oil and gas and other sectors, we have been able to consistently say that time is often more important than price. We are in a drastic race to increase productivity.
Is the company more focused on being a supplier or service provider?
ICOS is focused on offering personalised services and often providing the right material to the customer’s needs is the best solution.
We like to ensure that as soon as the customer has a problem, we are ready to solve it, so we have a shipyard in Porto Amboim and another in Ambriz. We seek to be close to the large shipyards of large companies such as Paenal and Petromar. We also have a presence in other cities through partnerships with smaller entities that work as a network of local distributors. In a nutshell, we want to be close to our customers.
How does being a subcontractor for large-scale projects fit into your sustainable growth strategy?
Taking on large projects on your own entails huge expenditures on logistics and labour. Our motto is to always add value to the value chain. We want to grow as subcontractors; sometimes it’s easier for a company our size to make a positive impact on a small part of a large-scale project.
For example, we opened our small shipyard next to Petromar and Saipem in Ambriz, about 200 kilometres from Luanda. If a crane breaks a hose at your location, ICOS can make a new hose and deliver and install it in one day, rather than shipping it from Luanda where the manufacturer is located, which greatly reduces your lead time and inactivity.
How is ICOS helping the mining industry to optimise costs?
The biggest issue in mining is reducing downtime. The sector aims to keep equipment running at all times. While this is perhaps impossible, we try to get as close to that goal as possible.
Our current focus is on reform; there are many components in the mining industry that need to be refurbished every year. Keeping a single excavator working 24 hours a day causes moving components to wear out. In addition, the machines used to transport rocks require a lot of maintenance.
In the past, all these parts were refurbished abroad. However, we are now able to provide this service locally. This strategy combined with 3D printing of small metal parts and other small components and local production of hoses and cylinders allows us to dramatically reduce the downtime of tools working in the oil and gas and mining sectors. In the future, we want to introduce an automatic lubrication system combined with a new management system that allows companies to optimise downtime.
What factors lead mining companies to work exclusively with foreign service providers?
All large mining companies are part of international entities that previously did not believe that small companies in Angola could recondition cylinders or supply pumps. Although mining is an established industry, the lack of reliable local companies has forced mines to source all services from Namibia, Russia, the US and the UK. We are now convincing these companies that we have the necessary know-how and can provide the full scope of services required.
Our engineering is not just about changing parts. We test parts, report on them and give results that certify that a part or surface is tested and functional. This is useful in machine insurance management, which is one of the reasons why our work is growing with large mining companies.
How is ICOS supporting Angola’s effort to increase local content?
Local content is a way to be cost-effective. In the end, cost is the final word. During the pandemic, we survived only with small jobs. All projects in the oil and gas and energy industries stopped, but we kept working.
We are now expanding our workforce. By the end of 2022, we aim to have 150 employees. We’re trying to make local content more important in the process and give many engineers their first jobs. We currently only have two expats working for the company.
We have partnerships with educational institutions such as the Instituto Nacional de Petróleos, where we have a development room where technical students can experiment with 3D printing and try out new ideas. We select and support three or four student projects for their final course.
We also partner with the Instituto Superior Politécnico de Tecnologias e Ciências, where we provide the necessary support to engineering students and help to sharpen their thoughts by teaching them the correct way of thinking.