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3-D printed excavator closer to reality

By |  October 3, 2016
The first 3-D printed excavator will be printed at DOE’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory using carbon fiber-reinforced ABS plastic. Photo courtesy of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Department of Energy

The first 3-D printed excavator will be printed at DOE’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory using carbon fiber-reinforced ABS plastic. Photo courtesy of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Department of Energy

A group of trade associations and representatives from industry, government and academia have been collaborating on the world’s first operational 3-D printed excavator for the past two years, according to the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM).

That project took a step forward with the recent printing of a prototype that leveraged large-scale additive manufacturing technologies and further explores the feasibility of printing with metal alloys, AEM says.

Known as Project AME (additive manufactured excavator), the excavator is being 3-D printed using various machines at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) to create and assemble three components: the cab, the boom and a heat exchanger. The excavator’s boom will be fabricated using newly developed free-form additive manufacturing technique to print large-scale metal components, AEM says.

According to AEM, 3-D printing an excavator for the first time has been a learning experience for both seasoned researchers and the next generation of engineers. A student engineering team from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) won a design competition and was on hand at the MDF to watch its cab design take shape on the big area additive manufacturing machine, using carbon fiber-reinforced acrylonitrile butadiene styrene plastic.

“The reaction of the UIUC team was like watching kids on Christmas morning,” says John Rozum, IFPE show director. “They worked hundreds of hours on this project, and it was incredible to see them finally get to watch the printing process and see their design in full size.”

The excavator is a collaboration between AEM, the National Fluid Power Association (NFPA), the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the National Science Foundation. The Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy – Advanced Manufacturing Office supported the project.

CCEFP academic partners – Georgia Tech, the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and the University of Minnesota – are leading the research activities for Project AME, AEM adds.  A Georgia Tech research team is designing the additively manufactured steel boom, stick and bucket. A University of Minnesota research team is responsible for the aluminum-powder bed 3-D-printed oil cooler design. ORNL is developing all processes required to 3-D print these excavator components.

“The project idea came about during a tour of ORNL in 2014, when members of the CCEFP saw the 3-D printed car,” says Eric Lanke, CEO of NFPA. “Discussions ensued about what could make a similar splash for the fluid power and mobile equipment industry. Like many brainstorming sessions, one thing led to another and it was decided that a working excavator was a natural fit.”

Project AME will be on display at IFPE and ConExpo-Con/Agg 2017 as part of the new Tech Experience. The joint trade shows take place March 7-11, 2017, in Las Vegas.

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is the editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry magazine. Yanik can be reached at 216-706-3724 or kyanik@northcoastmedia.net.

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