Our industry in 3-D

By |  April 21, 2016

It was just a matter of time. Just a matter of time before 3-D printing went from being a novelty to becoming a practical tool. And just a matter of time before 3-D printers became affordable to businesses. Well, the time is now.

In 3-D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, layers of material are formed under computer control to create an object. The 3-D printer makes an exact copy of a part in plastic, which can then be used to create a mold if a material other than plastic is desired.

According to an article by comedian and car enthusiast Jay Leno in Popular Mechanics, some machines can even make replacement parts in cobalt-chrome with the direct-laser sintering process. Just feed a plastic wire (for a steel part you use metal wire) into the appropriate laser cutter.

“Let’s say you have an older Cadillac or a Packard, and you can’t get one of those beautifully ornate door handles,” Leno says. “You could go to the big swap meet in Hershey, Pa., every day for the rest of your life and never find it. Or you could take the one on the left side of your car, copy it, use the computer to reverse it, and put that new part on the other side.”

The possibilities are endless, says Jim LaHood, a member of Caterpillar’s additive manufacturing team. Caterpillar says the 3-D printing process offers a more sustainable option to make parts and components (a lot less energy and waste and fewer iterations to get a part right), and it means saving time and lots of money.

The world’s first fully functional 3-D printed construction excavator will be unveiled at ConExpo-Con/Agg 2017, in what show planners say will be the first large-scale use of steel in 3-D printing.

Graduate engineering students at Georgia Tech are creating a boom and bucket featuring integrated hydraulics with the goal of decreasing weight, material costs and maintenance, while students at the University of Minnesota are designing a hydraulic oil reservoir/heat exchanger and cooling system designed to increase the efficiency of the machine.

In addition to the partnerships with Georgia Tech and the University of Minnesota, undergraduate engineering students from across the country are invited to participate in a nationwide contest to design and print a futuristic cab and a human/machine interface for the excavator that are aesthetically pleasing and functional.

Students can submit their designs for the cab at www.ccefp.org, and panel of industry experts will judge the entries.

ConExpo-Con/Agg takes place March 7-11, 2017 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. In addition to the functioning 3-D printed excavator, show attendees will see a second excavator printing live on the show floor.

What else does the future hold? Caterpillar is working on a way dealers can 3-D print a part on the jobsite to keep machinery running, or until a production part is available. It keeps getting better.

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About the Author:

Darren Constantino is an editor of Pit & Quarry magazine. He can be reached at dconstantino@northcoastmedia.net.

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