Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) researchers partnered with industry partners and university students to design and produce the world’s first 3D-printed excavator as part of Project Additive Manufactured Excavator (AME), which will focus on using metal additive manufacturing to develop heavy construction machinery. The prototype will leverage large-scale additive manufacturing technologies and explore the feasibility of printing with metal alloys. The team hopes to explore new industrial applications using low-cost alloys like aluminum and steel for additive manufacturing by increasing the size and speed of metal-based 3D printing techniques.
The excavator will be 3D-printed using machines at the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL to create and assemble three components: the cab where the operator sits, the stick (a large hydraulically articulated arm), and a heat exchanger. The excavator’s stick will be fabricated using a newly installed Wolf System, a machine that uses a freeform technique in printing large-scale metal components. The heat exchanger will be printed on a Concept Laser machine that produces metal parts through a powder-bed-based laser melting process.
When 3D-printing the excavator’s stick and heat exchanger, the team will further develop processes to improve material performance and printability and also validate models that will show how they can adapt to reduce residual stress and distortion.
“The beauty of a project of this size and scope is that it brings together many intelligent people to work on a number of challenges while accomplishing a common goal,” said Lonnie Love, who’s leading the 3D printed excavator project with ORNL’s Manufacturing Systems Research group. He expects the excavator to be printed, assembled and ready to be unveiled in only nine months.
While 3D printing excavators, or any other construction vehicles, may not become common practice among manufacturers, Love said using AM to print low-volume, high-complexity components could benefit the construction industry by reducing production time and overall cost. “Additive manufacturing can be used to print components on demand, which could potentially eliminate the need for mass storage, organization and transportation,” she added.
Key partners of Project AME include the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, the National Fluid Power Association, the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power, and the National Science Foundation. Funding is through the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy – Advanced Manufacturing Office.
3D-Printed Cab Prototype
As part of the AME project, student engineering team from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign won a design competition and recently visited the MDF to watch their cab design take shape on the Big Area additive manufacturing machine – the same system co-developed by ORNL and Cincinnati Incorporated that produced a replica Shelby Cobra sports car using carbon fiber-reinforced acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic.
This is the first student group to watch their design 3D printed on one of our large-scale machines,” Love said. “We’re also exposing them to the possibilities that additive manufacturing is affording industry that can help companies from so many different areas whether it’s automotive, construction or other applications yet to be discovered.”
Additionally, Georgia Institute of Technology student Clayton Greer worked on the excavator’s stick as an ORNL intern.
The completed excavator project, known as Project AME (Additive Manufactured Excavator), will be on display at IFPE and CONEXPO-CON/AGG in Las Vegas in March 2017. The group is working on a plan to 3D print another excavator cab during a live demonstration at the event.