Over the past two years a group of trade associations, industry, government and academia have been collaborating in the US to create the world’s first operational 3D-printed excavator.
The project to create the excavator of the future has taken a significant step towards reality by printing a prototype that has leveraged large-scale additive manufacturing technologies and explores the feasibility of printing with metal alloys.
Known as Project AME (Additive Manufactured Excavator), the excavator is being 3D printed using various machines at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF). At present three components are being created: the cab, the boom, and a heat exchanger.
The excavator is a collaboration between a huge number of organisations including the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), National Fluid Power Association (NFPA), Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). This project was supported by the US DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy – Advanced Manufacturing Office.
On the academic side, a research team from Georgia Tech is designing the additively-manufactured steel boom, stick and bucket. A University of Minnesota team is responsible for the aluminum-powder bed 3D-printed oil cooler design.
Meanwhile, a student engineering team from the University of Illinois won a design competition to create the cab – their carbon fiber-reinforced acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or ABS, plastic has recently been printed on the big area additive manufacturing machine at Oak Ridge.
Eric Lanke, chief executive officer of the National Fluid Power Association, explains how the project began: “The project idea came about during a tour of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 2014, when members of the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power saw the 3D-printed car.”
“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.”