Posted in | 3D Printing

Scientists Develop World’s First 3D Print Excavator

ORNL’s Lonnie Love hosted a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign student engineering team who watched their award-winning excavator cab design being printed on the Big Area Additive Manufacturing system at DOE’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL. (Credit: ORNL)

Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s recent innovation in the field of additive manufacturing is focused on heavy construction machinery. The researchers at ORNL are collaborating with university students and industry partners to design and develop the first-ever 3D printed excavator, a prototype, which will control large-scale AM technologies and will explore the viability of printing using metal alloys.

By employing less-expensive alloys such as aluminum and steel, and maximizing the speed and size of metal-based 3D printing methods, new industrial applications can be developed for application in additive manufacturing.

Machines from the Department of Energy’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL will be used to 3D print the excavator. The machines will be used to print and assemble the components including the cab where the operator will be seated, a heat exchanger and the long hydraulically articulated arm, which will function as the stick.

The recently installed Wolf System, a machine which employs a freeform method to print large-scale metal components will be used to fabricate the excavator’s stick. A Concept Laser machine, which employs a powder-bed-based laser melting technique to create metal parts, will be used to produce the heat exchanger.

The researchers will further develop methods to enhance material printability and performance while 3D printing the heat exchanger and the stick of the excavator. They will continue to validate models that can demonstrate how they adjust to minimize distortion and residual stress.

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.

Lonnie Love, Lead Researcher, ORNL’s Manufacturing Systems Research Group

The researchers expect the 3D excavator to be ready for presentation, after printing and assembly, within just nine months.

The feat of creating a 3D print excavator is a learning experience not only to the future engineers but also to the seasoned scientists.

A team of engineering students, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who won a design competition were at the MDF recently to see the cab they designed take form on the Big Area Additive Manufacturing machine. This machine was developed by ORNL and Cincinnati Incorporated, which produced a Shelby Cobra sports car replica with ABS, plastic or fiber-reinforced acrylonitrile butadiene styrene.

While hundreds of people, many of whom are students, visit the MDF each year, this is the first student group to watch their design 3D printed on one of our large-scale machines.

Lonnie Love, Lead Researcher, ORNL’s Manufacturing Systems Research Group

Clayton Greer, a student from Georgia Institute of Technology also worked as an ORNL intern on the stick of the excavator.

“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,” he added.

The excavator project is called the Project Additive Manufactured Excavator (AME), and once it is complete it will be displayed at the IFPE and CONEXPO-CON/AGG, in Las Vegas in March, 2017. The researchers intend to do a live demonstration of 3D printing a second excavator cab at the event.

Though manufacturers may not adopt 3D printing to produce excavators or other such construction vehicles, Love stated that employing AM for printing high-complexity, low-volume components can help the construction industry in minimizing overall cost and production time.

“Additive manufacturing can be used to print components on demand, which could potentially eliminate the need for mass storage, organization and transportation,” Love said.

DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy – Advanced Manufacturing Office financially supported this research endeavor. AMO supports studies, creation and demonstration of new processes and materials for energy efficiency in platform technologies for producing green energy products and manufacturing.

The National Fluid Power Association, the National Science Foundation, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers and the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power are the key partners of the study.

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