For the past two years a conglomerate of US associations, industry, government and academia has been collaborating on the world’s first operational 3D printed excavator.
The project, known as Project AME (Additive Manufactured Excavator), has made a leap 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.
The excavator is being 3D printed using a variety of machines at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) in Tennessee. These machines are being used to create and assemble three components: the cab, the boom and a heat exchange.
The excavator’s boom will be fabricated using newly developed free-form additive manufacturing technique to print large-scale metal components.
The collaborative proiject also involves a student engineering team from the University of Illinois, which won a design competition for the cab, and was on-hand at the MDF to watch their design take shape. The additive manufacturing machine used carbon fiber-reinforced acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or ABS, plastic to create the cab
“The project idea came about during a tour of ORNL in 2014, when members of the CCEFP saw the 3D-printed car,” said Eric Lanke, Chief Executive Officer of National Fluid Power Association (NFPA), one of the associations involved in the project. “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.”
The excavator is a collaboration between the NFPA, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). This project was supported by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy – Advanced Manufacturing Office.
CCEFP academic partners – Georgia Tech (GT), University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and University of Minnesota (UMN) – are leading the research activities for Project AME. A GT research team is designing the additively-manufactured steel boom, stick and bucket. A UMN research team is responsible for the aluminum-powder bed 3D-printed oil cooler design. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is developing all processes required to 3D-print these excavator components.