Oak Ridge National Laboratory is at it again.
This time they produced the world’s first 3D printed excavator. But this prototype, which debuted in March at the CONEXPO-Con/AGG in Las Vegas, does more than just move dirt. It demonstrates the latest advancements in additive manufacturing – including the ability to print with metal alloys.
Additive manufacturing, commonly referred to as 3D printing, makes three dimensional parts by laying down thin layers of material in succession. The technology cuts down on time and wasted materials – making manufactured products quicker and cheaper to prototype and build.
The excavator, known as Project AME (Additive Manufactured Excavator), uses three different 3D printing platforms, materials and processes. The cab was created using carbon fiber composites and took just five hours to print on the Cincinnati Incorporated Big Area Additive Manufacturing machine. The all-steel boom (hydraulic arm) was printed in five days and utilized Wolf Robotic’s “Wolf Pack” robotic welding arm to create large-scale metal pieces. Finally, the 13 pound aluminum heat exchanger was printed on a Concept Laser machine that produces metal parts through a powder-based laser melting process.
The excavator was printed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at Oak Ridge – a world class center that helps industry adopt new manufacturing technologies such as additive manufacturing. Prior to Project AME, the facility also printed a tool for Boeing, a Shelby Cobra sports car, a house/car energy system, and wind turbine blade molds to test out new designs.
The project was funded by DOE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, which supports early stage applied research, development and demonstration of new materials and processes for maximizing energy productivity in manufacturing.
Key contributors of Project AME include the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, the National Fluid Power Association, the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power, the National Science Foundation, Case New Holland, Georgia Tech, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Minnesota.