A group of engineering students and researchers is in the process of building key components on the world’s first 3D printed excavator, to be unveiled at CONEXPO-CON/AGG and IFPE 2017. It will be on display at the Las Vegas Convention Center March 7-11, while pieces and parts of a second construction excavator will be printed live throughout the show.
The excavator is a joint collaboration between 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).
The aim is to manufacture a fully functional boom that can be attached to a working excavator, said Lonnie Love, PhD, Project Coordinator and Group Leader, Automation, Robotics and Manufacturing, Polymer Systems Additive Manufacturing, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).
John Rozum, Director of Ag Events, IFPE Show Manager, Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), added that the live demonstration will start at the beginning of the show. “On site, we will be focusing on demonstrating the process and capabilities of additive manufacturing rather that duplicating a complete second excavator,” Rozum said. “You’ll see pieces and parts that went into Project AME as well as other unique items being printed.”
The group is working with research teams from Georgia Tech and The University of Minnesota to convert the current excavator design to one that is conducive to and takes full advantage of 3D manufacturing. Graduate engineering students at Georgia Tech will be creating a boom and bucket featuring integrated hydraulics with the goal of decreasing the weight, materials cost and maintenance, while students at the University of Minnesota are designing a hydraulic oil reservoir/heat exchanger and cooling system that reduces the size and weight and increase the efficiency of the machine.
A first in additive manufacturing with steel
The purpose is to demonstrate two emerging technologies: large-scale composite additive manufacturing and large-scale metal additive manufacturing, said Love. “The large scale composite system produces parts at a rate between 70 and 100 lb per hour. To put this in perspective, we printed the chassis for a bulldozer in a day,” Love said. “The large scale metal system will grow parts between five and 10 lb per hour.”
This project will be the first large-scale use of steel in 3D printing, as its objective is to show both the composite and metal technology, said Love. “The demonstration will show that both have a place in the near future of construction equipment,” he said.
“This was a very ambitious task since large-scale 3D printing in steel has never been accomplished before. Project AME really has two goals—to be the first large-scale use of additive manufacturing of steel and to demonstrate how additive manufacturing can be used to rethink the entire manufacturing process,” Rozum added. “The most exciting aspects of the project from the fluid power standpoint are the design work on integrating the fluid power lines into the structure of the boom, and the creative work on the heat exchanger and cooling system.”
Crowd-sourcing other components
Undergraduate engineering students from across the country are also invited to participate in a nationwide contest to design and print a futuristic cab and a human-machine interface for the excavator that is both aesthetically pleasing and functionally designed.
Students can submit their designs for the cab of the excavator on the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power website (ccefp.org) and all entries will be judged by a panel of industry experts. The winning team will receive a $2,000 cash prize and the opportunity to visit the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee to observe the printing of the selected design.
Love said this is what has him most excited, as his team has already done tooling, manifolds and chassis but what can come from other engineers is where new innovations lie. “My team will be there to both educate and be educated,” Love said.
Envisioning the future of the construction industry
Love compares this to the IMTS project a couple years ago when a car was 3D printed on the show floor. “Printing the first car with Cincinnati and Local Motors at IMTS showed the art of the possible and triggered an enormous amount of interest in where additive manufacturing was going. I hope to see the same here.”
Today Local Motors has two microfactories that it is bringing online to print cars, which are more cost-effective. A typical auto manufacturing plant costs $3-5 billion dollars and takes approximately five years to go into production. A microfactory costs between$10-15 million and can take less than a year from ground breaking to production.
“One thing we’ve learned is not to assume to be able to predict the future but instead show the art of the possible and let industry figure out the best way to use it,” Love said. “The technology significantly reduces the cost-of-entry to manufacturing large systems and reduces the time to market,” Love said. “I’m seeing it evolve in automotive. How will it evolve for the construction industry?”
Rozum said he can’t wait to see the excavator of the future doing live demonstrations at IFPE and CONEXPO-CON/AGG. “This is an incredibly exciting project bringing together industry and the research community to re-imagine what an excavator might look like in the future,” he concluded. “Being able to work with additive manufacturing allows us to take those new ideas and designs and make them a reality in a much tighter timeframe than ever before.”