3D Printed Excavator Still Heavily in Development; ORNL to 3D Print a Cab at 2017 Tradeshow

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ornl-logo249x60While it may seem that suddenly everything and its brother is being 3D printed and hitting the headlines, you might be surprised at some of the items you’ve missed that are currently in development and will offer quite specific potential for change in areas such as construction. And indeed, the construction industry has been under plenty of scrutiny in the 3D printing industry for having moved much slower than previously projected. Where are our 3D printed houses and offices? They are here, and the plans are big; however, tools are obviously the most important part of the equation. While we’ve got the 3D printers in place such as the WASP BigDelta busy 3D printing an entire Italian village, there are certainly many other massive tools used in the construction trade that could be customized for use and made faster and less expensively as well.


The 3D printed excavator cab

The idea of a 3D printed excavator is impressive for sure, but it’s gone far beyond the concept stage, thanks to the following organizations collaborating:

Graduate engineering students from both Georgia Tech and the University of Minnesota were also in charge of further designs for the system. The excavator is set to be formally unveiled in the spring at next year’s CONEXPO-CON/AGG and IFPE 2017 in Las Vegas, expected to garner a great deal of attention at the massive construction tradeshow as it becomes obvious that the realm of hydraulic construction systems may indeed be about to experience an important transformation. Along with this was a contest held for a 3D printed cab for the excavator, won by a team from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC)—offering not just a functional design, but one that looks great too. As we see so often in 3D printing, the young engineers were inspired by nature for their design, explaining that the geometry they fabricated was actually similar the framework found inside our own bones.

As 2017 approaches, further development on the excavator is underway in a major fashion at ORNL, where the teams will 3D print and assemble the cab for the operator, the hydraulically articulated arm referred to as ‘the stick,’ and the heat exchanger.

“The excavator’s stick will be fabricated using the newly installed Wolf System, a machine that uses a freeform technique in printing large-scale metal components,” states ORNL. “The heat exchanger will be printed on a Concept Laser machine that produces metal parts through a powder-bed-based laser melting process.”

ex-cabAs they are engaged in this process, the engineering team will also be working to improve the excavator model along with that of 3D printing and the materials used as they begin refining models that will demonstrate a reduction in both residual stress and distortion.

 “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,” said Lonnie Love, team leader on the project. He expects that the excavator will be printed, assembled and ready to be unveiled in nine months.

The team points out that they are all learning as they go in creating a 3D printed excavator, from students to experienced scientists, and especially too in working with those who developed the 3D printed cab.

“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,” Love said.

“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.”


It’s also been announced that when the 3D printed excavator is unveiled at IFPE and CONEXPO-CON/AGG in March, they will actually be 3D printing another cab as a demo for those attending. This will be a prime venue for displaying some of the benefits of 3D printing in action all around as they show how complex parts can be made fast and affordably.

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

This project was funded by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy – Advanced Manufacturing Office. See the videos below for further insight into both the development of the 3D printed excavator, as well as the winning concept presented by the team from UIUC. Discuss this in the 3D Printed Excavator forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: ORNL]

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