Sep 27, 2016 | By Benedict

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has unveiled the AME, or Additive Manufactured Excavator, a 3D printed, steel mini-excavator that could someday be replicated on Mars in order to start construction for a colony. The excavator’s arm, driver’s cab, and parts of its engine were 3D printed.

When a group of engineers from the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP) toured ORNL back in 2014, they were captivated by the 3D printing technology being used by the laboratory to 3D print a car. Inspired by the work taking place around them, the engineers proposed an out-of-this-world project unlike anything else going on at the Tennessee facility: “We wondered if it was possible to send a 3D printer to Mars, where it could make a mini-excavator that would start the construction for a colony,” said Eric Lanke, one of the CCEFP engineers.

That dream has now become a step closer to reality, as ORNL recently finished 3D printing the AME (pronounced “Amy”), an Additive Manufactured Excavator, the first large-scale use of 3D printed steel. The prototype of the mini-excavator, which could hypothetically be used on Mars, has a 20-foot 3D printed arm, a 30-foot-by-10-foot 3D printed driver’s cab, and several 3D printed engine components. It was brought to completion by Lonnie Love, ORNL's Manufacturing Systems Research Group leader, with the help of the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Minnesota, thanks to a National Science Foundation grant.

The 3D printed driver’s cab of the AME, one of its most exciting and unusual features, was designed by a five-person engineering team from the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, whose prize was $2,000 and a trip to ORNL. Their 3D printed cab design, which we reported on back in June, was modeled using Autodesk Fusion 360 and shaped using topology optimization software. “We were inspired by shapes found in nature like curved and arching tree branches,” said team member Sharon Tsubaki-Lu.

The 3D printed cab weighs around 150 pounds, roughly 25% the weight of a factory-made cab, but has undergone numerous crash tests to ensure its safety. The winning team, whose members are Naomi Audet, Lucas Meyer, the aforementioned Tsubaki-Lu, Kevin Kim, and Andrew Peterman, intended to design a lightweight but strong cab that used significantly less material than traditional models: “Our cab, although made of a weaker material than steel, could be more efficient in its distribution than past designs,” said Tsubaki-Lu.

Images: Shawn Millsaps/Special to News Sentinel

Love intends to showcase the AME as an example of how 3D printing could be used to transform the U.S. manufacturing industry. “Project AME demonstrates how 3D printers will revolutionize manufacturing,” Love told Lanke and other guests at ORNL. “China will no longer be a competitor. We'll be able to make whatever China makes inexpensively and quickly on a 3D printer anywhere. And there will be no shipping costs.”

Love hopes that American engineering students will soon begin to see the appeal of manufacturing, where 3D printing could provide new and exciting jobs for the country’s workers. Additive manufacturing could, for example, be used on factory floors to immediately correct flaws in items on the assembly line.

Before it has any chance of heading to Mars, the AME will first be brought to Las Vegas, where it will be exhibited at the 2017 edition of CON/EXPO, a construction industry trade show.


Source: ORNL


Posted in 3D Printing Application



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