Mar 8, 2017 | By Benedict

Visitors to this week’s CONEXPO-CON/AGG and IFPE 2017 construction expo have been able to witness Project AME (Additive Manufactured Excavator), the world’s first 3D printed excavator, which was developed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Those who like to keep up with construction-related 3D printing news may well have heard of Project AME. Back in June of last year, we reported that a team of talented students from the University of Illinois had won a competition to design the cab (the section where the driver sits) of a 3D printed excavator, which was already under development in preparation for this year’s CONEXPO-CON/AGG and IFPE (International Fluid Power Exposition). A few months later, ORNL was so satisfied with AME (and its student-designed, 3D printed cab), it suggested it could be used to build a colony on Mars. The completed 3D printed excavator has now been shown to the general public for the first time at CONEXPO-CON/AGG, an international construction trade show taking place in Las Vegas.

Project AME was developed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility in Knoxville, Tennessee. It consists of three major components: First, there is the 3D printed cab where the operator sits, designed by students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Using the Cincinnati Incorporated Big Area Additive Manufacturing system at ORNL, the cab was printed in just five hours with carbon fiber reinforced ABS plastic. Secondly, there is the stick or boom (a large hydraulically articulated arm) of the excavator, which is seven feet long and weighs 400 lbs. It was printed entirely in low-cost steel on the Wolf Robotics Wolf Pack printer in only five days. Lastly comes the 13 lb aluminum heat exchanger, which was 3D printed entirely on the Concept Laser X-line 1000 powder bed 3D printer.

The idea for AME, the 3D printed excavator, came about when members of the CCEFP (Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power) visited ORNL in 2014 and saw a 3D printed car on display. Inspired by that feat of engineering, the CCEFP members discussed the possibility of using additive manufacturing for their own project in the fluid power and mobile equipment industry. The idea for AME was thus born. ORNL worked with “numerous partners in industry, government, and academia” to bring the project to fruition, while a consortium of research teams that are part of the CCEFP contributed additional design and engineering work for the project.

The 3D printed excavator is designed to show how multiple 3D printing processes, plastic and metal, can be used in conjunction to produce high-quality machinery for the construction sector. But the machine is no mere “concept”: the machine could be seen digging up dirt at the expo yesterday morning, and will continue to do so throughout the event. “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,” commented Lonnie Love, leader of ORNL’s Manufacturing Systems Research Group.

“Over the next several days, you will see that CONEXPO-CON/AGG will provide attendees access to the newest products from every major category, including asphalt, aggregates, concrete, earthmoving, lifting, mining, and utilities,” added Rich Goldsbury, 2017 CONEXPO-CON/AGG chairman and President of Bobcat/Doosan North America and Oceana. “And there is no better example of putting our imaginations to work and seeing what is on the horizon for the construction industry than what you will see and more importantly, what you will experience right here, right now.”

The 3D printed excavator was developed jointly by 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 project was funded by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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