3D printing saves the day for Cat

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  • Plant & Equipment

Does 3D printing have a place in the world of heavy machinery? The team at Caterpillar sure thinks so. Here’s a recent example of how the tech saved the day.

3D printing saves the day for Cat
A 3D printer in action.


IT WAS a dire moment at the Caterpillar transmission assembly plant in Dyersburg, Tennessee. A costly problem was traced to a faulty assembly procedure, and a new solution might take weeks to develop. 

The outlook was grim – thousands of dollars would be lost if the assembly line had to be shut down. And, more importantly, customers would have to wait to receive their new transmissions.

The facility team needed to come up with a plan – and fast.

They were quick on their feet and reached out to Caterpillar’s 3D printing team for support. That team was ready to help. They 3D printed a temporary plastic tool and got it to the facility overnight, saving the line from going down.

"The possibilities are endless in the factories," says Jim LaHood, a member of Caterpillar’s additive manufacturing team. "Things that are previously done out of metal that don’t need to be – like little tools and gauges – can be made from plastic now."

3D printing isn’t a new concept for Caterpillar, whose teams have rapid prototyped (think a quick fabrication) 50,000 models over the last 25 years. The way 3D printing can be used today, though, has dramatically changed.

The 3D printing process offers a more sustainable option for making parts and components (a lot less energy and waste and fewer iterations to get a part right), and it means saving time and lots of money for Caterpillar.

For example, low-selling parts have always been a pain point, LaHood says: "It’s a big inventory cost, big shipping cost and big tooling cost."

Soon, the additive manufacturing team will be able to produce an entire year’s worth of those types of parts overnight, thanks to 3D printing.

So what else does the future hold? Caterpillar is working on a way dealers can 3D print a part on the jobsite to keep machinery running or until a production part is available.


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