Researchers building 3D printed excavator

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3D excavator gallery The 3D-printed operator's cab 3D excavator gallery

Researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in the United States are designing and producing the world’s first 3D-printed excavator, a prototype they hope will expand the possibilities of large-scale printing with metal alloys.

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The project is funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE) and its aim is to advance research into cleaner and more efficient manufacturing technologies. The excavator was designed by a student engineering team from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as part of a design competition.

The first stages of the excavator will be 3D-printed at the DOE’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) at ORNL and consists of the operator’s cab, the excavator arm and a heat exchanger. Researches will be using low-cost alloys like steel and aluminium and hope that if successful, the project will pave the way for 3D-printed manufacturing process on an industrial scale.

The excavator arm will be fabricated using the ORNL’s ‘Wolf system’ which uses a free-form technique for printing large-scale metal components. The heat exchanger will be printed using a ‘concept laser’ machine that produces metal parts through a powder-bed-based laser melting process.

In addition to the innovative techniques used in printing the components, the research team will also carry out testing on the arm and heat exchanger to show that the manufacturing process reduces 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," ORNL Project head Lonnie Love says.

The completed project, known as Project AME (Additive Manufactured Excavator), will be on display at CONEXPO-CON/AGG in Las Vegas in March 2017.

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