3D printing grows up: scientists are using the tech to make an earthmoving machine – Wired.co.uk


October 1, 2016 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ 3D Printed Articles


The first ever 3D-printed excavator will include a cab (pictured) designed by a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign student engineering team

The first ever 3D-printed excavator will include a cab (pictured) designed by a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign student engineering team

3D-printing has come a long way from its early incarnation as a rapid method of making engineering prototypes.

The machines are now routinely used in gimmicky souvenir making, by hobbyists, and there’s even one on the International Space Station so that urgent spares can be created from an emailed design file.

The latest frontier for 3D-printing technology is the manufacturing of massive earthmoving equipment.

Scientists at the US Oak Ridge National Laboratory are assembling the world’s first 3D-printed hydraulic excavator, a prototype which they say will explore the feasibility of printing with metal alloys.

3D-printing, or additive manufacturing (AM), mostly uses plastics of some sort to create objects layer by layer. Plastics are cheap, light, and easy to melt, lending themselves to the process.
Metals, on the other hand, are heavy, costly, and melt at much higher temperatures – making them a challenging material for 3D printing.

But metals are what is needed if truly useful machines like cars or tractors are to be 3D-printed.

The Oak Ridge team claims that by increasing the size and speed of metal-based 3D-printing techniques, and using low-cost alloys such as steel and aluminium, it could create new industrial applications for the technology.

The excavator, known a little prosaically as Project AME (Additive Manufactured Excavator), is being 3D-printed with three components: the cab where the operator sits, the hydraulic arm or ‘stick’, and a heat exchanger.

The stick is made using a newly-installed machine called the Wolf, which uses a novel freeform technique to print large-scale metal components. In contrast, the heat exchanger is made on a Concept Laser machine that produces metal parts by melting metal powders layer by layer.

The project will take around nine months to complete, and the completed excavator is to be displayed at the construction trade fair ConExpo in March 2017.

The team plan to 3D-print another excavator cab during a live demonstration at the event, held every three years in Las Vegas.

The first ever 3D-printed excavator will include a cab (pictured) designed by a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign student engineering team

The first ever 3D-printed excavator will include a cab (pictured) designed by a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign student engineering team

3D-printing has come a long way from its early incarnation as a rapid method of making engineering prototypes.

The machines are now routinely used in gimmicky souvenir making, by hobbyists, and there’s even one on the International Space Station so that urgent spares can be created from an emailed design file.

The latest frontier for 3D-printing technology is the manufacturing of massive earthmoving equipment.

Scientists at the US Oak Ridge National Laboratory are assembling the world’s first 3D-printed hydraulic excavator, a prototype which they say will explore the feasibility of printing with metal alloys.

3D-printing, or additive manufacturing (AM), mostly uses plastics of some sort to create objects layer by layer. Plastics are cheap, light, and easy to melt, lending themselves to the process.
Metals, on the other hand, are heavy, costly, and melt at much higher temperatures – making them a challenging material for 3D printing.

But metals are what is needed if truly useful machines like cars or tractors are to be 3D-printed.

The Oak Ridge team claims that by increasing the size and speed of metal-based 3D-printing techniques, and using low-cost alloys such as steel and aluminium, it could create new industrial applications for the technology.

The excavator, known a little prosaically as Project AME (Additive Manufactured Excavator), is being 3D-printed with three components: the cab where the operator sits, the hydraulic arm or ‘stick’, and a heat exchanger.

The stick is made using a newly-installed machine called the Wolf, which uses a novel freeform technique to print large-scale metal components. In contrast, the heat exchanger is made on a Concept Laser machine that produces metal parts by melting metal powders layer by layer.

The project will take around nine months to complete, and the completed excavator is to be displayed at the construction trade fair ConExpo in March 2017.

The team plan to 3D-print another excavator cab during a live demonstration at the event, held every three years in Las Vegas.

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