?World first? 3D-printed excavator to be unveiled next year

The 3D-printed excavator, which is said to be a “world first”, is a joint collaboration between several US organisations.

After receiving a US National Science Foundation grant for the project, the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP) engaged the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s manufacturing demonstration facility to lead the printing of the machine. The National Fluid Power Association (NFPA) and the US Association of Equipment Manufacturers are providing industry engagement, communications and promotional support.

As part of the project, two simultaneous research efforts are currently underway at two US universities. Graduate engineering students from the Georgia Institute of Technology are developing a boom and bucket with integrated hydraulics. It was said their goal was to decrease the machine’s weight, cost of materials and maintenance.

Meanwhile, students at the University of Minnesota are designing a hydraulic oil reservoir/heat exchanger and cooling system to reduce the excavator’s size and weight while increasing its efficiency.

The CCEFP is also hosting a competition that encourages teams of US undergraduate engineering students to design and print a “futuristic” cab and human-machine interface for the excavator that is “aesthetic and functional”. In addition to receiving a cash prize, the winning team will have the opportunity to see their design printed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

“Technology and innovation will drive change for the future of the construction industry, and we’re excited that students are playing a vital role in bringing the newly designed machine to life,” NFPA CEO Eric Lanke commented.

The 3D-printed excavator will be on display in Las Vegas in March 2017 as part of the co-located CONEXPO-CON/AGG and IFPE construction trade shows. A second excavator will also be printed live on the show floor, which – according to a joint event media statement – will be “the first large-scale use of steel in 3D printing”.

“We’re thrilled to bring such a significant technological and first of its kind achievement like the 3D-printed excavator to the show,” IFPE show director John Rozum said. “It will be a platform to demonstrate how the latest innovations and applied technologies are changing the future of [the] construction industry.”

This kind of technology also has the potential to assist the Australian quarrying industry in the future. Local facilities that are capable of 3D-printing machinery parts and attachments are already in operation within Australia, and it has been suggested that the ability to produce product prototypes at reduced cost through 3D printing will likely accelerate innovation in the quarry equipment manufacturing sector.

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