3D printing has found a home in construction. Companies print materials, furniture, and even whole rooms out of a variety of materials. Innovations in the field also mean there are constantly new materials to use in new ways.
That’s why it should surprise no one that 3D printing has taken the next step. No longer is it just used to produce a product to be included in the construction process: 3D printed items can now do the constructing.
The international construction equipment show CONEXPO-CON/AGG will unveil the world’s first 3D printed excavator in 2017.
The joint undertaking between 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), along with partnerships with Georgia Tech and the University of Minnesota, yielded this work of art and science.
Georgia Tech students were responsible for the boom and the bucket; the team in Minnesota designed the hydraulic oil reservoir, heat exchanger, and cooling system. But the cab, where the operator sits, was left to the best design through a contest.
Students Naomi Audet, Lucas Meyer, Sharon Tsubaki-Lu, Kevin Kim, and Andrew Peterman of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign designed a lightweight cab that could still stand up to the rigors of a construction site. The team visited Caterpillar Visitors Center and sampled an excavator simulator for inspiration.
A weaker material than steel makes up the design, but a topology optimization software identified critical load-bearing areas of the cab for further reinforcement.
“This project was one of the very top efforts in a highly competitive field of 28 senior design capstone projects within the MechSE Department at UIUC in the Spring 2016 semester,” said Professor Elizabeth Hsiao-Wecksler, Associate Head for Undergraduate Programs in the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering at UIUC. “It had the ideal combination of a challenging project with outstanding ingenuity and hard work by the student team. We think it was a perfect example of what’s being accomplished within our senior design capstone program’s innovative atmosphere.”
This additive manufacturing effort may very well be the first large-scale use of steel in 3D printing although the build process used several different materials in manufacture.