ORNL researchers designs 3D printed excavator

Heavy construction machinery is the focus of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s latest advance in additive manufacturing research. With industry partners and university students, ORNL researchers are designing and producing the world’s first 3D printed excavator, a prototype that will leverage large-scale AM technologies and explore the feasibility of printing with metal alloys.

Increasing the size and speed of metal-based 3D printing techniques, using low-cost alloys like steel and aluminum, could create new industrial applications for additive manufacturing. The excavator will be 3D printed using machines at the Department of Energy’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL to create and assemble three components: the cab where the operator sits, the stick (a large hydraulically articulated arm) and a heat exchanger. The excavator’s stick will be fabricated using the newly installed Wolf System, a machine that uses a freeform technique in printing large-scale metal components. The heat exchanger will be printed on a Concept Laser machine that produces metal parts through a powder-bed-based laser melting process.

“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,” said Lonnie Love, who’s leading the 3D printed excavator project with ORNL’s Manufacturing Systems Research group. He expects the excavator to be printed, assembled and ready to be unveiled in only nine months.