Caterpillar digs Oak Ridge’s 3D printing work
Techniques developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are going to appear in excavators built by Illinois-based Caterpillar Inc.
Caterpillar announced a three-year partnership with German firm FIT AG to 3D print aluminum and titanium parts for Caterpillar’s machines. The news came shortly after the appearance of the Project AME excavator at the CONEXPO- CON/AGG annual show in Las Vegas.
Three key components of the Project AME excavator were 3D printed: the cab; the heat exchanger; and the 7-foot, 400pound lower section of the bucket arm, which took five days to make, according to Lonnie Love, corporate fellow at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
“That was printed with a new technology Oak Ridge has developed with Wolf Robotics,” he said. Case New Holland donated the rest of the machine.
Local researchers and students from the University of Illinois, the University of Minnesota and Georgia Tech designed the parts, which were printed in Oak Ridge’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility.
Caterpillar sees 3D printing as a way to increase performance, efficiency and reliability in its parts, particularly in new part design and after-market components, according to Stacey DelVecchio, Caterpillar additive manufacturing project manager, via a corporate spokesperson.
“Caterpillar and Oak Ridge are both members of the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power, which is how we became involved in the excavator project,” DelVecchio said. “Caterpillar’smain role in the project was to provide overall guidance, given our extensive knowledge of excavator products.”
Caterpillar officials have visited Oak Ridge several times, looking at 3D printing methods. All construction and excavating equipment firms are looking at such technology, hoping it can help them, Love said.
“It’s definitely hit a nerve. There are companies that are very excited about this,” he said. “I think East Tennessee is going to become the Silicon Valley of additive manufacturing.”
Almost all 3D printing has been slow and very expensive, Love said. Oak Ridge has been leading the effort to speed it up and bring costs down.
That can be especially valuable to makers of excavating equipment – companies such as Caterpillar, Case New Holland and John Deere usually keep spare parts in inventory for 20 years after a model has ceased production, he said.
“So a lot of these companies are looking at additive as a method of manufacturing replacement parts as needed, rather than maintaining a large inventory,” Love said.
Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by JIM GAINES
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