Design Engineering

ORNL researchers design and 3D print excavator prototype


Additive Manufacturing 3D printing ORNL

Researchers hope to explore new industrial applications for AM by increasing the size and speed of metal-based 3D printing techniques.

ORNL 3D printing

The first-ever 3D printed excavator will include a cab designed by a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign student engineering team and printed at DOE’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL using carbon fiber-reinforced ABS plastic.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is focusing on developing heavy construction machinery in its latest push to advance additive manufacturing technology. Researchers are designing and 3D printing an excavator prototype. This project, known as Project AME (Additive Manufactured Excavator), will leverage large-scale additive manufacturing technologies and explore printing with a variety of metal alloys.

The team hopes to explore new industrial applications for AM by increasing the size and speed of metal-based 3D printing techniques. Working with low-cost alloys like steel and aluminum will help expand its applications.

For this specific project, researchers will 3D print the excavator on printed using machines at the Department of Energy’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) at ORNL.

The team will print and assemble three separate 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.

Through the 3D printing process, the ORNL team will develop processes to improve material performance and printability. They will also need to verify models to show how the 3D printed materials adapt to reduce residual stress and distortion.

“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.

A student engineering team from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign won a design competition and recently visited the MDF to watch their cab design take shape on the Big Area Additive Manufacturing machine.

additive ORNL

ORNL’s Lonnie Love hosted a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign student engineering team who watched their award-winning excavator cab design being printed on a Big Area Additive Manufacturing system.

“We’re also exposing them to the possibilities that additive manufacturing is affording industry that can help companies from so many different areas whether it’s automotive, construction or other applications yet to be discovered,” Love added.

He expects the excavator to be printed, assembled and ready to be unveiled in only nine months. Project AME will be on display at IFPE  in Las Vegas in March 2017.

3D printing construction vehicles is not common practice among manufacturers. However, Love believes that using AM to print low-volume, high-complexity components could benefit the construction industry by reducing production time and overall cost.

“Additive manufacturing can be used to print components on demand, which could potentially eliminate the need for mass storage, organization and transportation,” Love said.

Key partners of Project AME include the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, the National Fluid Power Association, the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power and the National Science Foundation.


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