Engineering Students Win Excavator Cab Design Contest
Simon Martin posted on June 29, 2016 |
Student engineers use generative design to optimize cost and material savings for the additive manuf...

Generative design tools are quickly becoming a go-to solution for today’s designers and engineers—especially those with an eye toward optimized design solutions and the future of digital fabrication. These tools have the ability to achieve results with a lighter weight than the original and are as stiff or as flexible as needed with a relatively fail-proof structure for additive manufacturing.

Generative design tools, which allow designers and engineers to input specific design constraints for which an optimal design is generated, have resulted in some of the most efficient parts ever created for applications ranging from professional race cars to orthodontic implants. Thanks to the increasingly low cost of various additive manufacturing processes, the use of topology optimization tools such as generative design software is starting to make more sense on a larger scale.
Members of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign team in front of their winning excavator cab design. (Image courtesy of Andy Peterman.)
Members of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign team in front of their winning excavator cab design. (Image courtesy of Andy Peterman.)
More recently, a team of engineering students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) further validated the role of generative design tools in the context of large-scale manufacturing after winning the Additive Manufactured Excavator Design Competition with an excavator cab created using the cost- and material-optimizing software.

The contest, whose leading sponsor was the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power, had a simple design brief asking student engineering teams to “design and print a futuristic excavator cab and human-machine interface.”

With just three months to design, prototype and refine their excavator cab design, team members Jowon Kim, Sharon Tsubaki, Luke Meyer, Naomi Audet and Andrew Peterman chose to focus on a design that not only demonstrated the capabilities of digital manufacturing, but also maximized a user’s visibility with gridded roofing while reducing both noise and vibration with structural air gaps.

The student engineers utilized topology optimization to minimize material based on specified loading conditions within a given cab envelope. (Video courtesy of Andy Peterman.)
“Going into this project, the majority of our team had minimal experience with the design of construction equipment,” explained team member Luke Meyers. “We soon realized that the TOPS [tip-over protective structures] and FOPS [falling object protective structures] safety requirements do not have quantitative loads that must be deflected or any specified cab structure.

“We had to utilize industry experts, operators and engineers to examine why cabs have evolved to the standard four-post structure,” Meyers continued. “Once we understood this structure and how it is evaluated for safety, we could then create guidelines for our own cab.

“Another big challenge was taking the cab design process and compressing it into such a small timeline, but our team effectively played off of everyone’s strengths to collaborate in a very efficient manner,” Meyers added.

As the contest winner, the UIUC team will see its excavator cab design 3D-printed as a full-scale, functional steel prototype and mounted to the body of an existing excavator. It will be on display at IFPE and CONEXPO-CON/AGG at the Tech Experience in Las Vegas in March 2017. Additionally, the team has received a cash prize of $2,000 that was donated by the National Fluid Power Association.


Simon Martin is a writer and industrial designer in New York City.

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