Video: How the USA Department of Energy is Supporting Industrial Additive Manufacturing
James Anderton posted on January 05, 2018 |

Project AME is the Additively Manufactured Excavator, and this fascinating project is a proof of principle showing that metal deposition printing can be used to build large-scale functional parts. The project is a collaboration between the Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL) and 9 other contributors, including the DOE, Georgia Tech, University of Minnesota, University of Illinois, NSF, NFPA, CNH, AEM, and CCEFP; as well as several industry partners, including Lincoln Electric, Wolf Robotics, and Cincinnati Inc.  

To demonstrate the potential of additive manufacturing, the AME used three completely different technologies to print three parts of the machine.

The AME Project. (Image Courtesy of ORNL)
The AME Project. (Image Courtesy of ORNL)

The excavator’s cab was built using the big area additive manufacturing (BAAM) system from Cincinnati Inc. This printer uses composite materials; in this instance, carbon fiber reinforced ABS was used.

To demonstrate the utility of powder bed additive systems, a heat exchanger was produced on the Concept Laser X-Line 1000 machine. The heat exchanger weighs 13 pounds (about 6 kg) and is printed in one piece of aluminum.

The stick, or dipper, was printed using the Wolf Robotics Wolf Pack metal deposition machine. The Wolf Pack uses a technology common in forms of large scale metal additive, a process similar to arc welding. One advantage of additive manufacturing for this part is that the hoses, fittings and lines associated with the hydraulic functions of the machine can be incorporated into the internal structure of the stick, protecting them from hazards and reducing maintenance needs. On this particular project, however, this feature was not included. The stick is 7 feet long, weighs 400 lbs and was printed in five days.

This project represents ORNL’s first foray into large format metal additive. Target applications for this technology include large, complicated molds and dies for various industries. By partnering with industry, ORNL is pushing the envelope for the size and scale of additively manufactured components.

You may know Oak Ridge as the lab heavily involved in the research of the atomic age, space age research and other, more esoteric scientific research. This project is unique because it has a direct industry focus. The project took place at the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility located a few miles down the road from ORNL. According to Alex Plotkowski, staff scientist at ORNL, this facility takes advanced manufacturing technology and scientific expertise from Oak Ridge and combines it with industry experience and needs to create projects like the AME.

Some Oak Ridge projects are commercialized by the industry partners. For example, the BAAM is available from Cincinnati Inc. However, the focus of the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility is to create business cases that show the potential of emerging technology. This helps push American industry, and new technology, forward.

To find out more about Oak Ridge National Laboratory and manufacturing, visit their website.

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