by Eric Lanke
I recently made a trip down to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to check on the progress of Project AME—the world’s first 3D-printed hydraulic excavator. (That’s it under the tarp in the above photo.) And I wasn’t alone. It was actually a media event where we invited in members of the press to learn more—and spread the word—about this ground-breaking project.
Here’s what I told one of the reporters who interviewed me.
How did Project AME come about?
Project AME (additive manufactured excavator) is the brainchild of a very unique industry/university consortium—the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP). CCEFP is the place where fluid power component manufacturers, system integrators, and equipment builders come together to work with their university partners and determine a pre-competitive technology development agenda for the industry.
On a tour of ORNL in 2014, we saw the 3D-printed car that was done for the IMTS show and began discussing what could make a similar splash for the fluid power and mobile equipment industry. Printing an excavator, and incorporating into it some of those fluid power technology developments, seemed like an obvious choice.
What makes Project AME special?
It represents the future of high-performance, fluid power-driven mobile equipment. It also represents a form of innovation that’s only possible through public/private partnerships like the CCEFP.
What are some of the fluid power advances that are part of Project AME?
The hydraulic system has been printed directly into the boom, eliminating exposed fluid conduits such as hoses and tubing. This helps decrease the weight, materials cost and maintenance of the machine.
The hydraulic oil reservoir and heat exchanger have also been integrated as a single component, allowing the machine to store and cool the hydraulic fluid in one place. This helps reduce the size and weight of the components—increasing the overall efficiency of the machine.
What else is the CCEFP working on?
Primarily, components and systems that increase the efficiency of fluid power systems.
- There’s a new, variable 4-bar linkage pump that provides infinite displacement control.
- There are high-speed switching valves that quickly route flow to either the load or to the tank, minimizing energy-consuming flow metering.
- There’s displacement control actuation, where pumps directly drive actuators without the need for metering valves. This has been shown to improve fuel efficiency of an excavator by 40%, with more efficiency gains possible through hydraulic hybridization.
- There’s a free piston engine/pump, which combines the engine and hydraulic pump into a single component. This directly translates internal combustion into hydraulic power, allowing the engine itself to speed up or slow down to provide the required hydraulic flow. Studies show that multiple engine/pumps, one dedicated to each actuator, would result in fuel savings many times that of currently available systems.
How can people learn more?
At IFPE 2017, March 7-11, 2017 in Las Vegas, the leading international expo and tech conference for fluid power. Project AME and the other CCEFP projects will be on display there.