UIUC students win nationwide 3D printed excavator cab competition

Jun 12, 2016 | By Benedict

A team of students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will have its design for a 3D printed excavator cab turned into a reality after winning a nationwide contest. The cab will form part of a fully operational 3D printed excavator that will be showcased at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2017.

Although 3D printing is slowly but surely laying the foundations for a new era in construction, the focus of this exciting new development is usually reserved for massive concrete 3D printers which can print entire rooms or even buildings. There are, of course, other areas where 3D printing and construction intersect, but even the most diehard additive manufacturing enthusiasts are unlikely to tell you that cranes, bulldozers, and excavators will soon be made from 3D printed parts. Back in April, however, we actually reported—albeit briefly—on the world’s first 3D printed excavator, which is currently under development and set to be unveiled at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2017, the largest construction show in the Western Hemisphere.

The massive additive manufacturing undertaking, a joint project between the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), National Fluid Power Association (NFPA), Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), and the National Science Foundation (NSF), has seen the participants working with experts at Georgia Tech and the University of Minnesota to create a fully functional 3D printed excavator, after receiving a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). One part of the 3D printed excavator, however, was left for the public to design.

First, a very basic introduction to excavator anatomy: an excavator consists of two main sections, the undercarriage (below) and the house (above). An important part of the house section is the “cab”, in which the operator of the excavator sits and controls the machine. While the majority of the planned 3D printed excavator will be developed and printed by the experts at Georgia Tech and the University of Minnesota, the project organizers decided to run a competition encouraging undergraduate students from across the U.S. to design their own 3D printed cab.

Yesterday, the organizers of the 3D printed cab competition announced its winner: a group of undergraduate engineering students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), whose design doubled up as their Spring 2016 senior design project. The members of the winning team, Naomi Audet, Lucas Meyer, Sharon Tsubaki-Lu, Kevin Kim, and Andrew Peterman, used topology optimization software to design a lightweight but strong cab that used significantly less material than traditional models.

Behind the students’ victory was a lot of dedication and hard work. To get their creative juices flowing, the UIUC team visited the Caterpillar Visitors Center in Peoria, Illinois, to see how the world’s largest manufacturer of construction equipment conducted its business and built its machines. The team were able to try out an excavator simulator to better understand how it feels to sit in a cab, and even had the chance to speak with a number of excavator operators, who told the team what makes a good (and bad) cab, in their eyes.

When the team started planning their own 3D printed cab design, they tested a number of materials and used TopOpt topology optimization software to identify the important load-bearing areas of the cab. With this information, they trimmed away all unnecessary material before reconfiguring certain sections using Autodesk Fusion 360. “Our cab, although made of a weaker material than steel, could be more efficient in its distribution than past designs,” said Tsubaki-Lu.

“This project was one of the very top efforts in an extremely competitive field of 28 senior design capstone projects within the MechSE Department at UIUC in the Spring 2016 semester,” said Professor Elizabeth Hsiao-Wecksler, Associate Head for Undergraduate Programs in the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering at UIUC. “It had the ideal combination of a challenging project with outstanding ingenuity and hard work by the student team. We think it was a perfect example of what’s being accomplished within our senior design capstone program’s innovative atmosphere.”

After winning the 3D printed excavator cab competition, the UIUC students will receive a $2,000 cash prize, donated by the National Fluid Power Association (NFPA), and will travel to Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee to see their creation 3D printed. The full 3D printed excavator will be showcased at CONEXPO-CON/AGG, which is being held at the Las Vegas Convention Center between March 7-11, 2017.

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Posted in 3D Printing Application

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