At the recent AMUG 2017 Conference, Stacey DelVecchio, Additive Manufacturing Product Manager at Caterpillar Inc., gave a presentation on why and how Caterpillar uses 3D printing/additive manufacturing. The company known for big earth moving equipment has a thriving additive manufacturing facility.
Caterpiller management has encouraged the use of additive technologies to better meet tight emissions regulations and to evolve to stay in business. In 1991, the company’s additive team bought a stereolithography machine, which the engineers used extensively. By 2009, the team purchased its first desktop printer.
Both management and the engineering team view additive as a way to move to the next level of innovation. For Caterpillar, this is the age where “iron flexes its intelligence.”
One of the programs Caterpillar has in place brings engineers who know additive to those engineers who know specific systems and components and lets them talk together. Another program involves a design competition, which encourages the engineers to explore how additive can help them.
Additive manufacturing has already contributed to a number of design successes. A fuel swirler is produced through metal printing. Due to its complex design, it was right for 3D printing. The 3D printed version combines several parts into one.
A grommet is built using Carbon’s M1 printer. The elastomeric materials have the right properties that hold up to in this low-volume aftermarket application.
Another example was a ball check valve. This valve was a Caterpiller design competition winner where multiple pieces were combined into one, eliminating a leak path. Plus, the design was easier to fix in the field.
Another example showed an earthmover engine housing made from sand on one of the company’s 3D printers.
DelVecchio advised that if you set up an additive service for engineers’ prototypes, don’t suggest that printing is free. Begin by charging a fee just for the material. As acceptance grows, then you can alter the fees until you reach a point where your internal customers are paying a fully burdened cost, including depreciation of the equipment.
The Additive Manufacturing Factory at Caterpiller is a tool for the engineers. They learn about additive, how to handle low-volume and how to handle Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). Presently, the factory is used to build parts, prototypes, and assembly tools. Caterpillar plans on being a direct supplier to its dealers, especially with service tools. It also has plans to become an external supplier to others. The company is looking into a hub and spoke approach where additive will be the hub.
DelVecchio noted that additive manufacturing definitely will be used to replace other methods of part production.