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The latest innovation in the 3D printing industry, known as Project AME or Additive Manufactured Excavator has been getting a lot of attention from industry stakeholders. The new AME innovation, to be demonstrated at ConExpo 2017, will offer new ideas on the unrealized potential of integrating 3D printing in the production of construction equipment. It has an outstanding design in which the boom has unprecedented integration with the power of fluid as it is printed with smooth fluid flow passages.

There have been many breakthroughs in additive manufacturing but none of those are as important as Project AME because such a process was never successfully tried in the equipment industry before. This is the first time that 3D printed steel was used to produce large scale construction machinery which is a milestone. Right now it is not clear how this will impact the construction equipment industry in the short term but the trend in the medium term seems unmistakable; additive manufacturing or 3D printing will have a crucial role to play in this segment of the industry.

Using additive manufacturing technologies, research teams are working to reduce the overall size of the excavator and making it more efficient. This will provide the machine with a much better cooling system, heat exchanger and a highly adaptive hydraulic oil reservoir. Research teams are also working on the boom and the bucket design with an integrated hydraulics system which will lower the weight of the excavator, reduce manufacturing and subsequent maintenance costs.

Additive manufacturing is here to stay in the construction equipment manufacturing industry. In this case the entire excavator is not 3D printed and only the most integral design components have been manufactured using this method. It would not have been possible for the researchers to make these improvements in the design components without 3D printing since conventional manufacturing methods lack the precision and efficiency needed to pursue such designs.

Additive Manufacturing or AM is a technology that builds 3D objects by adding layer-upon-layer of material, which could be plastic, metal, concrete or any other special alloy. AM technology uses 3D modeling software (Computer Aided Design or CAD), machine equipment and layering material. The CAD sketch is critically important and only after it is created, does the AM equipment become operational. Thereafter, it lays down or adds successive layers of liquid, powder, sheet material, etc. in a layer-upon-layer fashion to fabricate a 3D object.

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The way 3D printing technology is progressing it is just a matter of time before it replaces brickwork in buildings considerably if not entirely. At the core of the technology is the infill mechanism that is similar to the extruder technology of a 3D printer. Italy based WASP (World’s Advanced Saving Project) which is doing pioneering research and development of 3D technology for building construction and various other applications, has developed Big Delta, which is a 12 meter high and 7 meter wide giant 3D printer assembled with 6 meter long modular arms.  All the machine components have a maximum length of 3 meters so that they can be easily loaded on a trailer and transported easily.

The Big Delta can move the extruder with a maximum load of 200 kg although WASP engineers suggest that it works optimally with reduced vibrations when the material load is round 40-50 kg. As per the study by the WASP team, blends of several long fiber-materials can be extruded to create the building walls. This choice of long fiber material is at the heart of the WASP project as they have been convinced since the beginning that mud and straw is the best blend of material that can be extruded by Big Delta. They also suggest that it is not necessary to mince the fiber into smaller pieces as it works much better when long.

These are the first attempts at replacing brick and mortar and there is still some time for them to become technically and commercially viable. As a pioneering initiative in the development of 3D printing technology for building and construction, WASP hasn’t confined its research to just finding a replacement for brick and mortar. Rather, they have recognized the importance of cement mixture in construction work and have used their extruder technology to demonstrate optimum use of cement mortar. A ton of cement generates a ton of Co2 but with 3D printing it can be reduced by more than half through programmed in-fills, using the extruder.

Researchers at WASP have developed a system to produce concrete elements that can be assembled with steel bars and beams as well as construct pillars in reinforced concrete. Today, with 3D printing it is possible to create curved and hollow elements, as well as specific features that would normally require complex wooden moulds for fresh concrete which is costlier. Tests are being carried out on three meter long beams intended to check the mechanical performance of new reinforced concrete mixture. On the other hand, testing of new assembly systems using pre-stressing technology is undergoing development.

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JCB the pioneer of telescopic technology in the world has created another first by combining a skid steer and compact track loader with a telescopic boom. JCB calls this new innovation, Teleskid and it has already created excitement in the industry with its ability to reach 60% further forward than any other skid steer. JCB formally launched the new machine at this year’s Conexpo show that was held in Las Vegas in March. Here’s more from the new machine - JCB has equipped the Teleskid with the ability to dig below its chassis to an unparalleled depth of around one metre making it the only skid steer in the world with that kind of ability. That’s not all; the Teleskid has the ability to reach higher than any other skid steer in the market.

Tim Burnhope, the chief innovation and growth officer of JCB summed up the capabilities of the Teleskid optimally. He said, “Through innovation this machine will surpass the expectations of our customers as the world's first skid steer and compact track loader with a telescopic boom. The JCB Teleskid can reach further forward and lift higher and dig deeper than any other skid steer.” The Teleskid’s forward reach which is 60% more than the nearest competitor, goes out to a never before 2.4 meters while its lift height of four meters helps it reach eight percent higher than any other skid steer in the world.

No other skid steer in the world can combine vertical and radial lift capability like the JCB Teleskid is able to do. Throughout the boom's range of manoeuvre, the user can set and maintain the bucket level as this machine offers a unique bucket-positioning and levelling system. Burnhope further adds, “The JCB Teleskid can do the work of four machines - a telescopic handler, masted forklift, compact loader and a skid steer, all in one easily-serviced machine. The telescopic boom will allow operators to load trucks without a ramp, reach over kerbing and dig below ground, all with clear visibility of the attachment.”

About 40 years ago JCB had pioneered telescopic technology when it launched its telehandler, the Loadall, which is today the biggest selling telescopic handler in the world. Fifteen years later, JCB took telehandler safety to new levels when it launched another innovative product – a single-arm 'Powerboom' skid steer for the first time. Now, JCB has combined both these innovations on a single technological platform and brought out the JCB Teleskid which, comes with a skid steer and track loader as well as a telescopic boom. The machine is available in both tracked and wheeled versions for the North American and European markets respectively. Demand projections in India will obviously lead JCB to introduce the Teleskid here in this country sometime in the near future.

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Developed by Volvo Trucks and PATH (Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology), the new technology is described as partially automated truck platooning. This was demonstrated recently by Volvo trucks in partnership with PATH at the University of California in Berkeley. The demonstration involved three Volvo VNL 670 model tractors that hauled cargo containers at the Los Angeles Port complex and along Interstate 110 using CACC (Cooperative Adaptive Cruise Control) technology. It presented the potential for improving highway safety, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and increasing transportation system capacity to various stakeholders.

The three Volvo VNL tractors moving at speeds of 55 mph kept a closer distance than usual of 50 feet from each other in simulated ‘real world’ conditions. Without the intervention of drivers, speed and spacing was maintained with the help of forward-looking sensors and vehicle-to-vehicle communication. The technology demonstrated easier handling of common traffic situations through staged and unplanned vehicle cut-ins.

According to Magnus Koeck, vice president of marketing and brand management, Volvo Trucks, “Truck platooning can benefit freight companies and professional drivers alike through safer, more fuel-efficient operations. Vehicle-to-vehicle communication is pivotal for platooning systems; it helps reduce the reaction time for braking and enables vehicles to follow closer. Reducing the traveling distance between vehicles not only reduces the aerodynamic drag, but also allows for greater highway utilization, thereby helping to alleviate traffic congestion.”

Wherever a skilled and experienced professional driver is involved, making use of autonomous technology for operations in highways is more effective with platooning systems. It is by far the best option available to truckers looking for automation while operating in highways. However, a much higher degree of automation is possible in environments with limited and clearly defined work dimensions where humans cannot perform. Volvo has already demonstrated a fully automated mining operation with its trucks and this seems to be the best and most feasible application for fully automated vehicles. Other industries like building and construction equipment may also be able to leverage such automation.

Talking about platooning, this may very well be the way to drive on highways in a decade’s time. It began with a project named SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) in Sweden which was supported by EU (European Union) and partly funded by it. Platooning of vehicles as envisaged by SARTRE is basically the formation of a convoy of vehicles with a professional driver leading the convoy. Every vehicle measures the distance, speed and direction and adjusts to the one in front. Vehicles in the platoon have the choice to leave the convoy at any time after following standard operating procedures.

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The construction industry is on the threshold of some exciting new developments that promises to change it for good. The traditional brick and mortar buildings will become redundant in future as they make way for buildings that will be built ten to twenty times faster at much lower cost and offer more durability. These advancements and innovations also focus on harnessing environment-friendly material and techniques that will reduce the carbon footprint of a particular structure. Overall, construction techniques will see more automation and sustainable processes that will not compromise on aesthetics either.

3D printing - the most disruptive new technology

In its present state of development, which is early days anyway, 3D printing enables creation of objects, ranging from a 5 sq cm memento to a 5 storey high building in a time-span ranging from a few seconds to a few hours respectively. It was unthinkable just 5 years ago to imagine constructing a 5 storey building in just a few hours and yet it was already done in the fastest time of 24 hours in China where they built as many as 10 houses in that time. What does the future hold for the construction industry that employs so many people?

Near real feel of the structure to be built, with virtual reality

The construction industry has already been exposed to some basic and simple forms of the technology a few years back. These were used to make digital blueprints, try out design options and plan renovations in existing houses. However, the technology now has progressed further ahead promising more precise imaging and increased detailing. So, if you want to see and ‘feel’ your new house, you will need the interactive, digital mockups of the structure made possible by virtual reality to experience this amazing technological advancement.

From smart phones to smart buildings

Smart technology helps users streamline a number of activities and priorities on hourly, daily weekly or monthly basis. It works on the basis of advanced automation and connectivity and helps users make optimum use of the precious time in their daily lives. Similarly, in smart buildings there are individual devices that can communicate with each other and update the user on things like daily schedules, maintenance needs, and other priorities. The concept is now being used increasingly by building and construction companies. 

Green buildings and use of renewable energy

Use of renewable energy in homes and offices and in many cases even supermarkets and factories has increased substantially with advanced solar roofing products and hybrid power systems. Use of these products reduces the impact of energy use on the environment as they are renewable unlike conventional energy sources like coal, oil and gas. The other advantage is that there is no cost of the source of energy as sunlight and wind along with consumer waste both organic and inorganic, are actually free. The costing actually begins from processing of these resources rather than the resources themselves. Increasing availability and acceptance of products and systems to harness renewable energy has also lowered the cost enough to make them cheaper than conventional energy sources. 

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The speed at which 3D technology is progressing, it is just a question of time before this becomes a reality.  Recently, researchers in Spain created the first ever 3D printed foot bridge which is a milestone in itself although engineers in China have already constructed a four-storey building with 3D printed units or building blocks a few years ago. For those not familiar with digital printing technology it is not really easy to understand how a bridge or a building could be 3D ‘printed’. So, here’s how it works – 3D printing is a process that uses the additive method of making three dimensional solid objects from filament that is driven through an extruder just like you squeeze icing on the cake. The entire process is pre-programmed and controlled digitally from a computer.

3D printing technology could be the future of construction

So, what is an additive process? It is a process wherein layer upon layer of material is extruded or forced down through a die until the object is created. These layers are very thin slices of the horizontal cross-section of the object being made and they are placed one upon the other with very high precision. This is the technology that the researchers at the IAAC (Institute of Advanced Architecture in Catalonia) used to 3D print the entire 12 meter long foot bridge with micro-refined concrete that was driven through the extruder of the printer. Many observers feel this has taken construction technology to a different level altogether and may turn out to be the future of construction.

The 12 meter long and 1.75 meter wide bridge that was designed and 3D printed by the researchers in the IAAC, has been installed at a park in Madrid. Areti Markopoulou who led the team of researchers at IAAC, said “In traditional architecture there is a lot of waste material which you cannot remove, however, with 3D printing you can control where the material is deposited. Usually we are limited to simple geometries in construction because it is difficult and expensive to create complex moulds. With this bridge we were able to experiment with complex forms that appear in nature and we made a design that would have been very difficult by conventional means.”

Other 3D printing projects from around the world

There have been reports about a Chinese company, WinSun, which claimed to have 3D printed as many as 10 houses in just 24 hours way back in March 2014. The company used a mixture of construction rubble and industrial waste, including glass and tailings around a base of quick-drying cement mixed with a hardening agent. As in any other instance of 3D printing WinSun used CAD (Computer Aided Design) design as the template and controlled the extruder arm with the computer to place the material. The walls are hollow within, where they have a zig-zag pattern which helps reinforce the wall and also provides for insulation. 3D printed buildings and structures are also said to be coming up in different parts of the world like Dubai and the Netherlands among others.

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As the third tower in the trio of super tall buildings at the heart of Shanghai’s new Lujiazui Finance and Trade Zone, Shanghai Tower embodies a new confidence across China as it acquires the spotlight in the shift in global balance of economic power. At 632m (2,073 feet), the Shanghai Tower is the tallest building in China, towering above the city of Shanghai, the largest in China with 24 million people. At present, it is the second tallest building the world, behind the Burj Khalifa in Dubai although this ranking will change by 2020 when four other buildings in different parts of the world will ascend higher up in the sky to compete for the top spot.

The largest ever concrete pouring work

The 128 stories of Shanghai Tower have nine vertical zones, which includes retail at the base, offices in the middle and hotels and observation decks at the top. It takes a little less than a minute to travel from the base of this giant skyscraper to the top, a distance of 580m (1,900 feet) in a double-decker elevator making it the longest single elevator journey in the world. Shanghai Tower is the first single building in the world with a weight of 850,000 tons constructed on soft ground. The building’s foundation surface required the largest ever concrete pouring work – 60,000 cubic meters of concrete within 63 hours at one time and use of 450 concrete mixer trucks, along with 8 pump stations of 4 districts of the city.

One third of the building is Green

Shanghai Tower has round-shaped, self-bearing, continuous walls as tower bearings with a diameter of 123.544 meters, said to be the largest found anywhere. The project involved the largest construction cranes in China – four M1280D tower cranes to ensure efficient work. A curtain wall with the highest construction precision supported the steel structure system along with the most professional curtain wall sliding bearings that offer accuracy of up to 2 mm. The building used about 35% less structural materials (concrete and steel) than any other conventional buildings which brought down the cost considerably. One third of the building is dedicated to greenery while energy consumption of the building 35-40% less than any other building.

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What could a material that is 10 times stronger than steel and is also much lighter, look and feel like? Well, material science has just surpassed another major milestone as scientists at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) successfully developed a material which is ten times stronger than steel but is also one of the lightest, with a density of just 5% of that of steel. They produced the material by compressing and fusing flakes of graphene, which is a two-dimensional form of carbon. Of all known materials, graphene is presumably the strongest, in its two-dimensional form but it was quite a challenge for researchers trying to convert this two-dimensional strength into useful three-dimensional materials.

Amazing geometrical configuration

To their surprise, the scientists found that graphene and its composition is not what makes it so strong; rather, it is the atomic structure of the material and its unusual 3-D geometrical configuration, which is the main source of its strength. This means, in addition to graphene, there are other base materials that can be converted into similar strong and lightweight materials by creating such geometric configuration in their basic structure. According to Markus Buehler, the head of MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) and the McAfee Professor of Engineering, “You can replace the material itself with anything. The geometry is the dominant factor. It’s something that has the potential to transfer to many things.”

The scientists worked out the mathematical framework closely matching experimental observations after analyzing the graphene’s behavior down to the level of individual atoms within its structure. A combination of heat and pressure helped them compress small flakes of graphene producing a strong and stable structure resembling the form of some corals and microscopic creatures called diatoms. These new shapes turned out to be very strong as their surface area is much larger in proportion to their volume.

So how will it benefit application areas in the metallurgical and structural engineering industry especially those that use huge amounts of steel, such as the automobile, heavy engineering, ship-building and construction industry among others?

Application in building and construction material

The scientists said that graphene can eventually have many other applications requiring a combination of extreme strength and light weight. Buehler suggests, “You could either use the real graphene material or use the geometry we discovered with other materials, like polymers

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To a layman a tower crane may appear insecure and about to fall over anytime when lifting or hauling loads but the handlers of the cranes know very well that this is unlikely. That’s because, tower cranes are constructed according to tried and tested methods based on sound engineering measurements. Right from constructing the crane to handling it, there are best practices that the operators follow in order to ensure optimum performance of the cranes and also to ensure that there are no mishaps or accidents due to poor handling.

The basic components

The base comprises of a large concrete pad which normally measures 30 ft x 30ft on the surface and 4 feet deep below the surface. The total weight of the pad is 182,000 kgs. The tower or mast stands on this pad and is held tight and erect with the help of anchor bolts that are embedded deep into the pad. The strong pad at the base is what gives the tower its strength when it is given height. At the top of the tower is the slewing unit which includes the gear and motor that helps the crane to rotate.

Main specifications

Tower cranes normally have four main specifications. Maximum unsupported height refers to the maximum height that will be supported by the base pad. In this case, the maximum unsupported height of a tower crane is 265 feet and beyond that height, it would have to be tied to a rising building closest to it.  Maximum reach refers to the horizontal arm of the crane at the top known as the jib, which can reach up to a maximum of 230 feet. Maximum lifting power of the crane is 19.8 tons when the load is closest to the vertical tower of the crane.

It needs to be noted that if the load is barely 30 meters away from the tower, the load-lifting capacity goes down to a maximum of 10.1 tons. Counterweights weighing 20 tons are needed to balance the load that the crane lifts during operations. For the operator of the crane, there are limit switches that inform him about the loading limit during the process of loading. When the tower crane arrives at the construction site the handling crew assembles the units with the help of a mobile crane. The tower mast has a triangulated lattice structure that adds to its strength to remain firm and steady.

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In a recent test of excavator buckets where improved bucket from EI engineering was pitted against a generic bucket, for work performance, the result was amazing - the bucket produced 25% more work using 32% less fuel in the same duration of time! It was a straightforward test that required the buckets to dig a trench for which both were provided identical conditions – Kobalco excavator machines for both buckets, same quantity of fuel, same surface (ground), same duration of time and same depth requirement for the trenches (1,150 mm).

The result amazed everyone not because the redesigned bucket won the contest but because of the difference in performance of the two buckets. The trench dug by the generic bucket was 12 metres long using 3.1 litres of fuel while the trench dug by the EI engineering’s bucket was 15.6 metres long for which it used just 2.1 litres of fuel - one full litre less!

These are amazing results for any construction or mining industry professional because when these percentages are scaled up to cover hundreds of buckets the savings would be simply mind-boggling. However, there’s something even more amazing with regard to the difference in performance between the improved and the generic buckets – the market hardly knows about it!

The reason - most excavator buckets in the market haven’t changed in the last half a century even as the machines, on which they are fitted, have experienced huge advancements in technology especially engine power, hydraulics and even the wheels. Fuel usage, efficiency costs and operating costs haven’t reflected the great advancements in technology and innovation because excavator and machine technology has almost bypassed bucket technology.

As a result, buckets are poorly designed and seriously undermine the excavator machine’s capabilities. The buckets that most manufacturers produce dig poorly and inefficiently because the manufacturers are clueless about bucket geometry or design and don’t approach the matter with the seriousness it deserves. They are also not aware of how their buckets perform as there is no measurable data nor do they have any interest in testing them. These manufacturers don’t take responsibility for the performance of their buckets.

The redesigned and improved  buckets are made from extra strong steel, conforming to manufacturer specifications and complementing to the latest in machine technology, and are designed to optimise the performance of the machine. The company has been putting its bucket technology to test since the last three years, using machine sizes of between 1.7 and 22 tonnes producing similar results over different machines. It showed increase in digging performance, reduction in cost of operation, servicing and spare parts as well greenhouse emissions by 30%.

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