Technology has long been a focus of CONEXPO-CON/AGG events, but organizers are expanding the coverage into what is being called the Tech Experience. Expect plenty of drones to be on display, as well as software developers pushing their “big data” solutions. But one of the biggest draws might end up being the 3D-printed excavator that will be on display at the Tech Experience pavilion.

Called Project AME—that is, “additive manufactured excavator”—the excavator’s cab, boom and heat exchanger will be made of 3D-printed components. The idea for the project began with a meeting of industry groups, including the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, the National Fluid Power Association (NFPA), the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power, and the National Science Foundation at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “They took a tour where they saw a 3D-printed car,” recalled NFPA President Erik Lanke in an interview with show organizers. “And once we started talking that through, the idea of a 3D-printed, hydraulically powered excavator seemed like a natural choice.”

With a distinctive cab designed by a team of engineering students at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, the prototype excavator is a glimpse of how new manufacturing techniques may change the way heavy equipment is designed and improved upon. The student team’s organic design for the excavator cab was the result of finite-element analysis simulations, which allowed the team to maximize the strength of the cab, given the limitations of 3D printing. Unlike the cab, the boom of the excavator will be 3D-printed from metal and is expected to perform as well as a standard machine.