Video: Additive Manufacturing Advances at Caterpillar

Stacey DelVecchio of Caterpillar describes how AM is moving forward within a large and established company. Today, there is tooling and aftermarket parts. Ultimately, the technology will empower engineers to realize parts and products “they never even dreamed possible.”
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In this video conversation with AM, Caterpillar additive manufacturing product manager Stacey DelVecchio describes a very specific and valuable potential application the company sees for additive: using it to redesign diesel engine fuel chambers for greater performance. To get to applications such as this one, the engineering staff throughout the company is learning to use additive manufacturing today in other valuable applications she discusses here, particularly tooling and aftermarket parts.



Pete: I’m Pete Zelinski with Additive Manufacturing magazine and I’m here with Stacy DelVecchio, who is additive manufacturing product manager with Caterpillar. Stacy, Caterpillar is a company we associate with equipment for construction, for mining. The more visible successive with additive manufacturing have been in industries like aerospace, like medical. What is the promise that Caterpillar sees for additive? What is the particular aim that you have for the advance of additive manufacturing?

Stacy: I really want to use this technology and enable our engineers to create something they never even dreamed possible. So, for example, right now we make diesel engines. We make really big diesel engines and we have a fuel chamber that we’ve got that we want to have a longer life so that we can extend that life to a major overhaul. Well, right now, we can’t do that because it gets hot. So, what we’ve done is we’ve had some brainstorming sessions and talk about- pretend like you can make anything and we came up with this whole slew of different geometries that we could make because it had different cooling channels to take care of that heat. There weren’t material properties couldn’t get us there, conventional machining couldn’t get us there but boy, you start making something that can only be made with additive because it’s got some really unique geometries and now, all of a sudden, we can bring our customers a longer life product that’s better than it ever was before.

Pete: Are there ways that you can realize the benefits of 3D printing in the near term? Is there low-hanging fruit that can let you begin to succeed with additive today?

Stacy: So, talk about low-hanging fruit. I really look to our manufacturing jigs and fixtures, some of the gauging. One of the big areas of our business is our remining factoring division where we’ll bring in product engines that are their end of life and we’ll remanufacture them and they’ll be sent out as good as new. And when that stuff comes back from the field, it’s pretty worn. Part numbers were worn off and it’s hard sometimes to identify what the part is, so we’ve got some big pistons that come in and they’re like, “What’s the part number?” So, we’ve designed what we call a Bowl Gauge that’s got that really complicated, unique geometry of the piston and the bowl gauges, however, for all of the different part numbers and we printed them and you just kind of take that in with this neat, unique curvature for each part and plop it on top of the piston and if it fits, if the part number.

Pete: I think another near-term opportunity relates to aftermarket parts. Talk about that a little bit.

Stacy: Right. So, aftermarket is a huge part of our business model. Caterpillar, to keep our customers up and running. So, we are doing constant analysis of our parts that we have in our systems to support the aftermarket and really looking at which ones are good cases, financially, to be printed.

Pete: So that’s 3D printing today. Then, as you look to the next steps beyond that, are there resources or procedures that you can put in place today that begin to move you toward that next step?

Stacy: The way we want to move to the next step is really to integrate additive as one of the tools that all of my engineers have. I don’t want them to think its something special and they need to go to the certain set of tools to do that, so we’re working to identify what is the right design package for topology optimization and design for 3D printing and get that into our current design software tools and that our engineers use so it doesn’t become something unique, it becomes, you know, a menu option for them and getting our specifications all in the same place where all of the other specifications are. So, its business as usual. It just becomes additional options for them.