Caterpillar is working on more efficient part designs, thanks to additive manufacturing (AM).   With additive manufacturing, subassemblies can be consolidated into single pieces and component forms can be tailored to achieve each parts’ optimal combination of functionality, mass, and cost. However, for Caterpillar, the technology is not quite there yet and it will need to advance well beyond where it is today in order to deliver its full promise.

In the meantime, team members are focusing on the short-term application of AM, one of which is speed at delivering service parts.  One such part is an intricate fuel filter base, originally cast in aluminum alloy, and for which the original casting company is no longer operating.  The long delay and tooling cost caused the company to consider an additive manufacturing solution to support aftermarket customers.  Selective laser melted parts passed all necessary functionality tests, requires no tooling, no supplier, and no minimum order.

With successful aftermarket AM-printed parts, Caterpillar can seriously consider this as a goal for future production when AM is a mature production source arrives.  Late last year, the company opened a new Additive Manufacturing Factory in Illinois, which includes 3D printing capabilities such as FDM, SLA, SLS, and material jetting for polymer parts, along with two laser melting machines for metal components.

3D printer fuel filter base
Caterpillar 3D-printed fuel filter base for excavator

Read more by Peter Zelinski, Additive Manufacturing, May 2016

Additive Manufacturing Factory for Caterpiller