Is There a 3D Printer in Your Future?

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It’s not improbable that some farmers are already using 3D printers and that within a couple of years they will be more commonplace on farms. The machines (about the size of a mini-refrigerator) use a process called “additive manufacturing” to make equipment parts or customized tools, implements, etc. Commercially, they are being used to make parts for airplanes, autos and industrial machinery; tools; medical and dental implants and devices; and other products that have unique specifications.

Such items traditionally are made in batches at a manufacturing plant by manipulating a sheet or chunk of metal, or injecting plastic into a mold. 3D printers use base materials to build a part or tool from the “ground up” and can make one item at a time. A computer design program directs the machine how to “lay down” the material to form a specified shape. Different types of materials can be “added” to adhere different types of material together as the item is formed. The precision of 3D printers generally surpasses traditional manufacturing methods.

According to a May 30, 2013 report by Jodie Wehrspann in Farm Industry News, Advanced Technology Systems displayed a 3D printer made by Stratasys, the largest 3D printer manufacturer in the world, at the annual Agricultural Machinery Conference in Waterloo, IA. A representative showed attendees how a farm machinery manufacturer could use the process to make a functional part overnight, but he also said the company is getting ready to introduce a 3D printer that farmers can use to make parts to customize their equipment.

“As you continue to see growth in the farm equipment that farmers are purchasing now, it will allow them to customize equipment used in the field to get their crops out quicker and easier,” said Mike Nagle, a representative of Advanced Technology Systems.

Some on the market now include:

MakerBot Replicator™ 2 Desktop 3D Printer

FlashForge 3D Printer

Afinia 3D Printer H-Series

For farmers who want to get started now with 3D printing and have the ability to use or learn to use computer assisted design software, many printers are available for $1,500-$2,500 through sellers such as Amazon and Staples.