It’s the middle of harvest, the weather forecast is for rain tomorrow. We want to make sure we get as much harvested as possible. Boom, a problem with the header and a new part is required. It’s four hours drive away. A scenario which I imagine many of us have experienced.
In the future, will we be able to have a mechanical part emailed to us? In this short article, we introduce the possibility of 3D printing and how it could be a solution to on farm problems.
The popularity of 3D printing has increased dramatically as they become more mainstream. In recent years, a recreational 3D printer would cost >$1000, they can now be purchased for $299 at Aldi.
The benefit of 3D printers is that as well as replicating models, they are able to create intricate shapes which would be extremely difficult in traditional manufacturing processes such as delicate new hands for amputees(picture). To date the use of 3D printers in agriculture have been limited, however in future, the opportunities are expansive.
A 3D printer works by building up layers of material to produce an object based on a computer model. The majority of printers use a plastic filament, however other sturdier materials are available including concrete and metals. Interestingly developments have been made in 3D printing food, which can be seen in the video below, the chocolate seems appealing but the printed meat is enough to turn me vegan.
At present metal printers are prohibitively expensive for the average farm, but over time, as with all technology, these will reduce in price and could become commonplace.
The 3D printer could be the solution to dropping everything to drive 100’s of KMs to get that part, or worse, waiting for it to be freighted interstate (a common occurrence in WA). The possibility of calling up the machinery service business and them literally emailing the part to you is an attractive proposition.
The part could then be created in the shed while allowing you to continue with productive activity instead of wasting time on a needless journey.
What are the barriers?
The current cost of commercial metal 3D printers is the main barrier to the on-farm usage of 3D printers; however, costs will fall. Additionally, as a tool which would not be regularly required, the costs could be shared co-operatively with other local businesses.
Why buy access to the 3D model of a part from John Deere, when you can get a knock-off copy?
An interesting barrier (or opportunity for some), is piracy. Ever since the first printing press was produced, the media industry has been shadowed by piracy. You only have to go to your local market to find dodgy DVD’s for sale. The same piracy that has impacted the media industries could potentially flow onto agricultural parts. Why buy access to the 3D model of a part from John Deere, when you can get a knock-off copy?
I have focused on the potential for replacement parts for machinery, however the opportunities for other on-farm developments are numerous and diverse. We’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas below.