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As the price of 3D printing continues to fall, farmers should start thinking about what they can and will do with these devices. It’s not pie in the sky … it’s here now!

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 100 times: “Can you please drive to the dealership and pick up a part for me?” A “parts run” is pretty much a standard practice and an unavoidable part of agriculture. We use machinery and it breaks—new parts are required for repairs.

Huge strides have been made to reduce the agonizing downtime we experience while we wait for parts that are not in stock at the local dealer. Overnight couriers, mobile parts apps and improved parts availability have all helped, but the fact remains that the part is manufactured somewhere, stored in a warehouse somewhere else, shipped to a local dealer and then picked up by you or someone you now owe a favour.

This is about to change, and 3D printers are the reason.

3D printers have been around for more than 20 years, but only recently has the process become economical enough to be of use to non-commercial users like you and I. Additive manufacturing is the technical term for 3D printing. The most popular application involves using heated plastic (ABS) that runs through a nozzle and is secreted in layers to build a three-dimensional object or, in our world, a part. It is one of those things that is difficult to describe, but makes a lot more sense when you see it in action.

If you do a YouTube search for “3D printer,” there are some amazing videos that show how the machines work and some examples of what can be created. You will be blown away.

In only a few years, the cost of a 3D printer has fallen to about $1,000 today from $5,000 or more. A low-end model can be had for as little as $500. This technology will revolutionize light manufacturing around the world.

So what’s in it for you? Instead of waiting for a part to be shipped from China, you will just go online and buy a file that you download and transfer to a 3D printer. The printer spits out the part and away you go.

Plastic is only one material that can be used. Some 3D printers utilize metal or super-strong composite materials. Bio-engineers are even using 3D printers to generate replacement organs and prosthetics for humans. And Chinese technicians built an entire house using 3D printers to showcase the technology. It’s even possible to create food products using 3D printers.

Farm equipment manufacturers are already using 3D printing technology to build prototypes before taking a new design to full production. These prototypes can be generated at a fraction of the cost of traditional tooling, so the innovation process is faster and more economical than in the past. AGCO Corporation used this technology to produce new seed meter designs for its planters. GVL Poly makes plastic snouts, or dividers, for corn heads, as well as other harvesting equipment for John Deere, Case IH, AGCO and others. GVL made a major commitment to using 3D printing technology to develop and manufacture the plastic snouts, it has paid off big time.

Farmers will take 3D printing beyond just creating replacement parts for equipment. We know farmers are innovative by nature. The cost of having ideas turned into prototypes has been a major speed bump for many would-be entrepreneurial farmers. The low cost of 3D printing will stimulate some amazing innovations at the farm gate.

So you may not be chasing friends and family to do a parts run for much longer. The request may soon be, “Hey, can you print a part for me?” And who knows, maybe your future field service truck will have a wireless-enabled 3D printer right in the field.


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