3-D printing has role in ag
You’ve likely heard of 3-D printing, and may have even seen it in action. 3-D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, involves using a robot to create a synthetic three-dimensional object of almost any geometric shape.
Those shapes can be used in everything from art to manufacturing — which includes prototypes of agricultural equipment. At a recent event, 360 Yield Center of Morton, Ill., showcased the use of 3-D printing technology to make prototypes of its 360 Chainroll stalk roll system.
“We have eight 3-D printers for 25 engineers, and they have been a big part of the design process,” says Tim Sauder, director of product development at 360 Yield Center. “Early on it would take a week or even two weeks to develop our prototype, and we can now print a prototype in 24 hours. We can have a part created overnight, and it’s ready the day after. We’ve got a part we can actually use. It’s really about speeding up the innovation process for us.”
Sauder says 360 Yield Center uses a 3-D program like Pro/Engineer or SolidWorks to design the dimensions for the product before exporting that design to the printer’s computer, which uses polymers or similar material to accurately print the design layer by layer — from 10% fill up to 100% fill.
“It will print almost a full section of the 360 Chainroll itself,” Sauder says. “Early on in the project, we might do a light 10% or a little more than that and get it out as fast as we possibly can. But once we know the design is coming together, we’ll make a full print, and so far, we’ve actually been able to use most of the products in real field conditions. It helps learn whatever we need to know for the final product.”
And Sauder says those prototypes hold up surprisingly well in field tests. “It’s not like it’s something that just sits on display,” he says. “The 360 Chainroll itself is a casting. But for prototyping, we’re able to get quite a few runs out of a plastic part in a few runs in the field. We’ve been able to run plastic parts in testing underground and they’ve held up in testing there as well.”
Prototypes big advantage
The big benefit of using 3-D printing to develop prototypes, he says, is the speed of production and how it helps in the overall design process. “There’s a limited window in the season we can test products like the 360 Chainroll,” he says.
“We’re using it to chop up stalk residue and create small pieces. We don’t want confetti because it’s hard for the planter to manage the residue, but we want to fracture enough to flow through tillage and to start microbial breakdown quicker.”
Stalk conditions change as plants dry down, and prototypes can test different designs in those changing conditions. With 3-D printing, Sauder notes it was easy to print prototypes quickly to test and adjust designs for these different conditions.
“We’ve worked through probably 40 iterations to come up with the current design,” he says. “With the conditions we had in the fall, we could run the designs in the lab, and print a new design every day as those stalks dried down and the season progressed. We were able to adjust day by day on the fly.”
This article published in the February, 2016 edition of WALLACES FARMER.
All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2016.