That’s not just in terms of making components to form machines for agricultural use – on a small scale it’s also influencing how farming is actually carried out, and in the near future field-scale agriculture looks likely to benefit too.
In the 3D printing process, highly-accurate ‘printer’ nozzles are used to build layers of thermoplastic material to build up 3D objects, in a process known as fused deposition modelling. Such material has been developed to create parts that are as durable as many metals, and using the technique allows various elements of machines and implements to be created far faster and more cost-effectively than would traditionally be possible. Work on 3D printing with other materials is also being trialled.
ROBOTS AND 3D-PRINTED TOOLS
One US-based firm has developed a small-scale crop husbandry task robot which can be created via the internet from a supplied kit complemented by commercially-available software and 3D-printed parts. When assembled, it is capable of performing tasks including seeding, irrigation and weed destruction. The firm says its open source hardware, software and data solution allows anyone in any part of the world to build and operate the robot and its tools.
The program can print tools that can do most of the typical small-scale farm jobs that would normally require physical labor and/or individual machines. They include seed drills, ploughs, burners, robotic arms for harvesting, shredders, tillers, discs, watering nozzles, sensors and more, all of which can be fitted to the gantry-type robotic unit, which is operated via computer numerical control (CNC). Although currently small-scale, the hardware used is completely open source and totally scalable for use on any sized fields or plots.