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Published February 25, 2014, 09:18 AM

3-D technology would allow farmers to ‘print’ parts

Farmers and ranchers might someday be able to quickly fabricate parts and components for their machines using 3-D printers. A demonstration of the technology will be held at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 26, at the Burleigh County 4H Building, 3715 East, Bismarck Expressway, Bismarck. The event is free to the public.

FARGO, N.D. — Farmers and ranchers might someday be able to quickly fabricate parts and components for their machines using 3-D printers.

Ben Bernard is an information technology specialist for the North Dakota State University architecture and landscape architecture department. He maintains the department’s information technology systems and studies how technologies fit into the design profession.

Bernard is working with David Lehman, an NDSU manufacturing engineering extension specialist based in Bismarck, who is hosting a demonstration of the technology at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 26, at the Burleigh County 4H Building, 3715 East, Bismarck Expressway, Bismarck. The event is free to the public.

Bernard and Jake Clark, cofounder of Fargo (N.D.) 3D Printing, will demonstrate the 3-D printing technology in Bismarck to educators, business owners, students and people in the agriculture community.

Clark also works for Alderon Industries in Hawley, Minn., as the company’s lead 3-D designer, using the technology to make part prototypes and the printer to “print” parts for the company’s own manufacturing processes.

NDSU’s architecture and landscape architecture department started its 3-D printing lab in December 2012.

“In my department, we use 3-D printing to help students design more creative work, or make components to their design models, but the technology has applications far beyond that,” Bernard says.

Bernard recently has been printing with some material made from corn products, called PLA (poly lactic acid).

“It prints pretty easily to a resolution level of 100 microns per layer,” he says. The stuff comes on a spool of plastic filament, which is relatively inexpensive — 25 to 40 cents per cubic inch, or $25 to $50 per kilogram. The filament comes through an extruder, which builds layer-by-layer until the part is created.

Printing with corn

He and Chad Ulven, an NDSU mechanical engineering faculty, are collaborating on a grant that has been submitted to the North Dakota Corn Growers. The idea with the grant is to use more 3-D printing material made of corn products.

“How cool would it be if NDSU could make our own 3-D printing filament, and we could do research with making composites and maybe some custom blends to make it stronger, more flexible?”

Parts can be designed easily, or off-the-shelf part designs are available for download, Bernard says. Some software files are available at www.thingaverse.com.

“You can set it to print solid, or hollow, or anything in between,” he says. “Most things are pretty darn strong with just a 10 percent in-fill. You can get a lot of components made with a small amount of in-fill.”

The technology also can print things in different materials, including metals — stainless steel, brass or sterling silver.

“A challenge to producers and agricultural folks as well as everyone else is keeping up with the technology year after year and applying it to the businesses to be more profitable,” he says.

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