Additive manufacturing opportunities for Australia’s agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors

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3D printing is revolutionising the manufacturing industry, and while it is yet to see widespread adoption in the agricultural industry, it offers unique and innovative opportunities to drive greater efficiencies, reduce production delays and deliver bespoke design options.

That’s according to a new report by AgriFutures Australia, commissioned to inform producers, machinery manufacturers and product suppliers of the advantages 3D printing could offer Australia’s rural industries.

The University of Technology study Additive manufacturing opportunities for Australia’s agriculture, fisheries and forestry sector found that additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3D printing, has huge potential for on-farm and on-boat application.

3D printing is fast and durable and recent advances in the printing of custom projects are now a reality for sectors like mining, health and construction. Farmers will benefit from this technology through quick and easy access to items like replacement parts, and the ability to build bespoke designs to meet exact specifications. For manufacturers, it may mean holding less inventory and quicker turnaround times on orders.

Internationally, we are already starting to see 3D printing deliver gains for agriculture. University of Technology lead researcher, Dr Lee Clemon, wants to shine a spotlight on these successes to assist with increasing the adoption of 3D printing in Australia.

“3D printing is game-changing in its flexibility to deliver on-demand products, customisation, and design optimisation that other manufacturing methods cannot compete with,” said Dr Clemon.

“Thinking differently about product design and distribution will support new opportunities outside of traditional global manufacturers and distributors.”

Take for example international machinery company, CNH Industrial, who owns well-known agricultural machinery brands Iveco, New Holland and Case IH. In 2019, the company revolutionised its production processes by producing components and spare parts using 3D printing.

All products were printed locally and on-demand within 24 to 36 hours from the time of ordering, resulting in a significant increase in the speed in which parts reached their customers, reduced warehousing costs, and ultimately reduced costs for the producer.

 

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“Our inventive producers can customise tools for their operations or replace parts either by working with a technology supplier or using a machine on-site. We’ve seen examples of shovel handles, feed holders and fruit pickers; many of these home-designed objects are available through online open-source networks for individual use,” said Dr Clemon.

“Both short-term replacements and long-term parts are made using 3D printing. Airbus has been using 3D printed brackets on aeroplanes since at least 2014. If a highly regulated industry like aviation is using this, then I’m sure we can do the same here on the ground.”

The report found the limiting factor in the adoption of 3D printing were concerns over the strength and durability of printed products in tough and unforgiving agricultural use cases, and the lack of market pathways to access the technology.

While the maturity of the technology has proven the resilience of this technology in-field, we still have a little way to go to mature market access to this technology. AgriFutures Australia National Rural Issues Manager, Georgie Townsend, acknowledged that there are these and other gaps that need addressing, but that shouldn’t detract from the opportunity 3D printing presents.

“In general, the sector is grappling with regulations around right to repair and intellectual property design of manufactured products. This too will need to be overcome for 3D printing, but it is possible through the identification of business models that account for this type of new production system,” Ms Townsend said.

“The world of technology is fast paced, with new advances being made each day. Research such as this arms producer with the information they need to adopt technology such as 3D printing and gives us confidence that the farmer of the future will be using 3D printed products and tools for every day tasks in the future.”

The report Additive manufacturing opportunities for Australia’s agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors is available via the AgriFutures Australia website: https://agrifutures.com.au/product/additive-manufacturing-opportunities-for-australias-agriculture-fisheries-and-forestry-sectors/

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