VIDEO: Print your own parts?

Sourcing parts for older farm machinery can be a hair-pulling experience. Farmers often find parts are no longer available or the price is unreasonable.

But there may soon be another option for replacement parts.

A 3D printing centre called Create Cafe has opened in Saskatoon, where anyone can walk in, talk to a designer, and order a part and coffee all at the same time.

Dustin Maki, chief executive officer of Create Cafe, said the centre is modelled after the style of an internet cafe.

“3D printing is slightly expensive and inaccessible currently, so having a cafe space where you can educate people on the applications of it and provide them access to printers, like we do in the front of our cafe, lets them try it out before spending $1,000 or $5,000 on their own,” Maki said.

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Beyond the educational and barista side of the business, Maki said their 3D printing service has worked with multiple industries, including agriculture, medical, aviation, and manufacturing.

There are companies trying to reduce the cost of metal 3D printers, but they still cost around $100,000.

So far, Create Cafe prints only with resin-based material.

Maki said there are more than 100 different resins available but the primary material they use is a polylactic acid (PLA) plastic.

“It’s called polylactic plastic. It’s actually made from cornstarch, which is interesting because it’s sustainable. We can keep using that plastic and we can keep growing corn,” Maki said.

Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene (ABS) plastic is also commonly printed, as is rubber.

“We have a selection of rubbers in a few different parameters, so that’s good because you can do custom gaskets and anything with bushings in the middle where you need a little impact resistance. It’s extremely strong and very tear resistant,” Maki said.

Replacement parts that need to be impact resistant are often printed in nylon.

“Nylon does absorb moisture, so normally what we do is we’ll actually put the moisture in it right away and then it won’t take on additional moisture after that. It is one of the strongest materials that we’ve found,” he said.

When a replacement part is needed, it’s best if the customer brings the old part into the café. This makes it easier for designers to recreate it in the software.

“Replacement parts are really nice to work with especially if we have one of the pieces. Even if it’s broken it can be glued together so that we can take measurements from,” Maki said.

Three designers help draft a customer’s replacement part in CAD software, that’s often the most expensive part of the procedure.

“Once we have that model we put it in the slicer and we can determine how much it will cost to print off,” Maki said.

The turn-around time for replacement parts is between two to five days, but once a part is designed its parameters remain in Create Cafe’s files and subsequent pieces can be produced more quickly.

“After the design is done, the cost stays static, so you will know how much pieces will cost,” Maki said.

The design team at Create Café can also help improve parts by eliminating weak points in the original design.

The biggest job Create Café has done to date was a batch of hopper extensions for a seeder because canola seed wasn’t feeding uniformly with the original system.

“We were contacted by KMK Sales to create an extension that would basically make that five-pound hopper a 25 lb. hopper. And that increase in weight somehow fixed the issue with it seeding more than it needed to, and then it would only seed one at a time,” Maki said.

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