3D printing may help farmers

Make your own parts | New technology could help growers design small pieces, says inventor

The Saskatchewan inventor who caused an online firestorm with his redesigned 3D printer says the technology could have huge implications for farmers.

“I wouldn’t say you could fix everything on your farm with one now, but it’s going to be a technology similar to the lathe,” Rylan Grayston said about the machines, which enable users to design objects on a computer and then build them, one tiny layer at a time, into a three-dimensional object. “There’s so much you can do with it.”

The small parts are usually made of melted plastic. Grayston’s device uses a special resin that hardens when exposed to a specific light.

Only a few centimetres in size, Grayston’s novel device is touted as “the first $100 3D printer.” It’s simpler, smaller and far cheaper than anything else available and has created a lot of buzz in the burgeoning 3D printing sector.

Farmers won’t be using 3D printers soon to fill their toolboxes with wrenches and sockets, but Grayston said computer savvy producers could make their own dials, switches and gears.

“There are so many specialized parts that they go out of production and what do you do?” he said.

Grayston is from Yorkton, Sask., but has ties to a family farm in Manitoba.

“I’m not technically a farm kid, but I totally want to be,” said Grayston, who dubbed his machine the Peachy Printer.

Manufacturers, including agricultural equipment makers, have long used 3D printing to design, model and test new products. Those larger, sophisticated machines can be expensive.

New technology and innovations have recently enabled enthusiasts and keen designers to bring 3D printing into offices and onto desktops. The machines can cost a few hundred dollars to several thousand.

Grayston said he was interested in the technology but not the price tag when he started his project last year.

He is a “jack of all trades” with a high school education.

“I barely have my Grade 12,” he said. “Mercy passed.”

He went about researching and building his own machine, looking for cheaper parts and a simpler process.

“I ask myself questions like, how can I do this for free? How would I do this if I was a caveman? If I had no technology?” he said.

Grayston’s printer went through several variations with the support of an investor. He eventually made a device from parts that included pencil lead, a ripped up CD, earphones and a common laser pointer.

From there, he polished his homemade design and went to Kickstarter, an online platform for startup businesses to gain attention and customers. Over a few weeks this fall, his campaign attracted more than $700,000, international media coverage and praise from engineers and designers.

The first Peachy Printers will be assembled and delivered to several thousand supporters over the next few weeks. From there, he’ll continue to refine his design and expand the business.

“We’re not sure how big it can print. I’m pretty sure I can print a canoe with this thing, just by moving it away so the spot that it can print gets bigger,” he said.

“And of course I need a tank that I can fit a canoe in.”

In the future, he can imagine printers producing objects made from a variety of materials. Creating the three dimensional designs for the printer might be one hang up for users, but it isn’t insurmountable, said Grayston.

The material the printers use may also not be strong enough for the field, but that too is evolving.

When asked about the material, Grayston quickly imagined how he could print an object, pour casting compound around it and melt metal around it with an acetylene torch.

“I think that farmers by nature are inventors,” he said.

“I don’t think you can make it through a year of farming without inventing something.”

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