DOI: 10.12924/of2015.01010019 |Publication Date: 16 April 2015

Applications of Open Source 3-D Printing on Small Farms

Joshua M. Pearce 1, 2
1 Department of Materials Science & Engineering, Michigan Technological University, MI, USA
2 Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, Michigan Technological University, MI, USA
Abstract: There is growing evidence that low-cost open-source 3-D printers can reduce costs by enabling distributed manufacturing of substitutes for both specialty equipment and conventional mass-manufactured products. The rate of 3-D printable designs under open licenses is growing exponentially and there arealready hundreds of designs applicable to small-scale organic farming. It has also been hypothesized that this technology could assist sustainable development in rural communities that rely on small-scale organic agriculture. To gauge the present utility of open-source 3-D printers in this organic farm context both in the developed and developing world, this paper reviews the current open-source designs available and evaluates the ability of low-cost 3-D printers to be effective at reducing the economic costs of farming.This study limits the evaluation of open-source 3-D printers to only the most-developed fused filament fabrication of the bioplastic polylactic acid (PLA). PLA is a strong biodegradable and recyclable thermoplastic appropriate for a range of representative products, which are grouped into five categories of prints: handtools, food processing, animal management, water management and hydroponics. The advantages and shortcomings of applying 3-D printing to each technology are evaluated. The results show a general izabletechnical viability and economic benefit to adopting open-source 3-D printing for any of the technologies, although the individual economic impact is highly dependent on needs and frequency of use on a specific farm. Capital costs of a 3-D printer may be saved from on-farm printing of a single advanced analytical instrument in a day or replacing hundreds of inexpensive products over a year. In order for the full potential of open-source 3-D printing to be realized to assist organic farm economic resiliency and self-sufficiency, future work is outlined in five core areas: designs of 3-D printable objects, 3-D printing materials, 3-Dprinters, software and 3-D printable repositories.

Keywords: 3-D printing; agricultural tools; distributed manufacturing; farm equipment; intensive agriculture; small farms

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