Someday, when you need a new part, the counter attendant won’t head to the back room for the piece, but instead flip a switch and print the part on the spot. That future is a long way off, but 3D printing is gaining traction for real-world applications in agriculture. And CNH Industrial Reman is already using the technology and exploring ways to expand its use for the future.
Farm Progress got the opportunity to talk with two engineers at CNH Reman about the idea of 3D printing, a concept that is already helping with tooling and fixtures as the firm remanufactures parts and engines.
“What we’ve been using [3D printing] for lately is tooling and fixturing,” says Jeremy Kelley, engineering manager at CNH Reman. “We’ve been experimenting with component parts for production, but we’re still in the research phase of that.”
The 3D printing the company is testing is nothing like consumer-level desktop 3D printers. Those use a filament heated up to deposit layers of material on a plate, but the strength and durability aren’t at a high enough level for commercial use.
At CNH Reman, the company is using stereolithography resin printing. Simply put, the deposited layers are heated together during the process using ultraviolet light, providing a much stronger finished product.
“Resin printing is pretty durable,” says Seth Bade, product engineer. “The printing material we use here has almost 9,000-psi tensile strength, and several gigapascals of flexible or modular strength. So there are definitely some pretty cool tools and fixtures we can build out of this.”
Adds Kelley: “We’ve successfully printed several assembly tools that we are using in our processes today.”
Value of quick printing
Why should a farmer care if tooling at CNH Reman is 3D-printed? Kelley explains the company has been able to produce custom tools that have improved some assembly processes. “So not only are we having a quality impact, but ultimately, some efficiencies and lower costs for the tooling itself — all of which is our goal to keep that lower cost of ownership for the customer.”
Boosting manufacturing efficiency by using custom tooling can cut costs, but in these crazy supply days, could 3D printing provide quicker parts support? “With some of these parts, [3D printing] gives us the ability to produce them in-house or on demand,” Kelley says.
The research continues. The testing involves not only the precision of making the part, but also internal and field testing to determine the durability of the parts.
Kelley explains that early parts testing is focused on low-risk, low-impact items. “When you think about some of the age of different types of equipment we service with Reman, we have anything from legacy equipment that’s over 40 years old all the way to current,” he says.
Say Reman has an engine that’s older, and there’s the need for a plastic component but that part is obsolete. It may be possible to replace that part using 3D printing to get that machine back in the field.
“If a part goes obsolete, the different costs associated with different manufacturing processes can have a large impact,” Kelley says. “Ultimately, our goal is not only to improve quality, but also be able to supply that to our customer at a low cost.”
Where could tech go?
CNH Reman is working with resin printing, but printers are on the market that can create parts from steel and other “harder” materials. Bade says the company is researching methods of high-speed creation of metal parts using a technique called direct metal laser sintering.
“It’s something we’re looking into for the future to see if it has the strength to handle the applications we put our parts through. It would be something we would definitely benefit from,” he says.
The future of parts creation may be changing. For now, in limited ways, CNH Reman is deploying 3D printing to boost efficiency and quality. But the 3D tech bears watching.