What is in this article?:
Printing parts in 3D is getting increased attention because of its novel applications. Farm machinery manufacturers use 3-D printers to make prototypes of parts overnight. And 3-D printers are reaching a price point that the average consumer can afford.
The use of 3-D printers is rising; we offer a look at how companies are already using the technology to develop new products. Illustration by Tim Foley
How GVL Poly uses 3-D printing
GVL Poly is a rotational molding manufacturer in Litchfield, Minn. The company manufactures rotational molded, polyethylene parts for the agricultural, industrial and commercial industries. It was founded in 1992 by a local farmer who developed the first poly corn snout on his farm with the rotational molded process.
In 2012, GVL Poly purchased a professional 3-D printer, the Fortus 900mc made by Stratasys, and since then has spun off a 3-D printing business called GVL Proto Poly. Services include 3-D printing, scanning for reverse engineering, product documentation, quality control and tooling.
Using its 3-D printing capabilities, GVL Proto Poly has printed corn snouts, wear points (for the tip of the corn snouts) augers, fan blades, handles, knobs, jigs, fixtures and mold models. Parts are printed out of thermoplastics.
“Major OEMs have ordered short runs to test fit, form and function of parts in research and development,” says Allan Cronen, GVL Poly president and CEO. “Several versions of a product concept can be printed simultaneously for field testing. This allows the OEM to finish testing in one season rather than multiple years.
“Rotational or injection molding tools can cost anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000,” Cronen adds. “The ability to test a product’s fit, form and function before making a costly investment can help engineers complete several products in a budget cycle.”
“Crop material flow isn’t an exact science,” says Nathan Hulstein, GVL Poly’s vice president of product development and engineering. “So printing different-shaped parts has allowed us to find the sweet spot without developing multiple expensive toolings.”
This year the company completed a major project for Dragotec U.S.A. Dragotec management was looking to improve the poly snout and bonnet design for its corn header. The new Drago corn header poly was redesigned, printed and installed for field testing last fall. Other items, including wear points and fender augers, were printed to test fit, form and function in the field prior to ordering molds.
Hulstein says the project resulted in a successful introduction of the Drago Series II corn header with “Kernel Capture Technology” in 2013. “Many customers like to ‘kick the tires’ on a new concept,” Hulstein says. “3-D printing allows them to do that versus just seeing the concept on a computer screen.”