CNH begins 3D-printing spare parts

In a twist on the idea of ordering parts online, the parent firm for New Holland and Case IH is trying out the use of 3D printing to make plastic — and eventually metal — spare parts.

British-based equipment manufacturing giant CNH Industrial said Monday it has already produced its first 3D-printed spare parts, making four plastic components for use on its farm equipment and bus lines.

In 3D printing — or as CNH calls it, “additive manufacturing” — a component’s specs are stored in a digital file and built from layers of material under computer control.

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Each printed part is then put through “stringent testing to ensure it meets CNH Industrial’s requirements and specifications,” the company said.

The parts produced so far are plastic, CNH said, but the company is already running further tests “which will enable the future production of metal components using this technology.”

Printing spare parts has been the dream in agriculture and other sectors for some time as 3D printing technology and its affordability continue to develop. The technology, in development since the 1980s and 1990s, has been introduced in mainstream manufacturing in the past decade.

For example, BuyAnyPart, a British company specializing in sourcing obsolete parts for vehicles, farm equipment and other tools and appliances, last year launched a 3D-printing service.

For farmers, the biggest benefit to such a system would be in allowing the “local, on-demand manufacturing of spare parts,” CNH said Monday.

“This is especially advantageous when only a small quantity of parts are required to satisfy specific urgent orders and also leads to smarter overall management of stock and increased availability.”

Given the data file to produce the exact part, a 3D printer could make a new piece at a convenient nearby site within 24 to 36 hours, limiting a farmer’s downtime spent waiting on new parts.

“This, in turn, provides customers with enhanced total cost of ownership” for their equipment, CNH said.

Also, compared to “subtractive” manufacturing with tools such as lasers, blades and lathes, in which metal or other material is cut away from bars, blocks or sheets to form a part, 3D printing builds up new parts with the “optimal” amount of material, reducing waste.

CNH on Monday didn’t offer a specific timeline for making such services available to farmers in Canada or elsewhere, but said it’s “committed to further investigating the potential” of the process.

The company said its aim would be the ability to produce “a full range of parts and promptly respond to all types of needs at every stage of the product’s lifecycle.”

For its part, CNH said, the new process “offers significant sustainability advantages including the optimization of raw materials, energy usage and the overall manufacturing and supply chain.”

Formed in 1999 by Fiat Group from the merger of Case Corp. and New Holland, CNH Industrial’s brand portfolio today includes Case and New Holland farm and construction equipment and Steyr tractors along with FPT Industrial powertrains, Magirus fire and rescue vehicles, Heuliez buses and Iveco commercial, industrial, military and civil defense vehicles. — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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Glacier FarmMedia, a division of Glacier Media, is Canada's largest publisher of agricultural news in print and online.

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