Bright young minds are 3D printing the future of farming

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Which of these tools and implements are NOT useful on a farm: bakkies, tractors, gumboots, 3D printers? If you answered “3D printers”, you would be wrong!

A young engineering student from University of Pretoria, Abel Nortje, recently had the opportunity to design and build his own 3D printer as part of a student employee programme offered by South African farming enterprise ZZ2.

ZZ2 fosters young minds in various parts of the country through these programmes. The initiative creates opportunities for young, talented students to be guided by mentors from several disciplines.

Learners can undertake a six-week short term work experience programme or join longer internships in collaboration with tertiary institutions. Students gain experience in a number of diverse fields, ranging from marketing, horticulture, agronomy, engineering and information technology. Participants get the opportunity to understand and contribute to the ZZ2 open living system philosophy with its focus on the future where the sharing of knowledge is encouraged.

Last year, during the December university break, third-year mechanical engineering student Nortjé, was given a challenge to build a 3D printer. ZZ2 engineer Ian van Brouwershaven mentored Nortjé, who spent two weeks researching and another three weeks building the printer and refining the operating systems with the help of mentors from ZZ2’s Technical Department.

“I loved the project because it also involved working with my hands and you can see the end-result.” says Nortjé.

He says ZZ2 will use the 3D printer to print “e-fruit” – plastic fruit fitted with sensors that can detect heat to monitor when the fruit is bumped or dropped. “They can collect data in the transport process, from the land to the supermarket, if the fruit is exposed to high or low temperatures, which effects the quality.”

Project mentor Van Brouwershaven says nurturing young minds is important to ZZ2 and South Africa as a whole. “They will take ZZ2 into the future and must be given the opportunity to overcome challenges. We are excited to be part of it,” he says.

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Nortjé already has plans to refine and improve the printer. “We hope to be able to print larger objects at a faster pace.”

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