AMS Spring 2023

South African Mechanical Engineering Student Creates 3D Printer for Improving Farm & Produce Quality

6K SmarTech

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Students in South Africa recently had a chance to enrich their minds through learning more about progressive technology, along with helping push farming in nearby regions further into the future with 3D printing.

Benefits such as the ability to manufacture with better quality, save money, and enjoy speed in turnaround, which all end up pleasing customers in the end, makes this technology enticing to a wide range of businesses around the globe. But most educators are realizing its intrinsic benefits for students of all ages, as labs and opportunities in 3D printing become available, often due to government grants or charitable contributions from 3D printing manufacturers enjoying the difference their products can make in young lives.

At the University of Pretoria, Abel Nortjé recently participated in a student employee program created by a farming enterprise in South Africa known as ZZ2 (known for growing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables). The idea is for bright young students to work with mentors in numerous disciplines, learning about fields such as:

  • Horticulture
  • Agronomy
  • Engineering
  • Information technology
  • Marketing

While expanding their minds regarding different industries and potential ideas for careers in the future, students also have a chance to learn more about ZZ2’s philosophy on living systems and sharing of knowledge overall, whether they decide to participate as interns in ongoing, long-term partnerships—or more temporary endeavors like work programs that last six weeks.

Nortjé was involved in one of the shorter projects offered over his winter break last year. As a third-year mechanical engineering student, he worked with ZZ2 engineer Ian van Brouwershaven in creating a 3D printer.

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

Ultimately, the plan behind creating the 3D printer is to fabricate plastic fruit for testing in delivery and storage systems. Nicknamed ‘e-fruit,’ the 3D printed parts will consist of internal sensors that monitor temperature, allowing them to detect when an apple or tomato is 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,” said Nortjé.

“We hope to be able to print larger objects at a faster pace,” continued the engineering intern, remarking on plans for the 3D printer created during the project.

Abel Nortje, built a 3D printer during a student-employee program with South African farming enterprise ZZ2.

The first two weeks of Nortjé’s internship were spent researching how to’s, while the weeks following were filled with the actual building and refining of the hardware and the accompanying operating systems. Along with Brouwershaven, the engineering intern also had additional help from the tech department of ZZ2.

Passing on knowledge and ‘nurturing young minds’ is one of the missions of ZZ2, and Van Brouwershaven sees such student projects and education as important to South Africa overall. While they can brainstorm and collaborate on technical and engineering projects which may have substantial value for the future, students involved in 3D printing projects are also able to get intense experiential education in STEM learning, and many employers today are scrambling to find graduates with such knowledge and talent.

“They will take ZZ2 into the future and must be given the opportunity to overcome challenges. We are excited to be part of it,” says Van Brouwershaven.

Along with the concept of 3D printing farms, the use of 3D printing in conventional farming has been tentatively explored in numerous projects so far, from drones used to monitor crops to new methods in fish farming. ZZ2 in particular is in favor of using technology to advance farming efforts in South Africa, and they have been involved in land reform efforts meant to transform society there for the better.

Discuss this article and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.

[Source / Images: Food for Msanzi]

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