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Printing the future of manufacturing

Ben Bernard, a computer specialist with the North Dakota State University architecture and landscape architecture department, holds a nut-and-bolt that took 20 to 30 minutes to print from a corn-based product, an example of the precision of 3 dimensional printing and the durability of the material (Forum News Service Photo by Mikkel Pates).

FARGO — Farmers and ranchers might someday be able to quickly fabricate parts and components for their machines using 3-D printers.

Ben Bernard is an information technology specialist for the North Dakota State University architecture and landscape architecture department. He maintains the department’s information technology systems and studies how technologies fit into the design profession.

Bernard is working with David Lehman, an NDSU manufacturing engineering extension specialist based in Bismarck.

Bernard and Jake Clark, cofounder of Fargo 3D Printing, will demonstrate the 3-D printing technology in Bismarck to educators, business owners, students and people in the agriculture community.

Clark also works for Alderon Industries in Hawley, Minn., as the company’s lead 3-D designer, using the technology to make part prototypes and the printer to “print” parts for the company’s own manufacturing processes.

NDSU’s architecture and landscape architecture department started its 3-D printing lab in December 2012.

“In my department, we use 3-D printing to help students design more creative work, or make components for their design models,” Bernard said. “But the technology has applications far beyond that.”

Bernard recently has been printing with some material made from corn products, called PLA (poly lactic acid).

“It prints pretty easily to a resolution level of 100 microns per layer,” he said. The stuff comes on a spool of plastic filament, which is relatively inexpensive — 25 to 40 cents per cubic inch, or $25 to $50 per kilogram. The filament comes through an extruder, which builds layer-by-layer until the part is created.

He and Chad Ulven, an NDSU mechanical engineering faculty member, are collaborating on a grant that has been submitted to the North Dakota Corn Growers. The idea with the grant is to use more 3-D printing material made of corn products.

Parts can be designed easily, or off-the-shelf part designs are available for download, Bernard said. Some software files are available at

“You can set it to print solid, or hollow, or anything in between,” he said. “Most things are pretty darn strong with just a 10 percent in-fill. You can get a lot of components made with a small amount of in-fill.”

The technology also can print things in different materials, including metals — stainless steel, brass or sterling silver.

“A challenge to producers and agricultural folks as well as everyone else is keeping up with the technology year after year and applying it to the businesses to be more profitable,” he said.