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John Deere

December 22, 2012

Filed under: manufacturing,review — Terry Wohlers @ 20:40

I visited John Deere’s world headquarters in Moline, Illinois on Thursday. What an impressive place! The day started with a tour of the North American Parts Distribution Center. It is the second largest parts distribution center in the U.S. and absolutely massive. Only Ford Motor has a larger one. To give you a feel for its scale, 25 mm (1 inch) of rain on its roof produces 5.7 million liters (1.5 million gallons) of water, which drains into two ponds. The facility represents more than 500,000 different part numbers, consisting of millions of parts. If a customer wants a part from a 1942 John Deere tractor, for example, the company either has it or will find it somewhere.

The morning continued with an extensive tour of John Deere Harvester Works—the most advanced combine facility in the world. No one in the Western Hemisphere has more lasers at work in one facility than this one. John Deere’s largest combine can harvest 18 rows of corn in one pass and sells for $700,000. Every combine in the plant had been sold, and we saw many of them. The painting capabilities are like none other that I’ve seen anywhere. Major assemblies hang from an automated gantry system and are dipped in more than a dozen separate liquid solutions, each the size of a swimming pool. Together, they clean, prepare, and coat the metal parts that must withstand extreme weather conditions for decades.

John Deere is a world class company, with the customer being its highest priority. Employees do what it takes to make them happy. Generations of employees have worked for John Deere and you can tell that they have a great deal of pride and respect for the company. Medical facilities are on site at both places, an indication of how the company values its employees. John Deere has created a brand, reputation, and global market share that few other large American companies have been able to achieve.

3D Printing at Retail Stores

December 10, 2012

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future — Terry Wohlers @ 10:26

Good friend Deon de Beer of Vaal University of Technology told me something about five weeks ago that got my attention. He said that Incredible Connection, a retail chain of consumer electronics and computer stores in South Africa, had purchased many Fabbster personal 3D printers to sell in its stores. The German designed and built Fabbster product is somewhat like other low-cost material extrusion systems, except that the company supplies material in the form of injection-molded “sticks” instead of plastic filament on a spool. Incredible Connection also has stores in Botswana and Namibia.

About a month later, during the recent EuroMold 2012 in Frankfurt, Germany, the office supply chain Staples announced that it would make 3D-printing services available in stores in the Netherlands and Belgium beginning in Q1 2013 using Mcor’s IRIS product. The Mcor 3D printer uses a paper lamination process to produce shapes. Over the past year, the company introduced the IRIS product with multi-color printing. This is expected to broaden the range of applications for the Mcor product.

The news from Africa and Europe is surprising. Some may see these developments as being more progressive than what is occurring in the U.S. Maybe, but I would not jump too quickly to this conclusion. Organizations in the U.S. are also exploring new channels for reaching new markets. Others are pushing the limits at the high end, especially among aerospace and defense-related organizations. The U.S. is not sitting still.

I wish the very best for Incredible Connection and Staples. It will be interesting to see how average retail customers react to these offerings. I’m not optimistic because I don’t believe the general public is ready for either one. Regardless, I give both companies credit for giving it a shot and for being the first to deliver 3D printing in this way.