Oct 10, 2015 | By Benedict

Antoine Blas, a 26 year old design student based in Paris, has designed Mantis, a 3D-printed, autonomous clipping machine for his thesis in mobility design. 

Two things struck Antoine as he considered how to proceed with his thesis project. The first was a realisation that, with global population due to rise to 9 billion by 2050, there is an urgent demand for increased global food production. The second was the fact that 15 million hectares of forest are destroyed every year. The design student considered ways in which these two issues could be tackled simultaneously, hoping to find a “solution of coexistence between human beings and the environment”. One of those solutions was agroforestry: after hearing about the land use management system, Antoine found out about AGROOF, an agroforestry consulting firm.

Through AGROOF, Antoine began to learn more about agroforestry. Agroforestry is a method of cultivating both trees and crops in the same field. This combination encourages biodiversity and decreases erosion by up to 80%. Furthermore, it limits the need for chemicals, with trees attracting aphid-consuming insects. A reduction in aphids results in healthier, undamaged crops. Other advantages of agroforestry over other farming methods include cleaner water, improved human nutrition, and a higher resistance to drought.

“When this combination works well, it can output the same yield as that of traditional farming,” explains Antoine. “Unfortunately, agroforestry is not very developed. It requires a great deal of maintenance by farmers because of the lack of suitable tools.”

Another reason why agroforestry is not an immediately desirable option for many farmers is its slow return on investment, which can be around 40 years, when the trees have grown to a mature age. However, a profit can be made by harvesting trimmed branches and milling them to make wood by-products. This excess wood can be sold off, to be turned into MDF panels or raw materials for the pharmaceutical industry. This trimming is generally a slow process, which inspired Antoine to develop a fascinating 3D-printed, autonomous clipping machine to assist farmers and facilitate the process of branch harvesting. Antoine hopes that his machine, if taken to production, could make agroforestry a viable option for large farms.

Antoine has dubbed the prototype machine, MANTIS, after studying the behaviour of the praying mantis, particularly its hunting techniques. Basing his machine on something living was extremely important to the student, who believes that “tomorrow’s agricultural tools need to be closer to natural behaviours”. The machine was composed of 300 3D-printed parts. The prototype was designed using Rhinoceros 5, and 3D printed using an Ultimaker 2 Extended 3D printer. The prototype is a 1/20 scale model of the potential real thing, with its largest 3D-printed component measuring 27cm and its smallest measuring a tiny 1mm. The machine is designed to form one large machine whilst in operation, but splits into two smaller vehicles for ease of transport. 

The MANTIS is purportedly able to chop branches precisely, before harvesting them without dropping any to the ground. Current agricultural tools for this purpose are less precise and effective than a professional tree pruner, and fallen branches need to be collected using a mill. The MANTIS is unique, as it is able to perform both actions at once. In addition to this dual function, it is able to increase speed of delivery to buyers by autonomously loading and unloading a trailer where processed wooden residues are stored. Antoine spent around a month and a half designing, printing, and assembling the MANTIS.

Images from Behance

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Applications

 

 

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