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Make 3D printing filaments from scrap plastic

Posted: 19 Dec 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:3D printers? spools? plastics?

The 3D printing industry is on its way to address issues that will lead to localised design and manufacture, shorter supply chains and reduced waste.

For sintering-based or stereolithography-based additive manufacturing, it is common practice to re-use all the non-sintered powder or the non-hardened liquid resin for the next process, after an object has been removed and cleaned up. For extruded plastic wire spool-based 3D printers, which is the most common design offered to consumers at an affordable price, waste material consists mainly in temporary and removable support structures, as well as unsatisfactory prototypes or failed prints. And while more affordable 3D printers are reaching the market every month, the real cost in 3D printing lays in the consumables, spools after spools of extruded plastic sold at prices ranging from around $37 per kilo for the most basic colours to in excess of $123 a kilo for filaments with particular mechanical or optical properties (flexible, elastic, translucent, or phosphorescent etc.).

No wonder that makers are trying to create their own spools, and in many cases, the plastic wires could not only be drawn from repurposed 3D printing waste, but also from cheap plastic pellets or even from selected plastic waste, from the bin (or before it even reaches the bin).

With an IndieGogo crowdfunding campaign only started a few days ago, and already halfway through its $70,000 goal, start-up ReDeTec is promoting a desktop filament extruder. Dubbed the ProtoCycler (because part of the initial prototypes were re-used to build the final prototype), the unit comes complete with a built-in grinder, computer control, safety certification and real-time diameter feedback.


With an expected list price of $799, ReDeTec says the ProtoCycler will pay for itself in just 10 spools to 20 spools, or maybe less if you can selectively re-use some of your plastic trash (at your own risks, since they can only guarantee good extrusion specs from qualified material).

Of course, filament extruders are not new, you can easily find more than a dozen models available online, from established vendors, to kickstarter projects or even open-source designs such as the RecycleBot which promises to turn your household polymer waste into valuable 3D printer feedstock (cutting on waste transportation and CO2 emissions).

ReDeTec claims it beats all competitors on specifications, with a filament diameter tolerance of 0.02mm, an extrusion speed up to 10ft/min (over twice that of other offerings) and automated spooling.

For now, the ProtoCycler will operate from the push of a button for ABS or PLA plastic, but you can experiment with your own settings and custom materials. "If your 3D printer can print with it, ProtoCycler can make it!" states the campaign.

In the context of 3D printing, feeding scrap plastic into new designs truly encourages distributed and localised recycling. Pushing this concept to a full-blown business model, start-up company Plastic Bank is on a mission to reduce poverty and waste plastic worldwide.

The company is to set up plastic repurposing centres around the world, where there's an abundance of both waste plastic and poverty. It will reward locals for removing plastic waste from the land, oceans and waterways, harvesting plastics as a currency they can exchange for various things including tools, household items, parts and 3D printed goods.

Pioneering what it calls the Social Plastic movement, Plastic Bank claims it can do better than today's recycling centres as it has the processes and knowhow to recycle just any plastic, including mixed plastics. The company describes its goal in a Youtube video on which it shows how it could monetise waste plastic, among other things by repurposing into high-value consumables for 3D printers.

-Julien Happich
??EE Times Europe

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