For Cheaper 3D Printing : A Review of Filament Recyclers
A great development over the past few years has been the slow emergence of filament recyclers. These devices can grind up household waste or failed 3D prints and turn them into filament. I think that they are one of the most exciting developments in 3D printing.
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They have the potential to vastly reduce the costs of 3D printing, make the technology much greener and spread it around the world. People have been working on these things for several years now. Although relatively straightforward devices it has proven to be difficult to bring them to market. With filament recyclers the critical elements are the consistency of the diameter of the filament. This is an issue that will have to be addressed for the filament recyclers to become popular.
Why are these devices so important? Filament prices have historically been very high with prices hovering around $40 a kilo. If you buy straight from China in bulk you’re going to be paying $11-14 a Kilo but shipping may add ten bucks or so a Kilo depending on your arrangements.
Most filament for sale hovers around the $30-$40 mark excluding shipping. This means that if you were to make a vase that’s 200 grammes this vase will cost $8.30 (Including the energy cost of the printer, this is a rough estimate, and it would depend on a lot of factors). With a filament recycler you can take household waste such as ABS, HPDE, PET or other plastics and grind it up and recycle it. Then your vase will cost $0.60. This significant price reduction will let people give away more 3D printed things and make more 3D Printed things.
If they sell them they will be able to do so for more margin and/or less cost. You can now make 13 vases for the cost of 1. So if a friend comes by and likes your vase? Take it, dude.
The vase is now cheaper than the store bought mass produced alternative. Another type of filament extruder takes pellets. This does not let you recycle household waste but lets you use inexpensive plastics in your machine. These hopper type extruders can take plastics in pellet form and the cost of these (depending on where you are, quantity, shipping, type of plastic, grade etc.) could be around $3 a kilo. This would make your vase $1.20.
There are a lot of issues with the output from desktop 3D printers. The surface roughness is too high, no color, generally no supports limiting what you can make. Overall many of the objects are simply not consumer friendly enough and too expensive. But, what if everything became 13 times cheaper.
What if the stuff coming off the printer was always cheaper than what you could buy at WallMart? Then what it looked like would matter a whole lot less.
Will some mass produced stuff be more attractive? Sure, it may all be but if I can make things myself for less it won’t necessarily matter. I am a strong believer in that a lot of new technologies don’t have to offer 100% of the existing solution. 80% is enough. If I can come up with any product that is somehow radically different but at the same time delivers 80% of the value of competing products I may eventually have a winner.
A Pareto product compensates the last 20% with its innovation. Sure, we have to improve a lot about the software, output and printers. But, if we can get 80% of the functionality of something at a higher convenience and lower cost then we will be well on our way in competing with mass production on the desktop. I do have to qualify that statement. I think that due to over claim and hype people do currently have a generally too optimistic view of the capabilities and ease of use of desktop systems. So, it may take us longer than many think. But, this is a reachable goal and there is no magic involved. Its an engineering challenge that will be solved.
Here is an overview of some of the filament recycling systems being made right now:
The FilaMaker is an extruder and shredder that can turn household waste into filament. The best features of this device is that it comes in a strong steel chassis and has a very powerful grinder. I conducted an interview with the creator Marek Senicky, who has been developing it for two years and is looking at crowdfunding his device.
Using the same grinder Marek made an “IT Security shredder” that shreds mobile phones.
Here you can see it shred cans and other things.
And here you can see the extruder producing PLA.
FilaBot has several devices on sale. The FilaBot original is $899 and extrudes pellets or shredded plastic. The FilaBot Reclaimer is a hand cranked shredder that costs $439. The materials used are tough and durable and they even have a service whereby you can mail in your failed 3D prints and they will recycle them for you.
Recyclebot is a RepRap project that extrudes filament. It is currently being developed by the Michigan Tech Open Sustainability Technology Group. It has a keypad and LEDs and you can find the documentation here. The team has also worked on an open source controller for filament extruders. This is a great project that will enable many more people to make these devices.
Filastruder has sold over 1000 systems and raided $212,000 on Kickstarter. It comes as a kit for $299 and is an extruder only.
The Lyman Filament extruder was a low cost entry to the Desktop Factory competition made by 83 year old inventor Hugh Lyman. The competition and the invention brought a lot of inventors into the space.
The Strooder aims to be the first “The first filament extruder to combine high quality filament with safety, ease of use and flawless design.” It is made by Omnidynamics and has raised $110,437 so far. A fully assembled one is now $341.
FilaFab Extruding Filament for 3D Printer Close up
The Strooder. (Read more here.)
DeltaPrinter have come up with instructions to build your own filament extruder for $100.
STRUdittle is a small and compact filament extruder that comes assembled for $285.
ExtrusionBot raised $88,745 on Kickstarter. An assembled ExtrusionBot can turn pellets into filament for $625.
The Noztek Pro costs $1370, looks much more consumer friendly than many of the others and makes one Kilo of filament in three to four hours.
Here is a video and instructions on how you can make your own filament extruder. The developer claims to be able to extrude one kilo of filament per hour. Go ahead and give it a try!
Joris Peels is a heavyweight 3D printing industry commentator who doesn’t shy away from discussions and is never short on educated, animated opinions. Joris blogs about 3D printing at VoxelFab and works as a consultant in the 3D printing industry. He previously worked for Shapeways and i.materialise and as a developer of Origo, a 3D printer for kids.