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The Filabot recycles scrap plastic into inexpensive 3D printing filaments

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January 17, 2013

The Filabot makes new 3D printing filament from scrap plastic (Photo: Filabot/Whitney Trud...

The Filabot makes new 3D printing filament from scrap plastic (Photo: Filabot/Whitney Trudo)

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Desktop 3D printers have hit price-points that make them as affordable as color laser printers. But they also share the same problem – replacing the printing medium costs an arm and a leg. A kilogram of plastic filament costs about US$50, meaning the cost of turning your ideas into reality can quickly add up. But now the Filabot, a miniature plastic recycling plant, will provide a wide variety of plastic filaments from scrap.

Invented by American college student Tyler McNaney, the Filabot can make new 3D printing filament in 3.0 or 1.75 mm (1/8 or 1/15 in) diameters using nearly any household plastic, from PET and polypropylene to Nylon-101. A two-liter soda bottle (PET) weighs about 50 grams, which will be converted into about $2.50 of 3D printing filament. The Filabot can also recycle failed, broken, or obsolete 3D printed parts, making prototype development far less costly. McNaney has even developed an extrudable conducting plastic from scrap.

A generic plastic extruder (Image:  Wikimedia Commons)
A generic plastic extruder (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

The Filabot comes with a plastic grinder that converts scrap plastics into tiny pieces suitable as feedstock for the filament extruder. The plastic feedstock is gravity-fed onto a feed screw, which moves the plastic toward the extrusion die. On the way, the plastic is heated – not to melt it, but to allow extrusion at a reasonable pressure for a tabletop unit. On being formed, the new filament is air-cooled slightly, then wound onto an empty spool ready for reuse. No additional treatment or finishing is needed.

Following a successful Kickstarter campaign (the project raised US$32,330, well over the target of US$10,000), McNaney is nearly done producing the first 67 production units for his Kickstarter investors. Shortly thereafter he will begin general production of Filabot grinders and extruders. No pricing information is yet available, but the cheapest Kickstarter pledge to secure a ready-to-use Filabot was $490, so we wouldn’t expect it to sell for less than that.

An introductory Filabot video can be seen below.

Source: Filabot

About the Author
Brian Dodson From an early age Brian wanted to become a scientist. He did, earning a Ph.D. in physics and embarking on an R&D career which has recently broken the 40th anniversary. What he didn't expect was that along the way he would become a patent agent, a rocket scientist, a gourmet cook, a biotech entrepreneur, an opera tenor and a science writer.   All articles by Brian Dodson
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7 Comments

This is great, giving everyone the ability to reuse their raw plastic for 3D printing...

BUT, what exactly did he invent??

It is a smaller scale of exactly the process the current plastic filament goes through to produce the expensive product to use in the cheap 3D printers.....

This great guy has Developed a desktop pelletiser and extrusion machine, he would have trouble filing a technology patent for it.... as it doesn't involve any non-obvious inventions) Design patent, yes (I can put a design patent on anything to stop people selling exact copies)... Technology NO, (those are real patents, the design patents are just for bitching corporations to fight over).

for $500, you still have to use/reuse 10 kg of filament before it becomes viable for the hobbyist. Most of the 3D printers sold will make lots of things for the first week, then nothing most months, so this addition the the shed will really only be useful for small home businesses, or people who are really churning out 3D plastic parts.

MD
17th January, 2013 @ 11:31 pm PST

Need for the garage workshop: 1 Filabot, 1 MakerBot. 1 Mad Scientist at Work sign

Artisteroi Rlsh Gadgeteer
18th January, 2013 @ 08:30 am PST

MD: I don't think they have any plans of patenting their extruder (it's released under a CC BY-NC license), but yes, designing a desktop version of a piece of machinery that previously required something the size of a dishwasher or a small car definitely seems patentable to me.

In fact, in the past I've heard several people state that it would be impossible to build a small-scale extruder that would produce high enough quality filament for use with a 3D printer. So although the demand for a product like this was obvious to many people, it was definitely not obvious that it would be possible to build it.

Sure, this kind of project will never be for an amateur hobbyist who might only turn on his 3D printer a couple times a month. But I know several hackerspaces and other teams who run through 1kg spools on a regular basis.

PatrikD
18th January, 2013 @ 10:26 am PST

I would think that just starting could indicate the beginning . This technology is just beginning to be developed. Nokia just announced that they are releasing the patterns for printing covers for their cell phones. If you can design it and print it, there is no limit to what you can put together. The great thing about not needing a patent means that no one can sue you for patent infringement. But if you patent the design then to copy you would have to devise a new design and look at what Apple has done with that. A talented designer is priceless.

Munoz-Nieves Jose
18th January, 2013 @ 10:28 am PST

I think it is cool since it helps recycle plastic instead of sending it to land fills.

BigGoofyGuy
29th January, 2013 @ 09:31 am PST

I think this is a great first generation of this desktop model.

Sure they could patent the idea - but since this is geared to the 3D printing and Maker community - we would just make our own anyways.

No, focusing on building a brand and getting out there inexpensively should be their goal.

I love the idea of reusing purchased pellets, as well as turning household plastic into printable material. As others said it may not pay off if the user doesn't print much. However, imagine this scaling into 3D printing of metal as that area of the technology expands?

Turning pop cans and foil into prototyping material - an reusing over and over?

Truly a product that gets the mind working.

Producracy
16th February, 2013 @ 01:39 pm PST

I dont see what good this will be. Its going to pump out filament thats full of bubbles. Bubbles are the worst thing for 3d printing. All those investors will get desktop bubble machines. Then they will try to dump them on Ebay to unsuspecting slobs just trying to print good stuff. Then they will spread their bad attitude at being took. Then others not so technical will get cold feet about all this. This invention is a dud without a vacuum mechanism to remove bubbles from the material. Its just like the bad idea of making printrbots out of wood. Another pile of badly working inventions that will soon be clogging up the pages of ebay.

stts
24th February, 2013 @ 03:29 pm PST
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