While the idea that 3D printing produces significantly more waste than other kinds of plastic processing has been debunked—it’s actually the other way around—that doesn’t mean people should be complacent about the amount of waste they produce. Waste production paired with the rising costs of raw 3D print filament should be enough to get people to look to other methods of acquiring material for their 3D prints, specifically the idea of recycling. Tom and Tracy Hazzard take a look at the viability of filament recycling when it comes to 3D printing. There are many different methods and machines out there, some better than others, and Tom and Tracy help you see if any of them might be for you.
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3D Print Filament Recycling
This is Earth Week so we are going to talk about something that a listener asked us about 3D print filament recycling. More specifically, they wanted to know if we had known anything about these filament recyclers and wanted to know if it was real and worked well. We thought it was a good fit for Tech Tuesday and for Earth Week.
The reality of 3D print filament recycling is that there are lot of kits and a few small products out there where you can make your own filament, that’s a thing that some people like the ultramakers do. Especially if you have an issue with the cost of filament there are products out there that you can make your own filament extruder like the Filastruder, it’s like a kit and there’s another on that’s a more professional – even though making filament yourself can be pretty sketchy to begin with. There are products that you can do it, but I would not recommend it. Well actually, that’s just making your own filament, not even recycling it. A note on the cost of it though, since some complain about the cost of it, and we’ve talked about this on the podcast before – the amount you are spending on filament per print is so small, we are talking pennies per print or dimes if it’s a big one.
You know we have issues with filament colors, and the reality is that these ones you extrude them yourselves, you have to have so much plastic of the raw pellets color and to be able to dial that in to reproduce that over and over – I don’t know that it’s possible. When we go to design a color we have the pellets made in the color. You have to know the exact ratio of pellets to get the color we want. It’s not like you are just going to be able to dial in and get your Pantone or CMYK or something, it just doesn’t work like that. The smaller batch you create, and let’s face it that most people who are making their own filament are going to make one spool at most maybe, so the smaller your batch the harder it is to maintain any predictable color. It’s not easy, and when you want to duplicate it that would be really scary to try and get it to match exactly – if it sounds like fun for you then go for it. I don’t think there is a fundamental reason to do it from a cost stand point though.
The reason I say this is because a lot of these guys are talking about how much waste there is in 3D printing, and we’ve already kind of debunked that. There is so much more waste in every other kind of plastic processing that it’s incredible. I don’t know if you’ve read yesterday’s post, but we put up a video we shot a few years ago at an injection molding plant in China showing them squirting so much plastic out of the machine at the beginning of the cycle of what I guess what was left in there from the day before that they have to purge in order to start again. Even just that alone, it’s so scary. There’s so much waste everywhere. That video was actually from that facility that makes the Metro Mesh chair that we sell at Costco.
It seems a little over the top in justifying why you need to sell yet another machine which takes up more space and more energy – I’m not a big fan of it. There is one thing I kind of like and that’s the one that does the regrind, which is the Protocycler. It started as an Indie Go Go campaign last year and it’s not currently available on the market for anybody to buy, but they are taking pre-orders. They are saying that even if you pre-order one today, and it’s $700 for this item which looks essentially like a big microwave over with a filament spool on the end, but it won’t start shipping to new customers until the Indie Go Go campaign rewards are filled. They don’t expect that to happen until the summer of 2016. They have a blog where you can read more detail on that, and we will see if that actually happens – can’t tell you how many of them have been late. They have some great video and some really good information on it. This thing is made to regrind all your rafts and supports and make new filament out of it.
I still think it’s somewhat misleading, because the reality is that you’d have to segregate all the colors when you go to regrind them so you have to sort them and do all this work. This is why it’s not easy to go green. When you make it this complicated, no one is going to do it. Might be dating ourselves here, but when we had to go out and separate all the cans and the bottles, it was a lot of effort to recycle and do that. I remember going to throw bottles into the landfill section where you but bottles, and I remember going with my Nana who had all these areas in her backroom where she would store all these things. We had to separate them and work hard to recycle so not very many people did. When got a big blue bin and you could just throw anything in it and then the facility took care of it after they carted it away it became so much easier to recycle. That’s why this seems more like a waste of my time so I’m not a big fan of this for the home.
I can see it as being used more in the makerspaces and places like that where you are running a lot of 3D printers and you have a lot of left over rafts and support materials. I don’t really expect people to separate the colors. I think that people will throw all the regrind into one and have whatever brown color comes out of it and use it as test material. My name suggestion for that color is that it’s going to be called grunge. Just my suggestion! Or you could put some black coloring pellets in there and just make black, that’s easy.
We already know that there’s not a 3D printer in every home, there’s a 3D printer in some homes though of enthusiasts, makers, and early adopters. There’s going to be even fewer of these in people’s homes making filament. I think this is going to be more for industrial use, your makerspace, or even your college or educational institution that has a big lab where they are going through a lot of filament so they want to get the most out of it. I don’t see the recycled filament being used on a final print where the color doesn’t matter so much but rather to be used on a test print.
This is where I question it, why do we even need the thing at all? Why can’t we just go straight from those pellets and into the extruder of the regular machine? It’d be a pretty long process to get the pellets, make any color you want that then become filament that gets fed into an extruder. I don’t see why it has to become filament along the way, to me that seems like way more steps. If it’s just plastic and you need to melt it, it just makes more sense. But there is that feeding it in the extruder issue – imagine trying to put all the weight of the pellets and a pellet hopper and feeding it in. It’s not going to happen cause it’s to much weight. It would be easier and cheaper to just have baggies of my custom color pellets and throw them in there, like those beaders organizers all over Michaels and JoAnns with the compartments.
I think that idea could be done, but for the most part 3D printers are made from common RepRap parts and they have never created anything like that where you would feed plastic in, you’d have do it with a screw of some sort. It’s a little backwards, because the machine should be designed to be the way that people really want to ideally use it. Not designed to come out of a bunch of parts that already exist somewhere so I can hack the thing together. That’s the problem I have, and that’s why I can be so unhappy with the way a lot of these printers are coming out today because a lot of these companies are just pumping out printers that are hacked together from the same old parts. We got to reinvent this stuff because it’s a different world as we move into consumer based 3D printing.
Having said that, what I’m asking for is a lot easier to envision than it is to execute. I’m sure the better 3D printer companies will make customized parts the way I want. This reminds me of a conversation I had almost a year ago with the owner of 3D Monstr who started as a Kickstarter. This is a company in New Jersey who did a Kickstarter for a 3D printer that has four extruders, so four different colors at once. I want to go and see that thing work and see how practical that thing is. I was impressed by something on their website recently, there is a photo of their printer and one of the four extruders was visibly and noticeably lower than the other three, so I think they did one thing that I’ve been complaining about for a long time about 3D printers that have more than one extruder, and that’s retracting the ones that are not in use so it doesn’t interfere with the one that’s printing. That’s good, but when I talked to the owner he said that what he envisioned and would prefer to use is pellets going straight into the machine also. He has the ability, and they are creating a new machine, but he hasn’t done it and why – because I don’t think it’s that easy to do.
I have high standards for a reason, but the only way that you really transform and set yourself apart is to address that hard question and the real challenge of the need. At the end of the day if you keep giving me products that create more work and take up more space and make me do more steps, that’s not really helping me and I don’t want to buy it.
I think what these people are trying to do with the Protocycler is admirable for providing a way to be able to recycle that what little waste there is in 3D printing. Given our experiences visiting filament factories where they make commercial filament in large scale, these people have so many systems in place like infrared, laser sensors, and things to make sure the filament is staying the right diameter and staying perfectly round as it goes through a bath of water. These people are professionals, they put serious things in place to make filament, and this little Protocycler is just a small desktop appliance, if you will, that extruding filament. I want to see it and try it to see how consistent works because I find it hard to believe that a small little machine like this can make filament in a good enough quality filament to work in all 3D printers out there. Some of these 3D printers out there are finicky. The Protocycler won’t even be available for awhile to where we can get our hands on it so we will have to wait on that.
Overall, I think I’m just a little annoyed with the industry that says the filament is so expensive. It’s really not and that just seems over hyping what’s going on and it makes people more afraid to get into 3D printing and I don’t like that. Anything that does that leaves a bad taste in my mouth with the product, and I think that it’s misleading. Our upcoming guest is actually making mini filament packs so that you can buy a group of three colors in a mini amount so you don’t have to get a whole spool of just one color. They have realized the market is not there for that and that people prefer less, but in more colors. It makes sense, I’m glad they researched that and saw what the market needed.
Filament is the area that people are seeming to attack first when you think about environmental sustainability, 3D printing, and 3D print filament recycling. It’s a lot easier to go with your source material first to make improvements then you move on to your equipment and your systems and so on. It’s more costly and time consuming when you’re in a place where all of those things are changing everyday anyway but the materials are staying stable, that’s the most logical place to make improvements then you move on to your equipment and your systems and so on. It’s more costly and time consuming when you’re in a place where all of those things are changing everyday anyway but the materials are staying stable, that’s the most logical place to make those improvements first.
- Easy Going 3D Printing Green
- ProtoCycler Indie Go Go page
- Redetec – ProtoCyler main website
- 3D Monstr
- Maker Milestones Contest
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