Mar.2, 2013

The DIY movement has vaulted from the home to the research lab, and it's driven by the same motives: saving tons of money and getting precisely what you want. Using open source software and 3D printers Michigan Technological University's Joshua Pearce has saved thousands of dollars by making everything from his lab equipment to his safety razor.

"One impediment to even more widespread use has been the cost of filament," says Pearce, an associate professor of materials science and engineering and electrical and computer engineering. Though using 3D printing and open source software saves a lot of costs, the plastic filament that 3D printers use for making useful objects isn't cheap.

Household polymer waste, such as milk jugs, on the other hand, are a costly nuisance, either to recycle or to bury in a landfill. Pearce belives that if you could turn them into plastic filament, you could solve the disposal problem and drive down the cost of 3D printing even more.

So Pearce and his research group started to make their own waste plastic extruder, or RecycleBot. This home-made device can shred and extrude milk jugs into a long, spaghetti-like string of plastic.

(Credit: Image courtesy of Michigan Technological University)

The process isn't perfect. Milk jugs are made of high-density polyethylene, or HDPE, which is not ideal for 3D printing. "HDPE is a little more challenging to print with," Pearce says. But the disadvantages are not overwhelming. His group made its own climate-controlled chamber using a dorm-room refrigerator and an off-the-shelf teddy-bear humidifier and had good results. With more experimentation, the results would be even better, he says.

The group calculated that making their own filament in an insulated RecycleBot used about 1/10th the energy needed to acquire commercial 3D filament and they used less energy than it would take to recycle milk jugs conventionally.

RecycleBots and 3D printers have all kinds of applications, but they would be especially useful in areas where shopping malls are few and far between, Pearce believes. "Three billion people live in rural areas that have lots of plastic junk," he says. "They could use it to make useful consumer goods for themselves. Or imagine people living by a landfill in Brazil, recycling plastic and making useful products or even just 'fair trade filament' to sell. Twenty milk jugs gets you about 1 kilogram of plastic filament, which currently costs $30 to $50 online."

Their process is open-source and you can use the files of the fully automated version of Recyclebot at Thingiverse.

For more info read this article: Distributed Recycling of Waste Polymer into RepRap Feedstock.

 

 

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Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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