Dec 10, 2014 | By Alec

Building your own 3D printer? For many of us, that would mean ordering a number of parts online and assembling them RepRap style. The more experienced engineers among us might take a more original route than that, but the Maker community still overwhelmingly relies on the web's ability to find and transport perfect parts to our home in matter of days.

But Bolivian student Paulo Loma shows us that there is another way as well; that it is possible to develop and build a working 3D printer using old computer junk you have lying around. For as part of his graduation project at the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés (UMSA), Paolo has been building a 3D printer absolutely from scratch.

While its still-a-work in progress prototype, Paolo's printer is already inspiring. Impressively, he estimates that it only cost him the equivalent of $71 to construct it and what's more, his unique FDM 3D printer can use plastic trash (such as PET bottles) as filament, rather than requiring expensive rolls of PLA or ABS.

As he explained, 3D printers are widely available today. 'Anyone with internet and the necessary knowledge can assemble it.' But the young student of electric engineering had nothing to gain from doing that, and instead set out to build one from parts you can find anywhere 'hardware stores or electronic stores'. Most of its parts were even found in the 'scrap' section at a convention in El Alto last summer.

The designs for the printer he also prepared himself, relying largely on Sketchup and Proteus software. Paolo even went as far as writing his own software to operate his yet-unnamed printer, having already completed software that allows the machine to read printing assignments, as well as a program that allows him to actually send those assignments.

Paolo designed the printer to operate using the commonly used FDM extrusion technique, where plastic filament is heated up and extruded in a specific pattern. Unlike those commonly used printers, however, Paolo refuses to rely on ABS or PLA, as those 'exclusively rely on imports'.

The student has therefore been exploring what he calls an 'alternative and basic solution' for filament, that is widely available in Latin America: PET bottles. While this innovative recycling method can perhaps be called anything but basic, Paolo has already been quite successful. His home-made extrusion head (based on a shower's resistor) is already capable of consuming and extruding strips of PET bottles that are manually fed into it.

An initial print.

Of course, this is still a prototype in every sense of the word; this home-made 3D printer is everything but capable of 3D printing entire objects through the click of the button, though Paolo is very hopeful. Agreeing that the current state is everything but perfect, he reportedly said that 'it has several limitations, but that does not mean it can be improved.'

It would therefore be very interesting to see what Paolo can make of it in say, a year's time. While the student isn't at all thinking about commercial applications for this machine yet, its ability to recycle PET bottles – a staple in third-world countries – makes it a very intriguing machine with far-ranging potential. Reportedly, his university is already looking into options to take this unnamed printer in production. Who knows, perhaps 3D printers are the key to combatting plastic pollution?

Posted in 3D Printers


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Gerd Schwaderer wrote at 12/16/2014 11:02:25 AM:

Cool, reminds me to that African Cell Phone guy that constructed also a printer from Computer Leftovers! So 20 years ago, was simply the idea missing? Interesting....

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