Mar. 9, 2015 | By Simon

When it comes to the simple nuts and bolts of innovation, oftentimes new discoveries don’t happen in top secret corporate research facilities but rather, in university classrooms.  

For a recent university project, New Zealand-born industrial design student Vimal Patel was provided with a small spool of biodegradable 3D printing filament and then tasked “to make something with it”.  While the project clearly could have gone in any direction, the intention was to explore ways of designing and manufacturing products solely with biodegradable material (monomateriality) so that both the creation and recycling of the objects can be simple.  In contrast, objects made with complicated manufacturing processes and assembly structures are oftentimes far from being easy to recycle and thus, have a poor Cradle to Cradle value.  Patel uses bicycle helmets (which contain foam, plastic, adhesive, paint and fabric) as a perfect example of this.  

As a way of exploring how he could replace the functionality of multimaterial products using a single biodegradable material, Patel chose to use the open-ended nature of the project to explore fabrication methods with the assigned filament.  

To begin with, he tested the filament on one of his university’s UP 3D printers to test the varying zones of stiffness - which he compares to Lilian van Daal’s testing for her Biomimicry chair.  

“These experiments showed that variable stiffness was possible, even on inexpensive 3D printers,” said Patel on his blog.

“Nevertheless, it was clear that the layer-by-layer deposition of material constrained the plane of flexibility to a single axis which made it difficult to make complex shapes (like a bicycle helmet).”

While Patel admits that the ideal solution would be to extrude material along a path in multiple axes with a robotic arm, this route would be difficult due to the amount of modeling and programming involved.  Instead, he chose to explore a simpler solution.

Using LEGO bricks, Patel built an extruder that he was able to attach to a cheap hot glue gun.  After creating some test prints with the biodegradable filament - which itself can be more difficult to work with than traditional polymers - Patel moved forward with his original project goal of creating a helmet.

While the helmet is a great starting point, Patel is more invested in his actual LEGO extruder, which he says interests him due to the potential to its ability to “make more things”.  

What interests me is not only the potential to make things functional and biodegradable, but the accessibility of the making process - all you need is LEGO and a cheap hot glue gun.”

In an effort to help spur others to create their own LEGO/hot glue gun extruders, Patel has generously provided the necessary file to create your own LEGO extruder, which can be opened using the LEGO Digital Designer program.  

Whether or not Patel chooses to further develop the extruder design is one thing, but as it is, this is one of the best uses for LEGO we’ve seen in quite awhile.  


Posted in 3D Printers


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