Oct 28, 2015 | By Benedict

3Ders’ recent trip to Dutch Design Week 2015 in Eindhoven gave us a glimpse into a whole host of innovative 3D printing projects and inventions. A wander into the city’s massive Klokgebouw building led us to the Better Future Factory team, who have produced Refil, a game-changing recycled plastic filament for 3D printers. Last month, we reported on the company’s Perpetual Plastic Project, organised in collaboration with Ultimaker. Whilst visiting the company’s stand at DDW, we spoke to co-founder Jonas Martens, who updated us on the company’s current plans.

Better Future Factory wanted to produce a fully recycled plastic filament for 3D printers, without compromising on quality. From the beginning, their goal has been to replace existing, environmentally destructive plastic filaments, by offering an environmentally friendly product of equal calibre. The project’s origins were modest, working with one kind of plastic in a specific environment. “Three years ago, we made this machine that recycles plastic cups at festivals, shredding them into little pieces, then made filament for 3D printing out of it,” Martens recalled. “A year and a half ago, we decided to take this idea and try to change the whole 3D printing market.”

“We started researching ways of making filament as high quality as the industry standard, but made from recycled materials. We developed an ABS [Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene] filament made from car dashboards and a PET [Polyethylene terephthalate] filament from plastic bottles.”

Given the eternal debate and controversy over the environmental impact of 3D printing, Better Future Factory’s current range of Refil products have been received warmly by the additive manufacturing community. Refil was the recipient of the Best Material Development for 3D Printing award at the 2015 3D Printing Europe fair in Berlin. However, the company aren’t stopping there. They intend to continue working until recycled filament becomes the maker community’s first choice, not simply a token environmental gesture. Martens let us know about the team’s plans for expanding Refil’s range of products.

“We’re working on isolating the green PET from the blue PET, to produce filaments of different colours,” he explained. The company’s current PET filament is a semi-transparent whitish plastic. “We’re also working on recycling the white plastic from the insides of refrigerators called HIPS [High impact polystyrene], as well as PLA [Polylactic acid] and flexible materials. We’re really trying to broaden our portfolio of materials.”

Providing a wider range of colour and material options could provide a huge boost to Refil’s marketability, with a newfound versatility giving makers little reason to opt for non-recycled alternatives. “We want to offer filaments in a range of colours, since now we only provide transparent or black.”

The process involved in producing Refil recycled 3D printing filament is a complex one. Not all plastics are suitable for recycling, and the company have to be extremely careful with their selections in order to guarantee quality and safety. “What’s really hard is locating our very specific waste streams,” said Martens. “The car dashboards we use, for example, are made of ABS plastic. We use only Volvo and Audi dashboards, because they can guarantee the exact nature and quality of the material. ABS can also be found in the backs of TVs, but flame-retardants added to the ABS make it unusable for recycled filament. This is why we have to look for really specific waste streams: to guarantee safety and quality.”

The Better Future Factory co-founder remains committed to the company’s original vision. “We just want to make a valuable product out of valueless waste, without any difference in quality from the standard.”

Better Future Factory continues to work with partners Ultimaker, with whom the recycling specialists collaborated for the Perpetual Plastic Project. “Although the filament will work in any standard 3D printer, we’ve always used Ultimakers,” Martens explained. “They’re also Dutch, and we’ve known them for three years now. They’ve always been really helpful.” As we visited the Refil stand at DDW, two Ultimakers were busily working away, 3D printing some stylish vessels out of Refil’s semi-transparent PET filament, which is made from recycled plastic bottles. The company also displayed some trendy 3D printed lampshades, also made from their PET filament. We look forward to hearing about the company’s future developments.

Images from 3Ders

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Materials

 

 

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