Dec 19, 2014 | By Alec

3D printing is fun, creative, revolutionary; you name it. It is truly a manufacturing technology with the potential to change the world. But let's be honest, there is a huge downside to all our desktop FDM printers at home: it's an expensive hobby.

While 3D printers themselves are steadily becoming cheaper, anyone who prints regularly will have noticed that those rolls of filament add up quickly. Even the cheapest spools tend to be around or above $30, and we seem to go through them will tremendous speed; especially if you print a bit carelessly and just turn it on to 'see what happens' with a certain design.

For all hobbyists who usually need more than one iteration to get things right, Toronto, Ontario, Canada based startup ReDeTec has introduced their desktop filament extruder and grinder called the ProtoCycler on Indiegogo. As its creators explained, ProtoCycler is a machine that 'allows you to recycle waste plastic into valuable 3D printer filament - safely, quickly, and easily! It comes complete with a built in grinder, intelligent computer control, safety certification, and real time diameter feedback, so anyone can make their own filament hassle free.'

The whole idea behind this machine is to allow hobbyists to be creative without worrying about their wallets or the bags full of failed experiments that are bad for the environment. 'Whether it be the cost of buying new feedstock, or the waste generated as you finalize your design to perfection, true creative freedom is being held back by the consumable nature of the industry.'

Turn this

Into this with the ProtoCycler.

The machine's recycling function looks like a very promising solution for all of this. Simply toss your failed iterations into the machine's grinder, switch on the machine and turn the crank. ProtoCycler demolishes the plastic and turns it back into a roll of filament at an impressive speed of 10 feet a minute, in whatever color you prefer. A kilo of filament will then ready for use in about two hours, without costing you a cent. It also works with both ABS and PLA, though you'll have to choose one or the other when ordering the device.

But aside from their already very interesting recycling option, the machine also functions as a regular filament producer, that will help you to save a bit of money on rolls to begin with. Instead of buying expensive rolls of filament, you can simply buy raw pellets for about $5 a kilo, which can then be transformed into affordable filament in a matter of hours.

The machine relies on their patent pending MixFlow technology, 'to ensure you get consistent filament, at a speed and efficiency that puts other desktop units to shame. But ProtoCycler doesn't stop there - it has push-button automated control, distributed spooling, and diameter feedback. With all of this technology included right out of the box, it's easy to see that ProtoCycler is a good option when it comes to filament production.

Of course, this isn't the first machine that will allow you to turn failed experiments and plastic pellets into rolls of filament, but by their own estimate it is by far the cheapest and most effective one. The ReDeTec-team are currently looking to bring their ProtoCycler to market for $800. While this is quite an investment already, it can obviously save you some money in the long run. And it will obviously be good for the environment too.

As the ReDeTec-team explained, planning and prototyping of their ProtoCycler has taken up more than 2 years by now. 'We first had the idea for ProtoCycler almost 3 years ago, but it wasn't until the fall of 2012 that we really started to test our ideas. No matter what we tried, we just couldn't get plastic to extrude reliably and consistently, until we discovered MixFlow in the spring of 2013. Over the next 15 months, we prototyped through multiple variations, frequently using our prototypes to recycle themselves into new prototypes! This involved optimizing the performance of our extruder, integrating the entire unit into a beautifully designed enclosure, and beginning to account for cost effective manufacturing.'

Tech Specs:

  • Diameter tolerance: +/- 0.02mm
  • Extrusion speed: Up to 10 ft/minute
  • Electrical usage: 60 W Average
  • Dimensions: 14" x 12" x 10"
  • Grinder input: 5" x 5"
  • Hopper Capacity: Expandable
  • Max Temp: All metal hot end for 400+ C

Now finally reaching their fundraising phase, they've launched their Indigogo campaign this week, and are hoping to collect $70,000 by the 31st of January 2015. Though I don't expect that will be a problem at all, seeing as they've already collected more than $52,000 in pledges in a few days. Obviously, you can get your hands on one of these machines yourself for amounts of $600 and up (the early early bird special of $500 has already been filled up). If interested in pledging, visit their page here.

There's just one problem, and that is that the final prototyping and manufacturing phases haven't been absolutely finished yet – they wanted to see how much they could gather before making the necessary investments – meaning that even the most optimistic estimates suggest that we won't be able to see these machines in action before August 2015. But if their recycling functions are as powerful as they promise, the ProtoCycler definitely has the potential to change the hobby of 3D printing as we know it!

For more on how the ProtoCycler works, check out this promotional clip:

Posted in 3D Printing Materials


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Hamid Akbarzadeh wrote at 8/11/2016 3:37:39 AM:

Dear Sir/Madam, I hope this email finds you well. I am an Assistant Professor at McGill University. We are working with some advanced 3Dprinted materials. I am interested to know if your filament maker can make filament composed of polymers (PLA or PHA or ABS) and graphene/Carbon nanotube or composed of polymers and biomass or wood pellets. If yes, I would like to have a quote from you about your filament maker and the integrated spool. For your information, we currently have MakerBot 3Dprinters in my lab. My email is: Best Regards, Hamid Akbarzadeh, PhD Assistant Professor McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada

jd90 wrote at 12/19/2014 4:54:44 PM:

I think it's also the only one in the mix that includes a shredder to break up discarded 3D printed parts for re-extrusion. Many of the others mention recycling plastic as a selling point, but leave out key parts of the work flow, such as shredding and some even leave out winding. A filament extruder without a winder will just make junk filament. I do suggest the make narrower shredder blades to half that thickness, because the pieces they show looked pretty big.

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