Filabot recycles plastics into 3D printer filament

Sensemaking / Filabot recycles plastics into 3D printer filament

Engineering student invents desktop machine for reducing plastic waste and recycling prototypes.

By Kyla Mandel / 28 May 2013

As the 3D printing world continues to boom, one enthusiast has invented a device to give left-over plastics a new life. The ‘Filabot’ turns plastic into filament, so that those early adopters already fabricating their own products from digital templates can reduce, reuse and recycle old prototypes and household waste.  

The inspiration for developer Tyler McNaney, a 20-year-old mechanical engineering student at Vermont Technical College, came after purchasing his first 3D printer, when he was looking for a new way to use old soda bottles.

Small enough to sit on a desk, the Filabot melts and pressurises plastics as they are pushed through an extruder. The molten plastic is then turned into printer filament with a tolerance of plus-or-minus 0.002 inch in thickness, the same as commercial filament.

To date, three plastic types commonly found in household waste have been successfully tested: HDPE, which includes items such as bottle caps, ABS plastics (often used in toys) and nylon.

“Nothing should break if something goes in that cannot be melted. Nothing will come out of the extruder”, confirms McNaney. However, “depending on the type of plastic, some outputs will be weaker or stronger.”

Nick Allen of 3D Print UK calls the invention a “brilliant idea” and “a good step forward to something that can potentially really help”. However, Allen remains wary: “You don’t have any quality control in your material … if you’re mixing lots of different plastics together, you’re going to get a very inconsistent material coming out.”

The first batch of 67 prototype Filabots is currently being produced by McNaney’s company Rocknail Specialties, after a Kickstarter campaign raised around $32,000. They will be distributed to the campaigns backers for $350 apiece; plans for further commercialisation will then be released. – Kyla Mandel

Photo: Whitney Trudo

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