3-D printers are getting cheaper and faster – this week the company CarbonD announced a 3-D printer that the company claims is 25 times faster than the average starting at around $2,500; meanwhile the Xyz home-oriented printer can be had for about $500.
As with regular printers, however, so with the 3-D versions – supplies are another story. The spools of plastic "ink" used in 3-printers are not so cheap – about $30 a spool – and depending on what the printer is printing, could end up as nothing more than an expensive blob of waste plastic.
Three students at the University of British Columbia – Dennon Oosterman, Alex Kay and David Joyce – have come up with a way to reduce the waste as well as the cost of 3-D printing. The three have designed an instant plastic recycling machine for home and small-business 3-D printers. The unique feature of this consumer-oriented extruder is that it has a built-in function to grind and pound plastic waste – like pieces of the lids from coffee cups – into small pellets. The machine, called a ProtoCycler, accepts ABS and PLA plastic waste, though each batch of waste for making into new "ink" filaments must come from the same type of plastic.
The ProtoCycler can then extrude new plastic filaments from the pellets at a rate of 5 to 10 feet per minute. That's faster than traditional extruders. The ProtoCycler machine also uses less energy than typical plastic filament-producing equipment, so it is more efficient. Colors will be able to be added to the filaments.
There are still issues to resolve. The recycling system has different settings to handle different types of plastic waste – currently just ABS and PLA plastic – though the designers say configurations for new kinds of plastic will be able to be downloaded over the Internet.
The three student designers have formed a company called ReDeTec, to sell the machines; and they are planning for the first recycling+extruders to be ready for market within a year. A successful Indiegogo campaign netted over $100,000 for the company; ReDeTec plans to sell the ProtoCycler for $699.