Print, Filabot, repeat: 3D printing gets greener

Kickstarted plastic recycling device could improve 3D printing's eco-friendly pedigree.

Rich Brown
Rich Brown Former Senior Editorial Director - Home and Wellness
Rich was the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, Kentucky. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D printing to Z-Wave smart locks.
Expertise Smart home, Windows PCs, cooking (sometimes), woodworking tools (getting there...)
2 min read
Whitney Trudo/Rocknail Specialties

A common criticism of 3D printing is this: how much more plastic junk do we need in this world?

Filabot, a Kickstarted device that turns household and printed plastic into printable filament, might have the answer.

The brainchild of Tyler McNaney, a 20-year-old sophomore mechanical engineering student at Vermont Technical College, the Filabot takes common plastic, including plastic from 3D printed objects, and grinds, melts, and re-extrudes it back into printable feedstock.

McNaney developed the Filabot with the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised just over $32,000 when it ended in January of last year. He then spent the rest of 2012 refining the design and bringing the Filabot to a shippable state. McNaney and his company, Vermont-based Rocknail Specialties, are currently working on the first batch of Filabot units to ship out to Kickstarter backers, after which McNaney says they will begin work on an updated model for general consumers.

The basic idea behind the Filabot.
The basic idea behind the Filabot. Rocknail Specialties

Essentially a combination of a grinder and an extruder, the flagship Filabot Reclaimer breaks down pieces of plastic up to 3x3 inches square, and feeds them into an extruder, which, according to the product description, "will melt and pressurize the molten plastic to push it through the interchangeable dies." Available die sizes include 3mm and 1.75mm, common diameters for commercial printing filament.

McNaney says that he has tested thermoplastics ranging from common milk jugs and plastic bags to objects made from ABS, a common 3D printer feedstock. He has not yet tested PLA, another common printer material, and he does not certify the Filabot for recycling PVC because of the toxic fumes that can emanate from it when it's heated.

As to the quality of the recycled filament, McNaney says the Filabot's output meets the same tolerance specifications as commercial filament, landing within the accepted range of plus-or-minus .002 inch thick. In some cases you can also change the color of the recycled filament using dye.

McNaney has not provided a release date for the next version of the Filabot. He also wouldn't speculate as to a final price, since he does not yet know his final costs. He did say, though, that while he has been in touch with other companies in the 3D printing industry, including MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis, he is not interested in selling his company.

"I'd feel better if it fails on my watch then if it fails on someone else's," McNaney said. "I think we'll keep it.

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