3D Printering: Alternative Filaments

printering

ABS and PLA are the backbones of the 3D printing world. They’re both easy to obtain and are good enough for most applications. They are not, however, the be-all, end-all filaments for all your 3D printing needs. Depending on your design, you may need something that is much tougher, much more flexible, or simply has a different appearance or texture. Here are a few alternative plastics for your RepRap, Makerbot, or other 3D printer:

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3D Printering: Where can I get the cheapest filament?

printering

We’ve complained about the price of 3D printing filament, and cheered at the machine that makes filament out of plastic pellets. Still, the price of filament for our 3D printers is climbing ever higher, leaving us to wonder, where can I get the cheapest filament?

Now, I’m going to start this of by saying this is a work in progress. Canvassing suppliers on every continent for 1.75 and 3mm ABS and PLA for every possible color while accounting for different amounts of filament and shipping is a whole lot of work. Therefore, we’re going to do this in parts, first starting with how much it will cost me to get a kilogram of PLA shipped to my door. This should be a valid test for just about everyone in the USA.

The test criteria is simple: find a supplier of PLA on the Reprap wiki printing material suppliers page and figure out how much it would cost me to get 1 kg of white or natural PLA shipped to my front door. I’ve organized this in a spreadsheet (below) that contains the supplier, size (1.75 mm or 3mm), weight (usually 1 kg although some suppliers are about three ounces short), color, and price with shipping included.

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Hackaday Links: Sunday, August 4th, 2013

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[Craig Turner] shows that simplicity can be surprisingly interesting. He connected up different colors of blinking LEDs in a grid. There’s no controller, but the startup voltage differences between colors make for some neat patterns with zero effort.

Remember the 3D printed gun? How about a 3D printed rifle! [Thanks Anonymous via Reason]

While we’re on the topic of 3D printing, here’s a design to straighten out your filament.

It takes four really big propellers to get an ostrich off the ground. This quadcopter’s a bit too feathery for us, but we still couldn’t stop laughing.

This Kinect sign language translator looks pretty amazing. It puts the Kinect on a motorized gimbal so that it can better follow the signer. We just had a bit of trouble with translation since the sound and text are both in Hebrew. This probably should have been a standalone feature otherwise.

Work smarter, not harder with this internal combustion wheelbarrow. [via Adafruit]

Cube 3D printer hack lets you use bulk filament

external-bulk-filament-for-the-cube

[Chris Nafis] crunched the numbers and found out he could get filament for his 3D printer in bulk for about one-fifth the cost of the cartridges the company sells. This led him to print a feeder for his Cube 3D printer.

We’re skeptical about the Cube 3D printer’s cartridges. They contain a spool of filament, but also include a chip which reports back the filament color and length remaining. We’re sure this provides some nice functionality for those looking to press a button and walk away. But we see it as an annoyance like the laser toner cartridges that stop working based on page count rather than remaining toner.

The solution [Chris] went with still uses the cartridges to ‘trick’ the machine into printing. Basically the interface will tell you that you don’t have enough filament left, but as long as there’s a cartridge in place you can tell it to print anyway. The green adapter he printed has a pass-through for the stock cartridge as well as the bulk spool you see to the left.

Finally, a machine that makes cheap 3D printer filament.

extruder

If there’s one problem with the RepRap, it’s the cost of filament. Sure, there’s also the computationally difficult problem of slicing 3D models, but a 5 to 10 times markup on turning plastic pellets into filament is the biggest problem. It’s even a bigger problem than the problems of compatibility and interchangeable parts that comes with everyone forking a ‘standard’ printer design dozens of times. The cost of filament, though, is the biggest problem, right up there with RepRap developers focusing nearly entirely on different printer designs instead of the software, firmware, and electronics that are also vitally important to the RepRap project.

Nearly a year ago, we caught wind of a competition to create a home-based filament manufacturing station that takes cheap plastic pellets available for about $5/kg and turns them in to 3D printer filament that usually sells for $50/kg. A winner for this competion has finally been announced. The winner, [Hugh Lyman] just won $40,000 for his home filament creation station, the Lyman Filament Extruder

The goal of the Desktop Factory Competition was to create a machine that produces filament suitable for 3D printers with a total build cost of under $250 USD. [Lyman] met the goal by using a few motors, 3D printed parts, a PID controller, and off the shelf auger drill bit (that’s the actual model and supplier he used, by the way) that is able to reliably churn out plastic filament.

If you want to build your own Lyman Extruder, all the plans are up on Thingiverse, but LulzBot, the awesome people who gave us a 3D printer, hope to sell a pre-assembled version of this extruder sometime in the future, hopefully with a chain guard around that sprocket.

Conductive filament means printable sensors

The 3D printer world has the creation of plastic trinkets pretty much down pat. The next step, obviously, is the creation of multi-material models, whether they be made of two different colors of plastic, or completely different materials entirely. A few folks from the University of Warwick and GKN Aerospace in Bristol, UK have come up with a way of putting electronic sensors directly into 3D printed objects.

These new sensors rely on a conductive filament custom-made for this study. So far, the researchers have created flex sensors, capacitive buttons, and a ‘smart’ mug that can sense how much water is contained within.

To produce their ‘carbomorph’ filament, the researchers stirred regular old carbon black to a sample of polycaprolactone dissolved in a solvent. After shaking well, the mixture was laid out on a piece of glass for an hour resulting in a thin film that could then be rolled into a 3mm filament. While this is a great way of producing small quantities of carbomorph filament, we’re sure a few Hackaday readers can come up with an easier way of rolling their own conductive filament. Send us a link if you’ve figured out a better way.

Tip ‘o the hat to [Evan] for this one

MakiBox turns plastic pellets into 3D objects

The holy grail of desktop 3D printers – aside from manufacturing full color objects in any shape imaginable – is turning tiny plastic pellets into a plastic filament. Many projects have attempted this with moderate levels of success but turning pellets into filament still an open problem. MakiBot hopes to solve this problem by manufacturing plastic filament just in time to be squirted out a nozzle onto the print bed.

MakiBox is seeing a lot of potential with their pellet drive. Instead of sending huge amounts of pellets into an auger extruder, the team realized the best option would be to send pellets into the hot end one at a time. This makes for better thermal characteristics and produces a very consistent filament.

Turning plastic pellets into 3D objects is an enticing idea but producing a filament on the fly is an interesting concept. While the MakiBox team is making custom color filament right now, in the future it might be possible to mix colors for full-color prints.

Videos demonstrating the extruder after the break.

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