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


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.

Making plastic filament at home

There’s one problem with the popularity of plastic-extruding 3D printers such as the RepRap and Makerbot; since they’ve become so popular, the price of plastic filament has skyrocketed over the past few years. Without a way to produce filament at a hackerspace or home lab, the price of 3D printed objects will remain fairly high. Project Spaghetti hopes to rectify that by building a machine to make plastic filament for 3D printers.

The folks behind Project Spaghetti – a loose amalgamation of makers going under the title of Open Source Printing, LLC – have successfully built a machine that is able to produce short lengths of plastic filament.

Early machines used a plunger to press small pellets of ABS plastic through a heated steel pipe to produce filament. There are a few problems with this approach, especially when the temperature is set to 480F, but the team was able to make a bit of filament with this design.

Although the team is using a piston to force melted plastic out of a nozzle, they do have a screw-drive ‘plan B’ in the works. This design should allow for continuous extrusion for theoretically endless reels of plastic filament, every RepRappers dream and a neat way to win 40 grand. [Read more...]

CES Update: MakerBot Gets a Badge

We visited the MakerBot Industries booth to give them one of our badges (post pending), say what’s up and meet the creators behind the creators of our lapel-sticking creations. They were excited to see us, so excited in fact that they gave us a small spool of the PLA they are about to carry in their store.