Empty Spools Make Useful Tools, Like Counters

What’s the deal with getting things done? There’s a Seinfeld anecdote that boils down to this: get a calendar, do a thing, and make a big X on each day that you do the thing. Pretty soon, you’ll thirst for chains of Xs, then you’ll want to black out the month. It’s solid advice.

[3D Printy] likes streaks as well, and made several resolutions at the beginning of 2022. As the first of 30 videos to be made throughout the year, they featured this giant 3D printed counting mechanism (video, embedded below) that uses empty filament spools, some 3D prints, and not much else. These are all Hatchbox spools, and it won’t work for every type, but the design should scale up and down to fit other flavors.

This isn’t [3D Printy]’s first counter rodeo — he’s made several more normal-sized ones and perfected a clever carryover mechanism in the process, which is of course open-source. So each spool represents a single digit, and there are printed parts in the core that make the count carry over to the next spool. Whereas the early counters used threaded rod, this giant version rides on 2.5 mm smooth rod, so the spools can slide apart easily. But how does everything stay together? A giant elastic band made of TPU filament, of course — because the answer is always in the room.

Check out the video after the break, and stay for the 900%-sped-up assembly at the end.

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Towards Sensible Packaging For 3D Printer Filament

Filament-based 3D printers are remarkably wasteful. If you buy a kilogram of filament from your favorite supplier, the odds are that it will come wrapped around a plastic spool weighing about 250 grams. Use the filament, and that spool will be thrown in the trash. Very, very few products have such wasteful packaging as 3D printer filament, with the possible exception of inkjet cartridges or getting a receipt with your purchase at CVS.

For the last few years, [Richard Horne], better known as RichRap, has been working towards a solution to the problem of the wasteful spools for 3D printer filament. Now, it looks like he has a solution with the MakerSpool. It’s the perfect solution for a 3D printing ecosystem that doesn’t waste 20% of the total plastic on packaging.

The design of the MakerSpool is fairly straightforward and also 3D printable. It’s a plastic filament spool, just a shade over 200mm in diameter, consisting of two halves that screw together. Add in some RepRap ‘teardrop’ logos, and you have a spool that should fit nearly any machine, and will accept any type of filament.

The trick with this system is, of course, getting the filament onto the spool in the first place. Obviously, filament manufacturers would have to ship unspooled filament that’s somehow constrained and hopefully vacuum¬†packed. Das Filament, a filament manufacturer out of Germany, has already tested this and it looks like they have their process down. It is possible to ship a kilogram of 1.75 filament without a spool, and held together with zip ties. Other filament manufacturers also have packaging processes that are amenable to this style of packaging.

Whether this sort of packing will catch on is anyone’s guess, but there are obvious advantages. There is less waste for the environmentalists in the crowd, but with that you also get reduced shipping costs. It’s a win-win for any filament manufacturer that could also result in reduced costs passed onto the consumer.