Turning Old Masks Into 3D Printer Filament

Disposable masks have been a necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic, but for all the good they’ve done, their disposal represents a monumental ecological challenge that has largely been ignored in favor of more immediate concerns. What exactly are we supposed to do with the hundreds of billions of masks that are used once or twice and then thrown away?

If the research being conducted at the University of Bristol’s Design and Manufacturing Futures Lab is any indication, at least some of those masks might get a second chance at life as a 3D printed object. Noting that the ubiquitous blue disposable mask is made up largely of polypropylene and not paper as most of us would assume, the team set out to determine if they could process the masks in such a way that they would end up with a filament that could be run through a standard 3D printer. While there’s still some fine tuning to be done, the results so far are exceptionally impressive; especially as it seems the technique is well within the means of the hobbyist.

From masks to usable filament.

The first step in the process, beyond removing the elastic ear straps and any metal strip that might be in the nose, is to heat a stack of masks between two pieces of non-stick paper with a conventional iron. This causes the masks to melt together, and turn into a solid mass that’s much easier to work with. These congealed masks were then put through a consumer-grade blender to produce the fine polypropylene granules that’re suitable for extrusion.

Mounted vertically, the open source Filastruder takes a hopper-full of polypropylene and extrudes it into a 1.75 mm filament. Or at least, that’s the idea. The team notes that the first test run of filament only had an average diameter of 1.5 mm, so they’re modifying the nozzle and developing a more powerful feed mechanism to get closer to the goal diameter. Even still, by cranking up the extrusion multiplier in the slicing software, the team was able to successfully print objects using the thin polypropylene filament.

This is only-during-a-pandemic recycling, and we’re very excited to see this concept developed further. The team notes that the extrusion temperature of 260 °C (500 °F) is far beyond what’s necessary to kill the COVID-19 virus, though if you planned on attempting this with used masks, we’d imagine they would need to be washed regardless. If the hacker and maker community were able to use their 3D printers to churn out personal protective equipment (PPE) in the early days of the pandemic, it seems only fitting that some of it could now be ground up and printed into something new.

Machine Extrudes Filament

We’ve seen a lot of homebrew filament extruders, but [Stefan] at CNC Kitchen shows off a commercial desktop filament extruder in his latest video, which you can see below. The 3DEVO extruder is pretty slick but at around $7,000-$8,000 we probably won’t rush out and buy one. We might, though, get some ideas from it for our next attempt to build something similar.

In concept, any machine that creates filament is pretty straightforward. Melt pellets and push them out of a nozzle. Cool the filament and wind it up. Easy, right? But, of course, the problems are all in the details. Die swell, for example, means you can’t just assume the nozzle’s hole size will give you the right size filament. Continue reading “Machine Extrudes Filament”

PetBot: Turn PET Bottles Into Filament

Recycling plastic into filament normally involves chopping it into tiny pieces and pushing it through a screw extruder. [JRT3D] is taking a different approach with PetBot, which cuts PET bottles into tape and then turns it into filament. See the videos after the break.

Cutting the tape and extrusion happens in two completely separated processes on the same machine. A PET bottle is prepared by cutting off the bottom, and the open rim is pushed between a pair of bearings, where a cutter slices the bottle into one long strip, as a driven spool rolls it up. The spool of tape is then moved to the second stage of the machine, which pulls the tape through a hot end very similar to that on a 3D printer. While most conventional extruders push the plastic through a nozzle with a screw, the PetBot only heats up the tape to slightly above its glass transition temperature, which allows the driven spool to slowly pull it through the nozzle without breaking. A fan cools the filament just before it goes onto the spool. The same stepper motor is used for both stages of the process.

We like the simplicity of this machine compared to a conventional screw extruder, but it’s not without trade-offs. Firstly is the limitation of the filament length by the material in a single bottle. Getting longer lengths would involve fusing the tape after cutting, or the filament after extrusion, which is not as simple as it might seem. The process would likely be limited to large soda bottle with smooth exterior surfaces to allow the thickness and width of the tape to be as consistent as possible. We are curious to see the consistency of the filaments shape and diameter, and how sensitive it is to variations in the thickness and width of the tape. That being said, as long as you understand the limitations of the machine, we do not doubt that it can be useful. Continue reading “PetBot: Turn PET Bottles Into Filament”

Fail Of The Week: How Not To Build A Filament Extruder

It would be great if you could create your own filament. On the face of it, it seems easy to do, but as [Thomas Sanladerer] found out when he was a student, there are a lot of details that can bedevil your design. His extruder sort of works, but he wouldn’t suggest duplicating his effort. In fact, he hopes you can learn what not to do if you try to do it yourself.

In all fairness, [Thomas] was a low-budget student and was trying to economize. For example, he tried using a drill to drive the auger. Why not? It looks like a drill bit. But he found out that wasn’t satisfactory and moved to a pair of wiper motors with their built-in gear train.

Continue reading “Fail Of The Week: How Not To Build A Filament Extruder”

A Featherweight Direct Drive Extruder In A Class Of Its Own

Even a decade later, homebrew 3D printing still doesn’t stop when it comes to mechanical improvements. These last few months have been especially kind to lightweight direct-drive extruders, and [lorinczroby’s] Orbiter Extruder might just set a paradigm for a new kind of direct drive extruder that’s especially lightweight.

Weighing in at a mere 140 grams, this setup features a 7.5:1 gear reduction that’s capable of pushing filament at speeds up to 200 mm/sec. What’s more, the gear reduction style and Nema 14 motor end up giving it an overall package size that’s smaller than any Nema 17 based extruder. And the resulting prints on the project’s Thingiverse page are clean enough to speak for themselves. Finally, the project is released as open source under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial Share-Alike license for all that (license-respecting!) mischief you’d like to add to it.

This little extruder has only been around since March, but it seems to be getting a good amount of love from a few 3D printer communities. The Voron community has recently reimagined it as the Galileo. Meanwhile, folks with E3D Toolchangers have been also experimenting with an independent Orbiter-based tool head. And the Annex-Engineering crew has just finished a few new extruder designs like the Sherpa and Sherpa-Mini, successors to the Ascender, all of which derive from a Nema 14 motor like the one in the Orbiter. Admittedly, with some similarity between the Annex and Orbiter designs, it’s hard to say who inspired who. Nevertheless, the result may be that we’re getting an early peek into what modern extruders are starting to shape into: smaller steppers and more compact gear reduction for an overall lighter package.

Possibly just as interesting as the design itself is [lorinczroby’s] means of sharing it. The license terms are such you can faithfully replicate the design for yourself, provided that you don’t profit off of it, as well as remix it, provided that you share your remix with the same license. But [lorinczroby] also negotiated an agreement with the AliExpress vendor Blurolls Store where Blurolls sells manufactured versions of the design with some proceeds going back to [lorinczroby].

This is a clever way of sharing a nifty piece of open source hardware. With this sharing model, users don’t need to fuss with fabricating mechanically complex parts themselves; they can just buy them. And buying them acts as a tip to the designer for their hard design work. On top of that, the design is still open, subject to remixing as long as remixers respect the license terms. In a world where mechanical designers in industry might worry about having their IP cloned, this sharing model is a nice alternative way for others to both consume and build off of the original designer’s work while sending a tip back their way.

Continue reading “A Featherweight Direct Drive Extruder In A Class Of Its Own”

Benchmarking A Garbage Disposal Using The 3DBenchy Tugboat

We’ve always had a love-hate relationship with 3DBenchy, the tugboat-shaped 3D printer calibration target. On one hand, it’s incredibly useful to have a common, widely used, and challenging benchmark object to evaluate printer performance and improve tuning, but we’d somehow like to get back the countless frustrated hours we’ve spent trying to get the damn thing perfect with various printers. So, it was with no little joy that we watched the video below by [Eric R Mockler], in which he uses 3DBenchy prints to benchmark his newest acquisition: a new-in-box garbage disposal he scored off Craigslist. Take that, tugboat!

[Eric] is considering using the disposal as the first step in a failed-print-recycling method to ultimately turn the waste back into filament, presumably to print more tugboats. The tiny bits produced by the disposal should provide a reasonable substitute for pelleted plastic feedstock going into a filament extruder, if the disposal is up to the task, that is. Reasoning that any device capable of grinding chicken bones should handle little plastic tugboats just as well, [Eric] gave it shot, and found that the ⅓-horsepower disposal had no problem grinding even 100%-infill PLA prints.

The video is short and to-the-point, so we’ll even excuse the portrait orientation, just this once. If you’re considering recycling your failed prints, too, you’ll also need a filament extruder, and we’ve got you covered with a low-cost version, or a high-throughput one.

Continue reading “Benchmarking A Garbage Disposal Using The 3DBenchy Tugboat”

Print Your Own Filament

Ask anyone with a 3D printer what they make the most. They’ll probably say “trash.” There are extra pieces, stuff that oozes out of the extruder, support material, parts that didn’t stick to the bed, or just parts that needed a little tweaking to get right. No matter what you do, you are going to wind up with a lot of scraps. It would be great if you could recycle all this, and [3D Printing Nerd] looks at the FelFil Evo Filament extruder that promises it can do just that. You can see the video below.

As you’d expect, the device is a motorized auger that extrudes filament through a hot end not dissimilar to your printer’s hot end. You have to run a bag of special material through it first to clean out the plastic path. After that, you can create filament from standard pellets or pieces of old plastic.

Continue reading “Print Your Own Filament”