Programmable Filament For Multicolor Printing

A recent research paper shows a way to create multicolor 3D prints using a single extruder if you are too lazy to babysit the machine and switch filament. The concept: print your own “programmable” filament that has the right colors in the right place. This is the same idea as manually splicing filament but presumably is more efficient since the process works with one color at a time and doesn’t repeat. In other words, to print the 64 squares of a chessboard you’d swap filament at least 64 times on each layer. Using programmable filament, you’d load one spool, print half of the filament, load another spool, print the other half, and then finally load the newly created filament and print the chessboard. Notice that the first two operations aren’t printing the chessboard. They are printing the spool of filament you feed through on the third pass.

There are machines made to do this, of course, although they generally just splice lengths of filament together for you automatically. Using one filament solves the problems of keeping multiple heads in alignment as well as the added cost and complexity. However, you now have different problems such as the transition between materials and knowing exactly how much material will be at each point in the print.

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Heat Turns 3D Printer Filament Into Springs

The next time you find yourself in need of some large-ish plastic springs, maybe consider [PattysLab]’s method for making plastic springs out of spare filament. The basic process is simple: tightly wind some 3D printer filament around a steel rod, secure it and wrap it in kapton tape, then heat it up. After cooling, one is left with a reasonably functional spring, apparently with all the advantages of annealed plastic.

The basic process may be simple, but [PattysLab] has a number of tips for getting best results. The first is to use a 3D-printed fixture to help anchor one end of filament to the steel rod, then use the help of an electric drill to wind the filament tightly. After wrapping the plastic with kapton tape (wrap counter to the direction of the spring winding, so that peeling the tape later doesn’t pull the spring apart), he suspends it in a pre-heated oven at 120 C for PLA and 160 C for PETG. How long does it stay in there? [PattysLab] uses the following method: when the spring is wound, he leaves a couple inches of filament sticking out to act as a visual indicator. When this segment of filament sags down, that’s his cue to begin the retrieval process. After cooling, the result is a compression or extension spring, depending on how it was wound before being heated.

[PattysLab] shared a short video on this Reddit post that shows both springs in action, and the process is all covered in the video, embedded below.

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Fancy Filament Joiner Has Promise, But Ultimately Fails

[Proper Printing] has been trying to 3D print rims for his car for quite some time. However, the size of the print has led to problems with filament spools running out prior to completion. This led to endless headaches trying to join several smaller lengths of filament in order to make a single larger spool. After his initial attempts by hand failed, a rig was built to try and bring some consistency to the process. (Video, embedded below.)

The rig consists of a heater block intended to melt the ends of two pieces of filament so that they can be fused together. A cheap set of brass calipers was modified with a tube in order to form a guide for the filament, ensuring that it gets bonded neatly without flaring out to a larger size. Fan coolers are then placed either side of the heating area to avoid turning the whole filament into a hot mess.

Unfortunately, the rig simply didn’t work. The initial design simply never got the filament hot enough, with the suspicion being that heat was instead being dumped into the calipers instead of the filament itself. Modifications to reduce this sadly didn’t help, and in the end, more success was had by simply holding a lighter below a length of brass tube.

While the project wasn’t a success, there’s still value in the learning along the way. We can’t see any fundamental reason why such a rig couldn’t be made to work, so if you’ve got ideas on how it could be improved, sound off in the comments. We’ve seen other successful builds using hair straighteners in a relatively simple setup, too.

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3D Printing With VHS Tape Filament

If you have a pile of old VHS tapes collecting dust in your attic or basement that you know you’ll never watch again, either because all of those movies are available on DVD or a streaming service, or because you haven’t had a working VCR since 2003, there might be a way of putting them to good use in another way. With the miles of tape available in just a few cassettes, [Brother] aka [Andrew] shows us how to use that tape as filament for a 3D printer. (Video, embedded below.)

The first step of the build is to actually create the filament. He uses a purpose-built homemade press to spin several tapes into one filament similar to how cotton or flax is spun into yarn. From there the filament is simply fed into the 3D printer and put to work. The tape filament needs to be heated higher than a standard 3D printer filament so he prints at a much slower rate, but the resulting product is indistinguishable from a normal print except for the color. It has some other interesting properties as well, such as retaining its magnetism from the magnetic tape, and being a little more brittle than PET plastic although it seems to be a little stronger.

While the VHS filament might not be a replacement for all plastic 3D prints, it’s still a great use for something that would likely otherwise head straight to the landfill. There are some other uses for this magnetic tape as well, like if you wanted to build a DIY particle accelerator.

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Filament Dust Filter Helps Keep Your Print Quality High

If we’re honest, our workshop isn’t as clean as it probably should be, and likely many makers out there will say the same. This can have knock-on effects, such as iron filings clogging motors, or in this case, dust affecting the quality of 3D prints. Aiming to tackle this, [3Demon] built a fun Spongebob-themed dust filter for their 3D printer.

The filter works in a simple way. The Spongebob shell is 3D printed in two halves, with a hinge joining both parts. Inside each half, a section of sponge is stuck inside. The two halves are then closed with a snap fit, with the filament passing through a hole in Spongebob’s head and out through the (square) pants. With the sponge packed in nice and tight, dust is wiped from the filament as it feeds through bob to the printer.

While it’s important to install carefully to avoid filament feed issues, it’s an easy way to automatically clean filament during the printing process. You may be surprised just how dirty your filament gets after sitting on the shelf for a few months. Getting rid of such contamination decreases the likelihood of annoying problems like delaminations and jams. Avid printers may also want to consider making their own filament, too. Happy printing!

Can A 3D Printer Print Better Filament For Itself?

3D printed parts are generally no way near the strength of an equivalent injection moulded part and techniques such as a sustained heat treatment, though effective usually distort the part beyond use.

[CNC Kitchen] was investigating the results (video, embedded below) of a recent paper, that described a novel ABS filament reinforced by a “star” shaped Polycarbonate core, an arrangement the authors claim is resilient to deformation during the annealing process often necessary to increase part strength. While the researchers had access to specialised equipment needed to manufacture such a composite material, [CNC Kitchen’s] solution of simply using his dual extruder setup to directly print the required hybrid filament is something we feel, strongly resonates with the now old school, RepRap “print your printer” sentiment.

The printed filament seems to have reasonable dimensional accuracy and passing the printed spool through a heater block without the nozzle attached, ensured there would be no obvious clogs. The rest of the video focuses on a very thorough comparison of strength and deformation between the garden variety Polycarbonate, ABS and this new hybrid filament after the annealing process. Although he concludes with mixed results, just being able to combine and print your own hybrid filament is super cool and a success in its own right!

Interested in multi-material filaments? Check out our article on a more conventional approach which does not involve printing it yourself!

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Make Your Own Filament

According to [Alex] it is easy to make your own rolls of 3D printing filament, even though existing off-the-shelf solutions don’t work very well. His explanation for this is economics. He built a filament extruder using a high torque induction motor and gearbox that was locally sourced. He argues that shipping heavy gear around would make a similar extruder commercially unattractive. He sunk about $600 into the device but estimates that a company would need to charge at least $1,500 or more for the same thing. That may seem steep but as [Alex] points out, a 1 kg roll of filament really only has about 750 grams for filament and plastic pellets cost $2 to $3 per kilogram.

There are other costs, of course, like the electricity required to heat and move the plastic. Still, the system appears to use about $1 of electricity for every 10 kg of filament. You can see the process in the video below.

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