Filabot: the next step in sustainable 3D printing.

Just imagine: it’s Friday night and you desperately need a present for your sister’s birthday the next morning, but all the shops are closed. Worry not. Simply take all your week’s Persil bottles, unwanted Lego, left-over takeaway boxes, mash them all together and proceed to print a brand new Grayson Perry designed vase for her. It’s the final frontier for sustainable design, and it’s not as far away as you think.

Invented by American college student Tyler McNaney, the Filabot machine promises to turn your recycling into filament that can be used to produce a 3D-printed object of your choice, helping to finally answer the sustainability skepticism associated with 3D printing.

Sustainable 3D printing

Having successfully completed its funding exactly a year ago on Kickstarter, 2013 will see the first generation of Filabot machines created, with the hope that they will be made available for the general public later in the year.

It is a one stop shop for all the filament you could ever need

McNaney explained how it works: “The grinding unit of the Filabot will process plastic up to a diameter of 4-inches. Larger pieces will have to be broken down before being fed into the grinder. After grinding, the plastic should be a uniform size and will be automatically feed into the hopper – from there the feed screw will push the pieces into the barrel to be melted at the correct temperature.”

“The molten plastic will then be extruded out of interchangeable nozzles, with a 3mm and the 1.75mm will be included with all the kits sold. After extrusion, the filament passes through a sizing roller to make it the correct diameter for printing. Directly after the rollers is a cutter that will cut off any oversize that was not taken care of by the rollers, and finally the filament is rolled onto the spool for future parts.”

State of play

Currently, in order to print on a traditional desktop 3D printer you need a material to work with, normally a resin made from a type of plastic filament. But to purchase the right kind of filament, at the right size, to use in a 3D printer (such as the MakerBot, for instance) will normally cost you around $50. McNaney wants to do away with this requirement, instead encouraging users to grind up their recyclables, or even their past 3D printed efforts. Essentially, the hope is that you’ll never run out of 3D printing filament and lead your own sustainable design adventure in the process.

“Filabot is a 3D plastic extrusion system.” McNaney continues. “Any type of recyclable plastic – such as milk jugs, detergent bottles, soda bottles, shampoo bottles, product packaging, and many more – can be processed through Filabot to make usable 3D printing filament.

“The Filabot will grind, melt and extrude the plastic filament. It is a one stop shop for all the filament you could ever need.”

The need for this in the world of 3D printing is huge. With unwanted prototypes, demo objects or erroneous prints usually a staple of the process, making 3D printing seen as a sustainable practice is a first. It’s a new design charge, one that will encourage its users to take the lead in how they re-use their recyclables.

With your help we can create a device that helps users of 3D printers to become self-sufficient

“The whole goal of the Filabot is to have a complete system that’s both affordable and reliable, McNaney adds. “Filabot right now is more than just an idea; we’ve tested our prototype system with great results. It’s a bold and big idea but with your help we can create a device that helps users of 3D printers to become self-sufficient.”

The year ahead

McNaney is currently working on the first generation of machines for his Kickstarter backers, but you can follow the progress of this potentially industry-changing project at In the meantime, it might be worth collecting those plastic milk bottles.

One thing’s for sure: if successful, the Filabot could be the first step on the road to reducing manufacturing waste for good.

Watch the original film on Filabot from Kickstarter:

Photo Credit: Whitney Trudo / Filabot

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