By Ariel Schwartz
In that not-too-far-off day in the future when we're all using 3-D printers to make new organs, bones, pieces of food, and so on, we may look back and thank Tyler McNaney, a second-year mechanical engineering major at Vermont Technical College who created the Filabot--a "3-D plastic extrusion system" that takes recyclable plastic and turns it into filament for 3-D printers.
If you want to buy a kilogram of 3-D printer filament today--usable in 3-D printers like the MakerBot--it will cost you about $50. But all those plastic soda bottles, detergent bottles, and other pieces of product packaging that you recycle every week? Those are basically free. McNaney's machine takes any recyclable plastic and grinds, melts, and extrudes it so that it can be rolled onto a spool for 3-D printing. According to McNaney's Kickstarter video, the machine can make eight feet of filament from a milk jug and detergent bottle.
The Filabot is relatively small, designed to sit on a desk alongside a 3-D printer and computer. McNaney explains his motives on the Filabot Kickstarter page:
Plastic recycling and extrusion have been around since plastic was invented. How do you think the filament bought online is made? There are a few websites/users that have started to develop this system, but none have brought it to the scale where it is simple and easy to use. The whole goal of the Filabot is to have a complete system that is affordable and reliable.
McNaney's Kickstarter campaign raised $32,330. Now he's working on production for the first batch of Filabot orders (cost for initial backers: $350). And after that? Filabot could make it a whole lot easier for amateur 3-D printing enthusiasts to make all sorts of plastic products. 3-D printing bones and organs at home, on the other hand, will have to wait.
Copyright 2013 by Fast Company. Reprinted with permission.