Editorial Feature

Filabot – Recycling for 3D Printing

Side view of the Filabot, a machine that could make it a lot easier to recycle household plastic into something immediately useable and useful.

Side view of the Filabot, a machine that could make it a lot easier to recycle household plastic into something immediately useable and useful. Image Credits: Filabot

3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is a technique used for fabricating 3D objects from a digital model. The process involves successive material layers being laid down to create an object, which is quite different to conventional machining methods that normally depend on the removal of materials, using techniques such as such as drilling or cutting.

3D printing has become a manufacturing revolution over the last few years, with a myriad of useful objects being produced using the technique - from medical implants to full sized houses. Furthermore, 3D printers have recently become commercially available and easily affordable for the general public.  

However, though 3D printers have dropped significantly in price over the last few years, 3D printing media is still quite expensive. Because of this, an American college student has been working on an economic method of producing the plastic filament needed for 3D printing.

Filabot Process

Said American college student, Tyler McNaney, has developed a machine that recycles plastic household waste into raw materials that can be used in 3D printing.

This machine, called the Filabot, is capable of melting down waste material and converting this into plastic filaments, needed for the ink in 3D printers. Plastic filament can cost around £50/kg, making 3D printing a costly process, especially if you are trying something new and make mistakes. However, creating your own from household plastics makes the process a lot more economically viable.

The Filabot works by grinding plastic into small pieces and pushing these into a melter. Gravity-feeding of the plastic feedstock is done via a feed screw that pushes the plastic towards the extrusion die. It then extrudes the melted plastic into filaments of either 3 or 1.75mm in size.

The new filament formed is then air-cooled to a certain extent and wound on an empty spool and does not require any additional finishing or treatment.

The finished filament produced by the Filabot system.

The finished filament produced by the Filabot system. Image Credits: Filabot

Plastics that can be Recycled Using Filabot

The Filabot can use almost any household plastic, from PET to polypropylene to Nylon-101. The Filabot is also capable of recycling broken, failed or obsolete 3D parts, making the development of the prototype less expensive.

Environmental and Economic Benefits

The Filabot is a revolutionary system that can transform recyclable plastic into usable filament for 3D printing, greatly reducing the cost of home 3D printing. Importantly though, using the system creates a closed loop recycling environment, meaning the system also has considerable environmental benefits. It is hoped that the Filabot will help make 3D printing truly sustainable.

McNaney plans to launch a variety of machines, including the Filabot Core and Filabot Wee, at different completion levels to enable users to adapt and develop their own kit for specific requirements.

The Filabot is looking to drastically improve the environmental and economic benefits of 3D printing, as well as making it more adaptable to individual needs.

The Filabot is looking to drastically improve the environmental and economic benefits of 3D printing, as well as making it more adaptable to individual needs. Image Credits: Filabot

Sources and Further Reading

G.P. Thomas

Written by

G.P. Thomas

Gary graduated from the University of Manchester with a first-class honours degree in Geochemistry and a Masters in Earth Sciences. After working in the Australian mining industry, Gary decided to hang up his geology boots and turn his hand to writing. When he isn't developing topical and informative content, Gary can usually be found playing his beloved guitar, or watching Aston Villa FC snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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