21 Jan Progress in Oaxaca with PET filament and e-waste 3D printers
It’s been a busy year, working with the Fab Lab team in Oaxaca on extrusion techniques to produce high quality filament from recycled waste plastic. With an abundance of e-waste available and puzzling out packaging the filament for sale, we have been making use of all our skills and every piece of equipment and discarded material available! While PET plastic is being recycled into filament using large scale equipment, we haven’t heard of any other groups that are producing printable filament on small scale machinery. It will still take time to perfect the process but this has been a great start and we have plenty to build on in the coming year.
Transparent, flexible and printing well, the 100% recycled PET filament is still in the beginning stages of experimentation but this is a really encouraging step in the right direction to adopting recycled PET as a viable 3D printer filament material. To make consistent production of quality filament possible the extruder will still need quite a lot of modification, but previous attempts to use PET have been unsuccessful so this is an excellent move forward.
Unfortunately, recycled PET plastic is a difficult post consumer plastic to turn into filament. An important concern is that when the plastic cools, it has a tendency to crystalize and become brittle. There is so much of PET around in developing countries that it is an ideal material to turn into filament, especially because it prints so well. Filament requires a precise diameter otherwise it can clog the printer and printing won’t work. 3D printers can be tricky to repair, so it’s essential that the filament we produce is high quality.
As the production side improves, we are also moving forward in our partnership with the community in Ixtlan. The team has installed a grinder to trial processing the separated plastic into a state that will be ready for extrusion. Before the waste plastic can be turned into filament it must first be sorted, cleaned and ground into tiny flakes that will then be melted for use.
Along with the great PET progress, I’ve been working on a program to improve the production of 3D printers from e-waste. Reusing e-waste to make normally expensive machinery at low cost is an essential part of reducing the barriers preventing wide spread adoption of 3D printing in developing countries.
To design the printer, the user enters the measurements of the pieces of e-waste, which will go into making the printer, and then the program adapts the design so that it will work. The printer is produced using parts that are available locally, avoiding high import costs. Even mismatched batches of parts can be made into a working printer. This makes building printers from e-waste much more efficient and reliable.
We’re looking forward to sharing more of our progress in Oaxaca later in the new year!