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Polyformer - Ideal Filament Recycler

The ideal machine for recycling plastic bottles into 3D printer filament. Designed for developing countries and remote communities.

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In this project, we demonstrate a functional machine that can produce 3D printer filament from discarded water bottles. The machine is designed for community centers where it will serve two key purposes: recycling plastic waste and producing 3D printer filament at extremely low costs.

Initial versions of the machine will be deployed at various community makerspaces and fablabs in Kigali, Rwanda; where it is very costly to import filament. Our objective is to lower the cost of 3D printing and make the technology more accessible in low-resource settings (developing countries, remote communities, etc).

We want as many people to replicate and improve upon this project as possible. Therefore, all CAD, firmware, and other resources are opensource. Additionally, speciasourceablel consideration was given to ensure all parts and tools used in the build process are easily .

Demo

[Figure 1: Polyformer, view additional renders at https://www.reiten.design/polyformer]


[Figure 2: Making locally made filament in Rwanda, https://vm.tiktok.com/ZTd3QkDYF/]

Introduction

3D printing can fill in critical and underserved gaps of a country’s supply chain. One of our team member’s currently works at a community 3D printing center in Kigali, Rwanda. At this center, Rwandese students, entrepreneurs, and (most importantly) hackers use 3D printers to quickly and easily create items. The center’s 3D printers are able to produce a wide variety of products which are impractical to manufacture domestically and expensive to import from abroad. In low-resource settings, like Rwanda, 3D printing can drastically broaden and increase manufacturing capacity.

[Figure 3: E-Commerce Center (ECC) Rwanda, a makerspace and incubator in Kigali, Rwanda]

[Figure 4: 3D printers at ECC Rwanda]

Unfortunately, our 3D printer farm in Kigali faces a critical issue: filament. It is extremely expensive to purchase 3D printer filament in Rwanda. A standard roll of 1kg PLA filament retails for over $55 USD in local markets. For context, the same roll of filament can be purchased in the United States for just $20 USD. This price differential is exasperated by the lower purchasing parity of the average Rwandan. The high cost of filament, limits the accessibility of our 3D printing center and constrains the potential of 3D printing in the country.

[Figure 5: Retail price of filament at major vendor in Kigali]

Therefore, we are developing a low cost, easy to build, and easier to operate machine that manufactures 3D printer filament from discarded plastic water bottles. This machine will enable anyone to produce 3D printer filament at an extremely low cost, while also reducing their plastic footprint. The finished machine will be deployed at our team member’s 3D Printing Center in Rwanda. If we win the Hackaday Prize, we intend to distribute more filament making machines at other 3D printing facilities in the area. We want as many people to replicate and reproduce our machine as possible. Therefore, all CAD, code, and documentation is opensource.

Prior Art

Since the beginning of desktop 3D printing, hackers have tried to find ways to make filament in house; especially from recycled plastics. From our understanding, the first such documented attempt of such a project was the FilaMaker by Marek Pantel; developed in 2013. A FilaMaker machine shreds waste plastics, such as failed 3D print jobs and water bottles, into small pieces.

[Figure 6: Plastic shredder for FilaMaker]

The grounded material can then be fed into a traditional extruder and purged into filament. Unfortunately, 3D printer filament made from shredded plastics tends to suffer from inconsistency issues. In our experience, shredded plastics tend to clog and jam extruders. Over the past year, a number of 3D printer tinkerers have demonstrated a new and more effective method of producing filament: PullStrusion. In this method, a plastic bottle is cut into a thin long strip. This strip is then “pulled” through a 3D printer nozzle that is modified to have a 1.75mm hole. As the strip runs through the nozzle, it is curled from a flat to cylindrical shape. We appreciate and commend all hackers who have demoed and provided useful documentation for this process: JRT3D, Mr3DPrint, f2knpw, and Recreator3D. In particular, we would like to thank Josh N. Bee from Recreator3D who personally chatted with us individually and has created thorough documentation on recycling bottles into filament.

Innovations

We believe that by adding the following three innovations to our filament extruder, recycling plastic bottles into 3D printer filament will become significantly more viable.

  1. Automatic Filament Joiner: A standard 500ml plastic water bottle can only be recycled into ~5m of filament. Obviously, that is not long enough for most prints. Therefore,...
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  • New video!

    Swaleh Owais07/07/2022 at 05:29 0 comments

    We entered this project in the James Dyson Award. Here is the entry project video.

  • Automating the polyjoiner

    Swaleh Owais07/03/2022 at 01:36 0 comments

    Added motors to automate the filament joiner process. The mechanism has two motors. One for connecting the filament stands and one for spooling the combined filament.

    [Figure 1: Polyjoiner - filament joiner mechanism]

  • Working online is fun, working in person is better

    Swaleh Owais07/03/2022 at 01:32 0 comments

    Flew to LA this week to work in person with Reiten. Talked about a new optimal design for working in the Rwandan context.

    We filmed a pretty cool video which should be dropping soon!

    [Figure 1: Reiten and Swaleh in LA]

  • Joining filament together

    Swaleh Owais07/03/2022 at 01:22 0 comments

    I modified a standard prusa nozzle to test the filament joining nozzle. I found a steel tube and inserted a PFTE tube that has a 1.75mm ID inside it.


    I inserted one filament piece halfway through the joiner component. I then heated the joiner up to 235deg C and pushed the second filament piece through the joiner. The two pieces were successfully fused together.

    The key concern is that the plastic is crystalized and solidified but the high heat. But it still seems to be relatively flexible.

    [Figure 1: Filament pieces before being connected]

    [Figure 2: Closeup of filament pieces after being connected]

    [Figure 3: Filament pieces after being connected]

  • CAD for Filament Enjoiner

    Swaleh Owais06/12/2022 at 03:20 0 comments

    Sorry for the late update. I have had some moving issues over the past two weeks. Below is rough render of the filament enjoiner mechanism. I have just finished ordering all the parts so we should be able to start prototyping this idea soon.

    [Figure 1: Filament joiner CAD]

  • New project partner - Reiten Chang

    Swaleh Owais06/12/2022 at 03:19 0 comments

    While doing my regular Hackaday surfing, I learned about Polyformer - a filament extruder machine designed by Reiten Chang. Polyformer is by far the most elegant filament extruder that I have ever seen. Immediately after learning about the project, I got in touch with Reiten. We have decided to collaborate on a new filament extruder that resolves the issues I mentioned in the previous post. We will deploy our extruder at ECC Rwanda later this summer.

    It will be difficult for us to collaborate on the project since Reiten lives in California and I live in Ontario. For this reason, we will split the project into two halves. Reiten will focus on developing an improved extruder and I will focus on developing the filament enjoiner mechanism. Hopefully, we can meet up at some point to exchange machines.

  • Improvements for new design

    Swaleh Owais06/12/2022 at 03:11 0 comments

    We have been using our filament extruder for over a month now ..... and it works .... kind of.

    We are able to successfully turn plastic bottles into filament with this machine. Unfortunately, the machine keeps on jamming during operation and we cannot leave it unattended. This is a major bottleneck and limits our usage of the extruder.

    Also, the average water bottle only produces ~5m of filament. This is not long enough for the overwhelming majority of print jobs.

    I am returning to Canada next week. With renewed access to my tools and machine shop, I plan on designing an entirely new extruder that rectifies these problems. The machine will have some sort of mechanism that can enjoin filament pieces together. Thus, I will be able to produce a standard 300m spool of 1KG filament. Moreover, I will add some sort of quality control sensors to ensure the filament is produced in a consistent manner. 

    Once the machine is finished, I will fly back to Rwanda to deploy it. Ideally, this will be at the end of summer.

  • Test prints

    Swaleh Owais06/12/2022 at 03:04 0 comments

    I have managed to make a lot of filament and run a lot of test prints. Below are some of my favourite examples. I have also linked some documentation on this project that I have prepared for my company (GIZ): https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ISXmjF_QsVcBWrX2nWv4g75Br9gLE4ejcfN5jevG9Js/edit?usp=sharing.


    [Figure 1: Turning plastic bottle into filament]


    [Figure 2: Sprite bottle filament]


    [Figure 3: Sprite bottle to fidget spinner]

    [Figure 4: Sprite bottle to fidget spinner with dancing]


    [Figure 5: Recycled 3D printed key chains]

    [Figure 6: Multicolour 3D printing with recycled filament]

  • The heater block melted

    Swaleh Owais06/12/2022 at 02:56 0 comments

    Initally, I had mounted the heated nozzle to the chassis with a 3D printed component. Since the nozzle only reached temperatures of 210deg and the printed component was made from PETG, I assumed this would be fine. I was wrong.

    [Figure 1: Extruder blocked melted]

    Fortunately, I had some extrusion pieces lying around that I could use to mount the nozzle. If you want to watch a video of me cutting the extrusion piece, see below!

    [Figure 2: Cutting extrusion in Kigali]

  • Testing recycled filament

    Swaleh Owais06/12/2022 at 02:52 0 comments

    I was able to print this smiley face with the recycled filament!

    [Figure 1: Printing with recycled filament]

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