As a PhD student at the University of Florida studying Mechanical Engineering with a specialization in controls, Tim Elmore is about to shake up the future of 3D printer filaments. Currently, a spool of your favorite color of ABS (or PLA or PVA) runs just south of $50 at the MakerBot store, not including the $12 estimated shipping cost. Seeing as how this could be of frustration for many 3D printer users, he set out to create his own filament-making machine, The Filastruder, which uses cheap plastic pellets and your own colorant to produce a similar spool of filament for less than $10. Filament production aside, could you imagine how much fun this thing must be to watch?
While others have attempted to create filament-producing machines, it looks like Tim has been the one to create the cleanest final product with the help of 16 beta testers. The machine works by dialing in a set temperature for extruding the plastic pellets, loading the small hopper with plastic pellets and colorant, and then simply turning on the gearmotor. Once the extruder is hot enough it will begin to extrude the final filament product, which can be spooled up and used like any other standard 3D printer filament.
The majority of beta testers used 1.75mm filament (same as MakerBot) and reported variances of approximately +/-0.05 mm, however the machine can also be setup to create up to 3.0 mm filament with a reported variance of roughly +/-0.10 mm. After personally logging 250 trouble-free hours extruding ABS, as well as his beta testers logging in hundreds of hours on their machines as well, Tim took everything he knew about 3D printing, refined the Filastruder, and launched it on Kickstarter last week:
In the fall of 2012, I purchased a Solidoodle 2 Pro, and began experimenting with 3D printing. Although excited by the newfound ability to bring a thought to reality in less than a day, I was disappointed by how fast I was going through filament – a roll or two a month. At that rate, in under a year I would spend more on plastic than the printer cost! That’s when I decided to set out to make a filament extruder.
I first did a market survey, finding RecycleBot, Filabot, Lyman’s Filament Extruder (CC BY-SA), and some other partial attempts at producing a pellets to filament extruder. Because Lyman’s was the most recent, I tried to learn from his design, and refine things so that it would be easy to produce without machine tools, safer, more compact, and $200 or less. I ended keeping three parts from his design – the auger, the bearing, and the nozzle.
In November, I built the alpha version of what would become the Filastruder. I had good results, but refined the design and began to ask for beta testers. In December, I shipped beta kits to 4 people. With their feedback, I refined the design again, sent them upgrade kits, and shipped an additional 12 kits to beta testers around the world. From January until now, those beta testers have been working with the Filastruder.
With nearly $150,000 in funding (that’s $145,000 more than his original goal), and 21 days left to go on Kickstarter, Tim is on his way to filament-bustin’ glory.