It’s about to get easier to 3D print with recycled plastic

3D printers generally print in one of two types of plastic; either ABS, which is used to make Legos, or PLA, typically found in some types of food packaging.

Despite the abundance of ABS and PLA, it’s still expensive to buy the long strings of plastic filament that 3D printers require. A 2.2 pound spool of filament, which generally costs between $25 and $50, is enough to print nearly 400 chess pieces.

As printers get larger, people will want to print bigger objects to match. Add in regular print job fails that waste filament and material costs can add up quickly.

One emerging type of 3D printing tool could alleviate some of the cost. The Filamaker is a machine that takes in used plastic and outputs fresh strings of filament that are compatible with 3D printers.

Filamaker 3D printing filament recycler

Voxelfab recently had the chance to catch up with Filamaker creator Marek Senicky, who demoed the machine at the Rome Maker Faire. Senicky has built a prototype and is now working on a version that could retail for around $680.

The Filamaker works by grinding down and melting old pieces of plastic. It extrudes cooled filament at a rate of about 3 feet per minute. Senicky hopes to improve the speed before the release of the for-sale version.

Filamaker is mostly aimed at recycling old print jobs, but as these machines mature it would be interesting to see them become capable of recycling more varieties of plastic. Being able to toss in an actual food container, for example, could completely change how people recycle and 3D print.

Filamaker will compete with machines like the Filabot, which turns relatively inexpensive plastic pellets into filament. Of course, if home 3D printing does become immensely popular in the future, filament prices could drop dramatically as manufacturing expands. Or plastic-extruding 3D printers could turn out to be a stepping stone, giving way to more popular resin 3D printers and technologies we have yet to dream up.