Michigan Tech University continues their innovative success with 3D printing technology yet again, as their student organization, the Open Source Hardware Enterprise, has earned a $25,000 grant from the Ford College Community Challenge to further their development with recyclable filaments. The grant is being generously gifted by the Ford Motor Company Fund, a branch of the Ford Motor Company that is specifically focused on supporting projects that lead to sustainable communities and technologies. The MTU Enterprise team, which is led by Associate Professor Joshua Pearce, was able to win the challenge through their unique and environmentally conscious plan to produce 100% recyclable plastic filaments.
The idea that earned them the Ford College Community Challenge grant was to utilize the recycled waste of the local community in order to eventually 3D print marketable products out of this plastic waste. The Enterprise team’s plan was to build their own waste shredder, modify their RecycleBot to accept the shredded material, create the filament, and boom… Profit. The RecycleBot, for those who don’t know, is a waste plastic extruder that was developed to create filament out of waste plastic and polymers for RepRap feedstocks. The MTU team has estimated through tests that it takes about 20 milk jugs to create a whole kilogram of filament, while the cost of creating this material on the RecycleBot is said to cost less than a dollar.
The Open Source Hardware Enterprise team, which is comprised of some of MTU’s most innovative student minds, has a business approach for their recycled filaments as well. “Like 3D itself, the plan is multi-dimensional. Besides expanding the types of plastic that can be used for filament, the project will create a business model “scalable to whatever size you can handle,” says team member Lucas Wilder. “When I graduate I can build these wherever I end up. Or a country could use the plan.” With the $25,000 grant from the Ford Motor Company, the Enterprise can now expand their environmentally conscious and business savvy model into a new range of legitimacy.
The money may also help them expand their recycling capabilities as well, as they have already had moderate success with HDPE plastics (shampoo/laundry bottles and toys), yet have struggled a bit more with PET (water bottles/peanut butter jars). PET is a more difficult product to create filament out of due to the need to be extremely dry and not surpass a very precise temperature. But the grant will certainly help the team improve upon and expand their business model, and will hopefully help spread 3D printed products that promotes the preservation and renewal of the environment, rather then just adding to the plastic waste piles that litter our earth today.