"Gigabot X" 3-D printer helps find new uses for recycled plastic

Published: Apr. 16, 2019 at 6:40 PM EDT
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Researchers, professors, and students at Michigan Technological University have been hard at work creating outdoor sport items like kayak paddles, snowshoes, and even a skateboard using the “Gigabot X” 3-D printer.

The printer uses recycled plastics instead of regular plastic filament in a process called “fused particle fabrication.”

"So basically any plastic that's recyclable, that has the little triangle symbol on it, we can convert into a 3-D printed polymer and a product," said Joshua Pearce, Richard Witte Endowed Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Michigan Tech.

The Gigabot X is able to use plastic shards and pellets to create cheaper, stronger prints through a process called “fused particle fabrication.”

"What we've done here at Tech is pushed it a little bit further and go all the way down to recycled plastics. So this can print in pellets, in shards, in grinded waste. It really doesn't matter what it looks like or the size of the particles, as long as it can fit into the hopper and get to the hot zone," said Pearce.

The Gigabot X is also open-source, which means it can constantly be improved upon.

"The software, the hardware, and the designs used to manufacture it are freely available, so anybody can make their own, they can change it, they can adapt it anyway they want. They can even sell it. What that means is that hundreds of people all over the world contribute to making it better," Pearce said of the roughly $18,500 printer.

Students and staff who helped develop and test the printer hope that the printer can help sustain “makerspaces” and “fab labs”: places where people can go to create their own 3-D printed products.

"There's so much plastic in the environment and the oceans and stuff so I think if anything can get rid of that, it's good technology, especially if you can make good stuff with it," said Aubrey Woern, a Mechanical Engineering student at the university.

This technology is not only environmentally friendly, but it also costs substantially less than traditional 3-D printing.

"A spool of filament for a regular 3-D printer costs around $30 a kilogram. This can cost maybe $3 a kilogram at most, potentially less,” Woern added.

For more information on the Gigabot X, click