Materials for printing. Generic or “proprietary” filament?

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The purchase of a 3D printer goes beyond the selection of the device that best suits our needs, and the filament we use is an obvious complement. The selection of this filament involves taking into account different variants, such as the type of plastic (PLA, ABS, acrylic, nylon …), colour, diameter (which is usually 1.75 or 3 mm) and of course the price of same. However, the recent guidance of certain manufacturers of 3D printers to the proprietary filament cartridges opens a new question in this respect. Still, many machines are capable of using a generic plastic filament.

What are the reasons for using “proprietary” filament?

In addition to obviously increasing the revenue from their purchase, manufacturers are aiming to ensure a more reliable and consistent printing using a filament that meets the requirements of the machines.

Generic 3D filaments use a plastic filament much cheaper, but also with more variable characteristics and qualities, with several aspects that we must take into account:

  • When it is said that a filament is 1.75 in diameter, is this real? How much variation of this diameter can be seen in the thread? This is important because if a protrusion or a thinner section appears, the extruder may fail.

  • The colour may not be as desired: even if a “green” appears “green” when the next coil is placed, the resulting hue may vary.

  • The colour is achieved by adding additives to plastic “raw” and there is the possibility that some manufacturers use toxic for this substance, which is not desirable (nor sustainable, thing to keep in mind when considering the environmental implications of this technology).

  • The last of the points detailed in the page referred to describes a problem that we have already experienced in our printer: although the filament should bend well and enter the extruder cleanly, a given coil can lead to undesirable folds or even rupture of the filament, Which is particularly troublesome if it occurs in the middle of the print. The hardness can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, and even from the coil to coil.

These and other problems could be mitigated by creating a standard, offering a specific value for each of the above characteristics, and some others, in addition to a maximum allowable variance. In any case, the decision to use one or the other type is for each user.

Creating our own filament.

In printing for prototyping, at the industrial level, the cost of the filament may be of no importance in relation to quality; the importance of the cost of the filament increases however when talking about home printers, a sector that is expected to experience tremendous growth in the coming years. In this market segment, called the low end , to acquire the filament could be much more expensive than buying pellets made from the same material, even going to be the first ten times more expensive than the latter, according to Zach Kaplan, CEO of Inventables , a 3D online store that sells printers and accessories and other products for DIY inventors in the world that make up the burgeoning movement  maker .

Kaplan and Ghalib Bilal, of Pocket Factory, another member of the maker community, were in the office Inventables protesting the high price of the filaments when Ghalib had an idea.Why not create a low – cost machine and open source Could you turn those pellets into filaments?  For this idea became a contest of hand Lesa Mitchell, vice president of innovation and networks of the foundation Ewing Marion Kauffman in Kansas, which focuses its efforts on entrepreneurship and education, and is already deeply involved in the maker movement, example through their participation in the fair Maker Faires. In May 2012, Kauffman and initiative Maker Education offered $ 40,000 and prizes in the form of hardware such as a 3D printer for the first person or team to send a project to build such a machine, able to build plastic pellets in the filament. The rules also established that the total cost of the pieces did not exceed $ 250.Although it seemed easy, it took 10 months to find the project that met all the requirements.

The lucky winner of the contest was an 83-year-old man named Hugh Lyman, who until his retirement 17 years ago, was a manufacturer of laboratory booths and related items such as extractor hoods … and a passion for technology. After retiring in 1966, he participated in the maker movement, starting with some inventions, such as a device that joins pieces of paper into tablets … even making them into a 3D printer. Years later, he learned about kits for building low-cost desktop 3D printers, built one after another, and is accustomed to printing all kinds of objects: from bracelets for his wife, to Aphrodite’s statues for friends, or parts of his Inventions When Lyman learned of the contest, he was intrigued immediately, not only for the benefit he would get (since every time he bought filaments, he left a good figure) but for the solution he could offer the world. And all this, without even a degree in engineering, simply through trial and error, and common sense, he says.

His first attempt, the extruder strand Lyman, could actually make cheap plastic balls in the filament, but did not meet the requirement of a maximum price of $ 250 parts: he had not counted the cost of a few parts that were manufactured the same. So he went back to the desk and returned with the extruder strand Lyman II, version earlier that it met the requirements and worked perfectly. And won the contest. With either extruder, a hopper is filled with plastic balls, and a switch is pressed to light a heater that blows the balls. The molten plastic is then converted into filament exiting a nozzle and wound onto the floor.

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