Machine to recycle plastic waste into filament for 3D printing wins major award

The James Dyson Prize is an international competition run by the eponymous entrepreneur. It rewards engineering or design projects that “solve a problem”, and the Polyformer certainly does. Reiten Cheng and Swaleh Owais have developed a machine that recycles plastic water bottles into filament for FDM 3D printing, making it accessible to developing countries. The project was a recipient of the prestigious Sustainability Division of the James Dyson Award.

The designers were inspired by a 3D printing website that features recycling and sustainability stories. They wanted those in developing countries to be able to benefit from 3D printing technologies while reusing waste. Owais carried out this project in Rwanda in Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, hoping to produce a product that can solve the high cost of shipping filament to Africa.

The Polyformer (which recycles plastic) under construction

Construction of the Polyformer machine. (Photo credit: Reiten Cheng)

Recognition and awards

The Polyformer received the James Dyson Award for Sustainability, chosen by the inventor himself. The prize is awarded annually to innovative projects and the duo will use the prize money to produce more Polyformers for use in 3D printing labs in Rwanda. This can help solve waste by recycling plastic. They then plan to collect user feedback and expand the project to other developing countries. Other side projects to complete the Polyformer are also underway; for example, the Polyjoiner will automatically connect the filament strands together and the Polydryer will evaporate the water from the PET to avoid negative print quality. Finally, the Polyspooler will automatically create spools of filament for ease of use.

Sir James Dyson, Founder and Chief Engineer at Dyson commented, “By turning used plastic bottles into 3D printer filament, Polyformer helps reduce the amount of waste going to landfill and provides a cheap and abundant material for engineers and designers, especially in developing countries. Their idea will provide new opportunities for other inventors to prototype their ideas using 3D printing.

The technical stuff

The Polyformer has a modular architecture. To make the filament, a slicing tool can cut the plastic bottle into a ribbon to feed into the hot end. The ribbon is thermoformed into a 1.75mm filament, which can be mounted on the motorized spool. Once this filament is made, it can be transferred to a 3D printer. The Polyformer is designed to be built with mostly 3D printed parts to make it more globally accessible. Plus, all of the technology is open-source. The designers made the decision to make it publicly available patent-free so others could create their own. Other criteria chosen by Cheng and Owais were a simplified process, avoiding supports and post-processing as much as possible to create a compact machine that was easy to assemble and easily modified.

The Polyformer recycles plastic

The complete Polyformer machine. (Photo credits: Reiten Cheng)

Polyformer’s innovation lies in its double advantage of preventing waste and improving the accessibility of 3D printing to developing countries. They are not the first to seek to reuse waste – for example, an American company will build 10 homes using recycled plastic. On a smaller scale, researchers in Singapore have used recycled glass for sand printing. You can find out more on the creator’s website HEREand more information on the James Dyson Award is available HERE.

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