The Portable, Off-Grid 3D Gigalab Can Turn Trash Into Treasure

When the pandemic hit, the supply chain broke. Not solely was it laborious to ship common items, however the international delivery community was additionally unable to equip employees with sufficient personal protective equipment to cut back the logjam. Around that point, 3D printing firm re:3D beginning planning, not simply present face shields and different PPE, however skip a few of these delivery issues altogether.

The Gigalab is the end result of that venture. With the Gigalab, re:3D goals to offer every little thing wanted to show recyclable materials, like water bottles or plastic cups, into helpful items. The setup contains three important elements. A granulator shreds used plastic. Next, a drier removes extra moisture. Finally, the Gigabot X 3D printer … er, effectively, it prints objects. You additionally want some desk house to do work, like reducing up plastic bottles.

Photograph: Eric Ravenscraft

All of this suits inside a single delivery container that may be despatched anyplace on the earth. Put extra merely: It’s a transportable lab the place trash goes in and treasure comes out.

Pellet Play

The key to creating the lab work is a large innovation in a small a part of the 3D printing course of: the extruder. Most 3D printers create objects utilizing an extrusion system—that’s, by heating plastic after which urgent it by means of a nozzle onto a print mattress. If you have ever seen a consumer-grade 3D printer, you have most likely seen this plastic come within the type of a filament, however some printers use pellets as a substitute. These little processed spheres or cylinders can movement easily into the extrusion system, however they’re simpler to pack and could be constantly fed into some 3D printers. 

Turning recyclable supplies, like used plastic bottles, into pellets normally means delivery the fabric to a processing heart. There, they get melted down, molded into pellets, and shipped to the place they’re wanted (which may generally result in pellets getting lost in transit and polluting the atmosphere). 

The Gigabot X, nonetheless, can skip the pelleting course of altogether. Unlike most 3D printers, it may well take shredded plastics—that are irregularly formed and do not movement in addition to pellets—with out getting jammed up and inflicting prints to fail. This means used plastics could be shredded immediately within the Gigalab’s granulator. After a quick cease within the drier to take away extra moisture, they are often poured immediately into the Gigabot X’s feeder.

Plastic bottles and cups are the obvious uncooked supplies, however the Gigalab can course of a lot extra. At a meetup in Austin throughout SXSW, re:3D confirmed me the remainders of sheets of plastic that had been used to print drivers licenses. Re:3D ambassador Charlotte Craff advised WIRED that these might be tossed into the granulator. Even the support structures that one 3D print must work correctly could be damaged off and regranulated for use within the subsequent print.

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