3-D printing technology has advanced so greatly that relatively inexpensive 3-D printers are now available and popping up all over the OSU Campus. The Valley Library recently made 3-D printing available to any student and also has a 24 hour web cam set-up for viewing of the articles being made (http://guides.library.oregonstate.edu/3Dprinting).
One major drawback at the moment is the plastic available to make articles. Both the type of plastic the Valley Library 3-D printer is specifically designed to use and the most common used plastic in other 3-D printing technology are plastics that are NOT recycled. None of the Big Six Plastics (the six largest commodity plastics which are commonly recycled and labeled with recycling codes 1 through 6) are currently used in 3-D printing but there is no technological reason why they couldn’t be used.
Our goal is to pull these plastic materials from the OSU recycled plastic waste stream, sort them into their individual recycling codes, shred them, and then process them using a laboratory scale plasticating extruder available in the CBEE Polymer Lab into a fiber to be used as the feed to a 3-D printer. The plasticating extruder, a common plastics processing piece of equipment, simply takes the solid polymer feed, melts it into a liquid, which then can be passed through a die to produce fiber of a desired diameter and length. We have this equipment in the lab and have recently purchased a MakerBot Replicator 2x 3-D printer (http://store.makerbot.com/replicator2x) like the one currently in the Valley Library (and at 7 other sites on the OSU campus, see them all here).
To date, we have been able to collect HDPE (#2), PP (#5) containers and PLA cups from the OSU waste stream. They have been sorted, shredded and washed. The plastics were fed to the plasticating extruder to produce filament suitable for the 3-D printer and have been successfully used as filament feed in the 3-D printer. However, since neither HDPE nor PP have ever been used in 3-D printing anywhere, we are still working on establishing the 3-D printing specifications for these materials. Once we have perfected the technology, we will make this material available to the Valley Library so students can make 3-D articles from recycled plastics, a much more sustainable way to produce articles which generally do not have stringent performance requirements.
To learn more about 3-D Printing at Oregon State, visit their site here.