It’s been a long road for Gigabot X up to this point, and in many ways – as the first batch of printers is now shipping out to their owners – the road is just beginning.
re:3D was born in 2013 with the mission of creating a large-scale, affordable 3D printer that could use trash as input material. We quickly realized that these were several huge challenges wrapped into one dream, so we began by breaking it down into chunks.
Starting with the affordable and large-scale aspects, we launched Gigabot on Kickstarter in March of 2013. Several years and Gigabot versions later, we felt ready to take on the second part of the original dream.
We determined that the best method of tackling the challenge of printing using recycled materials was with a pellet printer. This does away with the need to extrude recycled plastic into filament, instead making use of a screw to extrude plastic pellets or flake.
Printing from pellets or flake comes with a host of benefits: it allows for faster printing due to the increased volume of plastic that can be pushed by the screw rather than pulled through by a filament drive gear, the input is an order of magnitude less expensive than extruded filament, and there is a much broader variety of plastic available.
With the support of many – WeWork, the Kickstarter community, Startup Chile, NSF SBIR, Parallel18, USAA, the Puerto Rico Science & Research Trust, America Makes, Hello Tomorrow, Wired/Gentleman Jack, Bunker Labs, MassChallenge, and a DoD SBIR Phase I grant – our team began work on our first pellet printer.
Over the course of three years, we built several iterations of the machine, redesigning tricky components like the extrusion screw, adding features like linear rails, and reworking the design of the pellet hopper and feeding system. What we’ve arrived at is Gigabot X, a pellet printer that has undergone thousands of hours of test printing and is now making the leap into the hands of early Kickstarter backers.
There are several main features of the pellet-printing Gigabot X that differentiate it from its filament-printing Gigabot cousin.
The main is – of course – the extrusion system. An industrial-strength, alloy steel screw drives the pellets with a compression ratio of 1.75:1 for less plastic degradation and better homogeneity within prints. The long barrel is equipped with three heating zones which allow for precise temperature control and material-specific custom profiles. The nozzle is removable and interchangeable, with options of 0.8mm, 1.75mm, and 3.0mm orifices.
To move around Gigabot X’s larger toolhead and to accommodate the larger volume of plastic being pushed through the nozzle, we have outfitted the machine with NEMA 23 stepper motors, in contrast to the NEMA 17 motors on the standard Gigabot. Linear rails replace v-groove wheels to allow for smoother, more precise motion of the bridge. A 8893 cubic centimeter printed polycarbonate hopper sits atop the machine to allow for 24 hours of gravity-fed printing at a time.
On the materials testing side of Gigabot X development, we’ve been so fortunate to partner with Dr. Joshua Pearce from Michigan Tech University. His lab has done an incredible amount of rigorous testing and research on Gigabot X, the data from which allowed us to co-develop two peer-reviewed publications about the optimization of recycled materials for 3D printing and the economic savings of Gigabot X when used as a distributed recycling/manufacturing system.
With the aid of Dr. Pearce and his lab, we’ve tested the following materials: virgin PLA pellets, virgin ABS pellets, recycled PLA regrind from failed prints and support, recycled ABS pellets and flake, recycled Polypropylene pellets, recycled PET pellets, recycled Polycarbonate pellets, recycled PETG regrind from rafts and support material, Taulman 920 pellets, recycled Polystyrene (#6), Cellulose Acetate pellets, and TPU pellets.
We are continuing to test new types of plastics – in addition to recycled and repurposed plastic like water bottles and 3D printed rafts – to refine our printing profiles so that users can enjoy the benefit of pre-configured Gigabot X Simplify3D profiles for a variety of materials. We’ve also launched a forum to share insights with the technical community as we continue testing.
The biggest takeaway we can offer so far is that printing from recycled materials is its own beast, and it’s an imperfect science. Even with pre-loaded Simplify3D profiles, this will be a different printing experience than that of using filament, and users should be ready for more trial and error and setting tweaking.
We continue to look for new sources of waste plastic that we can work to repurpose and test as Gigabot X input material. Our very own Mike Strong took home the top prize at the [Re]Verse Pitch Competition in Austin where we pitched using the scraps of polycarbonate from die cut sheets of ID card manufacturer HID Global with Gigabot X. As we learn more about where the platform has value in circular economies, we’re working to source other clean manufacturing waste like this – in addition to clean consumer waste, like water bottles – for testing with Gigabot X.
If you are a manufacturer willing to share potential waste streams, or have connections that may be valuable as we search for different plastic sources, we want to hear from you! Contact us at email@example.com and we can talk trash.
At this point in time, our team is working on finalizing the design of Gigabot X as well as creating Simplify 3D printing profiles for a variety of materials for our Kickstarter backers, who recently started receiving their bots. At this time we are taking a limited number of deposits for the next batch of pellet printers, with delivery later this summer.
We will be selling a number of configurations:
- A complete Gigabot X unit. The early release will be $16,950, without an enclosure or additional accessories.
- An upgrade kit to convert a standard Gigabot 3D printer from filament extrusion to pellet extrusion. The early release will be $6,000.
- Just the pellet extruder on its own. The early release will be $3,000.
We are taking $1,000 deposits for early delivery on the product offerings listed above. If you would like to hold your spot in line for the next round of beta units, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.