3D printing promises to revolutionize the way people build, create and use objects. But right now, the technology is still more expensive than most people are willing to pay, and the printing process can generate a lot of plastic waste.
Protocycler was created to answer both problems. Currently on Indiegogo (where it's already reached its $70,000 funding goal), the device recycles old 3D printing material into new filament for new printing jobs. The creators say it can also recycle household plastic trash like soda bottles into filament. Developed by startup ReDeTec, the Protocycler costs $799.
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The Protocycler works a little bit like a 3D printer in reverse:You insert unwanted objects such as botched print jobs, early prototypes, or support materials into the top of the Protocycler, which shreds them into tiny pieces. Protocycler melts down these bits of plastic and passes the mixture through its heated extruder to 3D-print filament the same way a 3D printer uses filament to create other objects.
The Protocycler extrudes this filament at a rate of ten feet a minute, and even spools the filament automatically, so it's easy to re-insert into an actual 3D printer for reuse.
Only 3D printers that can use generic filament spools will be compatible with Protocycler. Printers like 3D Systems' Cube 3, which uses proprietary filament cartridges, will not be able to use material from the Protocycler. However, it's worth noting that 3D Systems does sell the Ekocycle, a variant of its Cube 3 printer that uses cartridges whose filament is comprised of 25 percent recycled bottles.
Although by design it works best with PLA and ABS plastics, the two most common 3D printing materials, ReDeTec says the Protocycler could work with many other types of materials too, including plastic bottles and other recyclable trash. "If your 3D printer can print with it, Protocycler can make it," the Indiegogo page promises.
Protocycler's Indiegogo campaign will continue accepting preorders until January 31. Protocyclers ordered through Indiegogo will ship some time in August 2015.
Protocycler isn't the first device to turn recycling into 3D printing material. The Mobile Fab, created by Taiwan-based designers, is a bicycle-powered combination trash recycler and 3D printer. But Protocycler is much more compact and promises to be more user friendly.
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Jill Scharr is a staff writer for Tom's Guide, where she regularly covers security, 3D printing and video games. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter @JillScharr and on Google+. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.