Recycling Plastic - interview with our RnD expert, Fernando Martelli.
Crunch, melt, cool, spool. Four words which sum up the plastic recycling process that light up engineer Fernando’s enthusiasm, whilst experimenting with his new toy, a Filabot X6 plastic recycling machine. This is serious work though and Fernando has a passion for the process as he states in this interview: ‘All this is new to me and it’s a challenge -to achieve. I love creating stuff. Since I have started here two years ago I have learnt so much about 3D printing.’ He is explaining the latest innovation at pioneering refurbishers Cfa.Ltd. The task: to create plastic filament from recycled plastic which can be used to produce new parts in the 3D printing department. A truly circular process.
CFA founder Leon Lindblad’s vision has always been to create a circular economy where nothing is wasted and everything is re-used. Now the firm has invested in the Filabot, Fernando has been charged with testing and working on the system. This week he has finally produced spools of filament which can be used immediately in the print room. ‘This is great’, he says. ‘ I started up knowing nothing about this and now we are getting to the point where we can buy back PLA from our printer sales to produce more PLA. At CFA we mostly print out computer parts, such as hard drive caddies, but to be honest, at some time in the future I can see us producing our own 3D printers as well! We have a plastic company on our doorstep who have just given us a ton of plastic. We can use this to make our parts. It’s very exciting.’
Is it Energy Efficient?
‘For us here at CFA, yes. We are powered by 250 solar panels and a bio-mass boiler, so all our energy comes from renewables anyway. This just adds extra weight to our mission to create our own in- house circular production cycle. Innovation and experimentation have always been key to our development. These machines are table- top and relatively cheap, compared to the industrial models, which can be the size of two containers. We are one of the first refurbishers to invest in this, so it’s an entirely new skill set for me. I am learning as I go along and have to try, try, try and keep trying, to find the best settings and most efficient way to produce the plastic. I can now produce a spool of filament in about 45 minutes.’
Recycled 3D printer filament sold on Refurbo
How does it work?
Simple. The plastic is put into a shredder and crunched. The Filabot system uses a three stage process with three separate machines. The shredded plastic is melted, cooled and finally spooled into filament ready for 3D printing again. Although the process is simple, getting it right, takes time and patience and plenty of experimenting with the settings, which is why Fernando is so pleased that he is able now to produce good quality filament and should be able to fine tune the process even further. Leon sees a fantastic opportunity for this system to be integrated into schools’ 3D printing - to promote the message of recycling and elimination of waste - so relevant today. CFA will offer a ‘buy back’ free returns service to schools enabling them to send back misprints and offcuts for recycling.
Local and to scale.
We are all used to plonking our plastic waste into a bin, seeing it hauled away to a vast site and never really thinking about what happens to it again. CFA’s innovative approach to the problem of plastic waste shows that the principles of the circular economy: design out waste and keep products and materials in use to maintain the life span of a product can work locally and to scale. CFA is creating an efficient and cost -effective process which ‘cycles technical materials through the system so that their value can be captured and recaptured.’ The use of renewables as well, creates a very pleasing sense of a ‘healthy system’ bring established. This is a very exciting time and Fernando’s enthusiasm and commitment to his part in the process is summed up by his simple answer to the question of how he feels about the work he is doing, ‘I love it.’