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Sustainable and Creative: Producing Your Own Filament With ProtoCycler – Interview with Dennon Oosterman

The Canadian company ReDeTec was established right at the beginning of the 3D printing boom in 2014 with the aim of addressing the prevalent issue of material waste associated with the technology – from prototypes to failed prints and support structures. This led to the creation of ProtoCycler, a desktop filament extrusion system that empowers users to produce their own filament for 3D printing, recycle 3D printing waste, and explore the production of innovative plastic filaments. In an interview with 3Druck.com, CEO Dennon Oosterman shares his insight into the materials sector and comments on the current and prospective state of the 3D printing industry.

ReDeTec recognised that 3D printing represented an extraordinary technology, enabling individuals to swiftly and effortlessly bring their concepts to life. This made it a perfect fit for rapid prototyping, benefiting both the corporate world and educational sector, where ideas could be created, tested, and improved upon far more rapidly than ever before. However, as 3D printing grew as an industry, it became clear that the very nature of rapid prototyping – along with rafting and support structures – meant that the majority of output from a 3D printer ended up as waste. 

The company created ProtoCycler to solve this problem, by allowing schools and businesses to recycle their 3D printing waste – whether that be old or failed prints, rafting, support material, etc – into new filament, to be used again and again. This allows customers to create as many prototypes as they want, without worrying about the cost or waste incurred. As an added benefit, creating your own filament allows you to exactly control the material properties. For instance, you can ensure that your PLA is 100% pure with no toxic additives that are commonly found in ‘off the shelf’ spools, or blend colourants to get the exact custom colour needed. Ultimately this means that ProtoCycler allows 3D printing to be more affordable, more sustainable, and more creative.

The company’s latest model, the ProtoCycler V3, features patented MixFlow hardware and digitally controlled filament diameter regulation. Its advanced software allows precise extrusion control while experimenting with polymers.

Interview with Dennon Oosterman

In an interview with 3Druck.com, Dennon Oosterman, CEO of ReDeTec, highlights the benefits of a filament extrusion system for 3D printing and discusses the current challenges and future prospects of the additive manufacturing sector.

In your opinion, what is the significance of filament extrusion systems for research and education within the field of additive manufacturing? 

Filament extrusion systems allow additive manufacturing to fulfil its promise of truly unlimited creativity. Without the ability to recycle or create your own custom filament, you are always limited in what your designs can be – each spool of filament costs money, generates waste, and is limited in the material and colours offered by a manufacturer. Filament extrusion and recycling systems such as ProtoCycler remove these limitations – you can print as much as you want, in exactly the polymer and colour you desire, without limitation.

Image: ReDeTec

Additive manufacturing has developed continuously over the last few years. Which innovations or technological breakthroughs do you consider to be particularly important in the field of materials? 

I think the most important change in the past decade or so is the transition away from styrene based plastics like ABS and HIPS, towards “safer” plastics like PLA and PETg. When we first started ReDeTec, almost everyone wanted ABS – now it’s all PLA and some PETg, because you can have prints that perform just as well, but without worrying about fumes.  While it doesn’t seem very exciting on the surface, these changes mean that additive manufacturing can now be safely used in classrooms and small businesses, who don’t have dedicated lab space or fume hoods required for more toxic plastics. The ability for anyone – children, educators, hobbyists, etc – to use additive manufacturing where it’s most convenient, is a massive step forward for the industry.

First Corona and now high inflation are major challenges for the whole industry. How do you think the multiple crises will affect the additive manufacturing industry? 

The pandemic, and the inflation we’ve seen since, have both been difficult for the additive manufacturing industry and beyond. Many businesses have had to change their business model and adapt to the new challenges we now face as an industry. However, I think there is actually some silver lining from both the pandemic and the current economic challenges like inflation. With the pandemic in particular, it became very clear how important it is to be able to produce locally, and to be able to change production as quickly as possible to meet rapidly changing customer needs. This is exactly what additive manufacturing is best at! Similarly, the economic challenges we face right now are disrupting the manufacturing industry in a big way, and everyone from startups to Fortune 500 businesses are re-examining how they produce their goods. With new industrial level additive manufacturing solutions like Mosaic Manufacturing’s “Array” systems, there is a real opportunity for businesses to embrace additive manufacturing as a new way to generate value for their customers, which ultimately helps the whole additive manufacturing ecosystem.

What impact do you think additive manufacturing will have on different industries and possibly society as a whole in the coming years? 

I think the past decade has brought us most of the way through the Gartner Hype Curve – we had the initial explosion in 3D printing (“peak of enlightenment”), the realisation that it can’t be all things to all people (“trough of disillusionment”), and the maturation of the market as various industries found out where exactly additive manufacturing could provide true value (“slope of enlightenment”). Going forward, I think the additive manufacturing industry is going to slowly but surely grow to be a dominant force in the world. This is particularly true when we look at how many students, from University all the way down to Kindergarten, are being exposed to 3D printing. In the coming years, more and more of the workforce will have grown up with 3D printing, and know how valuable it can be – so we’ll start to see mass adoption across a number of different industries.

Here you can find out more about ReDeTec and ProtoCycler V3.

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