Our modern world has created a legacy, of sorts, but it's not one we should be proud to call our own. It's the legacy of creating a useful substance which has painful and environmentally unsound drawbacks – plastic.
While quantity of post-consumer plastics which are recycled has increased every year since 1990, in the U.S., post-consumer plastic waste has been estimated at 33.6 million tons while just 2.2 million tons were recycled and 2.6 million tons are burned for energy. That leaves 28.9 million tons of plastic waste discarded into landfills.
Now the folks at SavantUSA are hard at work developing an open source desktop manufacturing machine aimed at addressing that issue and cutting the cost of 3D printing. The Legacy Filament Extruder takes recycled plastic pellets and turns them into something useful – 3D printer filament.
Legacy is based on a design created by an 83-year-old inventor and visionary, Hugh Lyman.
Lyman lives outside Seattle, and until he retired nearly two decades ago, he ran a company which manufactured scientific cabinetry and fume hoods. Now he enjoys some of the typical pursuits of the retired gentleman. A fisherman and golfer, he's also found himself firmly ensconced at the forefront of the maker movement.
But it was his passion for tinkering that led him back into technology. Lyman designed some products and had them made on a 3D printer, and his involvement almost ended there. But a few years later, he saw some of the first kits for inexpensive desktop 3D printers.
He was hooked.
He built his first unit and one thing led to the next. He slowly began to immerse himself in the technology. His interest led him to enter the Desktop Factory Competition, and from there, he began to apply his restless energy to the problems associated with 3D printing.
"Every time I buy a couple of pounds of filament, it costs me forty to fifty bucks," Lyman told Time Magazine. "I was burning through it pretty fast. I would think that at least half the homes in the world will eventually have a 3D printer."
His Lyman Filament Extruder II eventually won the $40,000 first prize.
Enter Elizabeth Hamlin, an inventor, maker and open source advocate in Seattle.
"It started in my local community where I read about Hugh Lyman who had won a contest by building an extruder that turned virgin plastic pellets into usable filament," Hamlin said. "The key point was that you could theoretically build it from parts that cost $250. I researched Mr. Lyman's work and visited him in his workshop. He's a very busy man and was gracious enough to demonstrate the machine for me, along with guiding me towards online resources. He also brought the machine to the WOOF 3D print club at the University of Washington. We hatched a plan to bring the extruder to market, which included his redesigning the machine."
Now for a pledge of $249, you can buy Lyman's groundbreaking device in kit form, which includes motors and electronics to assemble the extruder. For a pledge of $449 or more, you get a fully assembled Legacy Extruder capable of making 1.75mm or 3mm filament.
As part of the project, Hamlin is working to realize her vision of collection sites in all 50 states and around the world where people can take in their plastics for recycling, and then trade them for credits which can be used to purchase pellets, filament, or 3D printing services. For every 5 extruders purchased through the campaign, one will be sent to Protoprint, a nascent maker movement operating in India, Africa or Haiti.