When the epidemic struck, 3D printing company re:3D had thought about a portable shipping container that would transform recyclable material into useful goods, aligned to their desire of sustainability and circular solutions.
They were using 3D printing PPE kits to help mitigate supply chain disruptions. When they looked into the whole picture, they realized the potential of an off-grid mobile factory with all of the paraphernalia needed for PPE production.
It might be placed outside of hospitals or community facilities, but it might be relocated as needs and resources become available.
So, Gigalab was born.
"It became apparent that a Gigalab might be used for PPE manufacturing, as a space for learning manufacturing skills, or as a factory that recycles waste plastic into 3D printed objects," Charlotte Craff, re:3D ambassador, tellsIE.
The Gigalab, which is true to its makers'' vision, has received numerous compliments.
It includes the tools and the workspace to process particle waste, a granulator to grind up the plastic waste, a dryer to remove water particles from the plastic granules, and finally, Gigabot X 3D printers to print new and useful objects directly from those granules.
The portable garage might turn your trash into treasure, according to the manufacturer.
Why the Gigabot X 3D printer stands out
According to Craff, most plastic-based 3D printers print with a long, continuous strand of plastic, which is stored on a spool before being fed into the printer. An FGF (Fused granulate fabrication) printer like Gigabot X uses plastic pellets, granules, or reground plastic as the "feedstock."
"This increases the amount of materials you may buy, increases the number of plastics you may select, and decreases the heat cycles that are required to recycle the plastic, making it more likely it to be recycled again."
Craff believes that the diversity of plastics that can be recycled by the Gigabot X is right. thermoplastics and composites can be either virgin materials or recycled. Craff claims that Gigalab can grind them down to between 1 and 5 mm diameter pieces, the size that fits in the Gigabot X 3D printers.
To reduce damage during 3D printing, materials must be devoid of contaminants and sorted by type.
"We have tested over 40 different kinds of these thermoplastics on our Gigabot X 3D printer and are now testing more. Depending on how many hours of time they last, we may transition from unneeded 3D printing and support materials to plastic bottles and food containers, to manufacturing waste like plastic caps or test tubes.
Truly a circular solution
The company is currently working on automating a manual process - "making the Gigabot X 3D Printers an integrated system that can granulate plastic, dry it, and automatically feed it into the 3D printer," Craff said.
"We''re also working on solutions to improve the flow of irregular plastic granules as well as being able to granulate water bottles that still have liquid in them."
There are a lot more to come.
The Gigalab is currently being used as a community-based plastic waste recycling option. Could it be eliminated offsite processing?
"3D printers are relatively smaller than injection molding, and if you''re looking to recycle and reuse tons and tons of plastic waste on-site, many Gigalabs would be necessary to do so, thus it might not be the right solution for that," Craff said.
"A Gigalab can be a circular method that transforms the plastic from single-use trash into an item of value," she adds in a rural or isolated area.
All in one place
The company has received several inquiries from rural communities that intend to utilize a Gigalab to collect furniture from trash and island nations that want to process waste and earn income for their communities.
Gigabot X is being used by schools, research labs, industrial design shops, and manufacturers.
"We''d like to partner with more communities who want to teach advanced manufacturing skills while recycling their waste, like we''re going to do in Puerto Rico and at the US Air Force Academy," Craff said.
"We''re currently developing the first Gigalab atEngine-4 in Puerto Rico. Another four Gigalabs are being developed for the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, and they will be installed within the next year," Craff adds.
Re:3D hopes to combine with other manufacturers who want to develop circular plastic solutions for their jobs. Communities may be empowered to design the products they require, such as printing them from their own trash, and co-creating a circular economy.