Busy Retiree’s Filament Extruder Wins Fabrication Competition

3D Printing & Imaging
Busy Retiree’s Filament Extruder Wins Fabrication Competition

3D printing holds great promise for prototyping and small-volume production, but it has the potential for high volume production as well.  Over time, the software interfaces that control these machines will improve, the number of files available for printing will increase exponentially, and the precision of the machines will be indistinguishable from parts made on an injection molding machine.  However, to become competitive with conventional manufacturing processes, the unit cost of each part produced by 3D printers must be reduced.

Low-cost 3D printing, including Up! Plus, Makerbot’s Replicator II, Cubify, Printrbot, Solidoodle, and the Ultimaker, range in price from $399-$2200. These machines require extruded plastic filament that costs about $40-$54 per kg. This is between 5-10 times the cost of the raw resin pellets.  Last year, at Maker Faire in San Mateo, we launched a global competition to find ways to reduce the cost of producing parts on a 3D printer that uses plastic filament as its feedstock.

Lesa MitchellZach KaplanAnnMarie Thomas
Lesa Mitchell of Kauffman Foundation, Zach Kaplan of Inventables, Ann Marie Thomas of Maker Education Initiative, 

The competition was a designed as a prospective prize. This meant the reward went to the first team or individual to successfully meet all the critera. The open call to the world offered a prize that included $40,000 cash provided by the Kauffman Foundation through the Maker Education Initiative, and a 3D printer, Shapeoko CNC Mill, and a desktop laser cutter provided by Inventables.

Here were the rules:

The first team/person to build an open source filament extruder for less than $250*(calculation details below) in components can take ABS or PLA resin pellets, mix them with colorant, and extrude enough 1.75mm diameter +/- .05mm filament that can be wrapped on a 1kg spool.  The machine must use the Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0).

At Inventables we will verify the BOM posted matches the machine sent. We will verify we can order all the parts from suppliers in an attempt to build it ourselves. We will then run the machine and verify it meets the criteria listed on the challenge. After we are done with the evaluation we will send the machine back if you wish.

The competition will end when the first person sends in a valid solution. If the clock runs out before then we will likely extend the time frame. The decision will be based on what the state of the art solutions for 3D printers look like at that time.

The winner of the competition will be objectively determined by the first one to upload a solution to the iStart website.

Thirty eight teams registered to compete. We received three fully assembled functional machines and one of the three met all the criteria stated in the contest.

Inventor Hugh Lyman
Inventor Hugh Lyman

The winner was Hugh Lyman, an 83 year old retiree who lives in the greater Seattle metropolitan area. Hugh has been designing and manufacturing products and devices almost his entire life. He owned a manufacturing company with up to 100 employees that he sold in 1996. These days he spends most of his time inventing in his home workshop below, along with golfing and fishing. Time.com had a story about him and the contest today.

Hugh Lyman's Workshop
Hugh Lyman’s Workshop

Hugh has built and rebuilt his own 3D printer several times. He has also built a small pad-binding machine that he sells online. When Hugh saw the competition he thought it would be a fun challenge that he could tackle. I had dinner with Hugh and his wife last Saturday and his wife Jeanne said, “he never stops.” She explained that working on his projects keeps him young. For someone 83 years young, Hugh is sharp as a tack. The machine is called the Lyman Extruder, which is shown below in a diagram and photo.

Lyman Extruder Diagram
Lyman Extruder Diagram
Lyman Filament Extruder
Lyman Filament Extruder

The Lyman Filament Extruder extrudes filament from pellets for use in a 3D Printer. It can extrude 1.75mm and 3mm filament with easy nozzle exchange. The material cost is about $250.  You pour the pellets into the black cup and it is slowly mixed and fed. He used an auger drill bit to do the mixing. To my surprise, despite the short distance when I ran the tests, I used a let-down ratio of about 2% red pellets and it yielded a consistently light red color filament that was in spec.

Here’s Hugh’s video of the machine in action:

YouTube player

Hugh has released a second version of the machine and we’ve already seen other folks improve the design like this.

This competition is evidence that the R&D labs of the future are not only inside the walls of major corporations and research labs. It demonstrates that by identifying a clear need and presenting a clear incentive people all over the world can help develop solutions. The clarity encouraged people to participate who might not have seen the problem, but were willing to experiment with possible solutions.  Hugh’s success here is evidence that anyone regardless of age can develop and reduce to practice ideas and inventions in their house.  Digital fabrication tools are going to distribute production but they are also distributing R&D.  The R&D lab of the future is borderless and resides with those that have interest.  As of the publishing of this post Hugh’s design has been downloaded by 10,484 people all around the world.

Zach Kaplan Presenting Award to Hugh Lyman in Seattle
Zach Kaplan Presenting Award to Hugh Lyman in Seattle at MakerHaus.

Zach Kaplan is the CEO of Inventables.

14 thoughts on “Busy Retiree’s Filament Extruder Wins Fabrication Competition

  1. Roy Jacobsen says:

    Congrats to Lyman! I can’t help windering, though: is there any reason a 3D printer can’t work directly from resin pellets?

    1. no says:

      speed. I imagine it is much more difficult to change the speed of this extruder and still get consistent results. a 3d printer needs to be able to start and stop the filament quickly and accurately, and also control how fast exactly the plastic is extruded. This has none of those requirements, it just has to extrude filament, it doesn’t need to stop or start, and up to a point it doesn’t really matter how fast or slow it is.

  2. Anthony Liekens says:

    Unfortunately, a link to the design & source for the Lyman extruder is missing from the article, so here it is for the lazy ones: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:34653

  3. JesseKrembs (@JesseKrembs) says:

    Isn’t this basically a filabot? (http://filabot.com/)

    1. danny says:

      yes and no…

      yes in so far as the filament extruding bit works in the same way.

      no in that it has no grinder to create pellets,
      no in as far as it’s actually working, whilst the filabot is still in a “may be released one day” state
      no in as far as one of the competition rules was that is had to be sub $200 build price. -whilst the filabot will almost certainly be more.

    2. thantik says:

      The filabot is a much crappier version that doesn’t run nearly as fast, and has merely relied on kickstarter and the echo-chamber of the media world to make it a more common name, despite being a horrible failure.

      The Lyman Filament Extruder, The Filastruder, etc all surpassed the Filabot _ages_ ago (at least ages at the pace that 3D printing is moving at).

  4. Felice says:

    I checked the BOM and the prices of the different components. Looks like he ordered 200 pieces for each item. If you try to order only the quantity needed for one machine it became more expensive.
    However the machine is nice.

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Zach Kaplan

Zach Kaplan is the founder and CEO of Inventables. He founded the company in 2002 and bootstrapped it until 2009. A maker his whole life, he is on a mission to ignite digital manufacturing world wide and provide everyone with ambition a way to get started. Named a “modern Leonardo” by the Museum of Science and Industry, his dream is create a world with 2 million digital manufacturers that have raving fans, not customers.

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