Here we are at the end of another calendar year, and as usual, we would like to take a minute to look back, reflect, recap and share with our readers some of the highlights from the past twelve months.
Of course, no year in review would be complete without a mention of the pandemic that has become a fixture in all of our lives. As a COVID precaution, at the beginning of 2021, our team was fragmented, working full or part-time from home with engineers coming into work in shifts to try to minimize exposure. Like almost everyone had to, we got used to communicating and having meetings over video conferences- but we were happy to all return to the office in June after team members were able to get vaccinated. We are lucky to work from a state with the lowest COVID numbers in the country, and our team remained healthy through the year. As a relatively small team at our research and development headquarters, we are hopeful we will be able to remain in person through the course of the winter to come.
Filabot celebrated its ten-year anniversary this month, a milestone worth celebrating! A decade after its inception, the mission statement of diverting waste plastic streams into functional 3D printing feedstock is as relevant as ever, especially as industrial applications for additive manufacturing become increasingly common. This past year we invested more time into prototyping systems particularly for recycling PET into filament, though we have not yet released a product to market to help consumers with this process, we hope this year’s labors in this area will perhaps bear fruit in 2022. As a common material for soda, juice, and water bottles, there is a great deal of interest in being able to extrude it into filament, though the extrusion process itself is, unfortunately, more complex than many thermoplastics. Stay tuned for further developments there!
2021 saw additional growth and expansion of Filabot’s extrusion testing services, through which we assist clients in determining the validity of different polymers for filament creation. Though the vast majority of these tests are confidential through the protection of NDAs, suffice to say that the full spectrum of materials and additives was quite astonishing and an unending source of discovery in the filament lab. Filabot continues to strive to be an authority on extrusion variables and to assist those looking to further the field of material studies in 3D printing. Our other focus of study this year was in VOCs, what we believe to be an understudied yet crucially important field to understand to keep 3D printing safe for end-users. We sent samples of the pellets we supply on our website to independent labs for testing for VOC content and invested in sensors to utilize during material testing to measure overall VOC concentration at the point of extrusion. We partnered with Fumex, manufacturers of portable fume extraction units, in order to supply an option for customers who want to limit their exposure to VOCs during extrusion.
In the realm of new products, earlier this year we released a metal spool specifically designed for use with polymers that require higher temperatures than the melt temp for typical plastic spools. Additionally, we are preparing to bring an alternative cooling solution for the extrusion line to market in the first quarter of the new year- think water! We have also been busy behind the scenes working on accessories that will continue to make the extrusion process more automated and hands-free, which we are very excited to announce in the near future.
Filabot’s sister brand, Massive Dimension, had (if you’ll forgive the pun) a big year. In the first quarter, we released our second large-format pellet extruder, the MDPE10. The MDPE10 features five times the output of the MDPH2, a longer screw and barrel assembly, a more powerful servo motor, and customizable screw options to match different polymers. Additionally, we released the MDMCU- an automated pellet feeding system for either of the extruders in our line-up. The MDMCU is a real game-changer for running extended prints even up to multiple days long without needing any babysitting.
We expanded the MD lab to include material testing services much like what Filabot offers, running untried materials for clients on our large-format printers. We created a test bench specifically for these trials, with a data acquisition card pulling information such as torque, screw speed, and heat zone temperatures and plotting them through the course of the test. We hope to expand the data we are able to capture in the next year by adding criteria such as melt flow pressure and polymer temperature at the point of extrusion. Much of our personal experiments in the lab were involved with printing directly from regrind, an endeavor closely aligned with the mission statement of Filabot and highly desirable as a way of making recycled materials more appealing to the general public as a printer feedstock. We are releasing an accessory in the first quarter of 2022 that was designed to help make printing directly from regrind particles more reliable!
In September, Massive Dimension went to the Fabtech convention in Chicago and teamed up with ABB Robotics to create a robotic 3D printing cell. Featuring an ABB IRB 4400 with an MDPH2 extruder and using a rotary table as a seventh axis of movement, the demonstration was a huge success and we hope to put more Massive Dimension extruders on ABB industrial robots in the future. More exciting news on that front to come in the New Year as well! Between movement systems and heated beds, we hope in 2022 to transition to providing complete and custom printing solutions for additive manufacturing needs.
All things considered, and pandemic woes aside, the team at Filabot/ Massive Dimension feels like 2021 treated us pretty well. We are excited to continue our various lines of research and continue testing and innovating ways to move forward within the world of 3D printing. We are incredibly grateful to have the support of all of our readers and product users who help keep us motivated! Thanks so much for following along, see you next year!