For the team behind design technology company ReDeTec, the mandate from Day 1 has always been to “make awesome things.” Now, thanks to the help of one young Whistlerite, the rest of us can join in on the fun too.
Twenty-three-year-old Alex Kay is a Whistler Secondary School alum on the ground floor of what some futurologists are calling the spark that will light “the third industrial revolution”: 3D printing. Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing uses computer modeling to synthesize materials into three-dimensional objects.
As the technology has grown more affordable, 3D printers have become accessible to the average consumer. But the price of plastic filament — the “ink” used by 3D printers — has remained costly. That’s where Kay and his former UBC classmates come in.
“As a senior design project, we decided to solve two problems: the cost and the waste (of 3D printing),” explained Kay.
Kay and fellow ReDeTec founder Dennon Oosterman went on to develop a machine that recycles plastic filament back into usable form. The ProtoCycler, which retails for $700, grinds scraps of plastic — including water bottles and coffee lids — into reusable pellets that are melted, extruded and wound back onto the printer’s spool. It’s an innovation that is not only cutting costs and reducing waste, but allows for designers to reuse discarded 3D models without worrying about churning through expensive filament.
“Now it’s so simple for people to go and make something without having to make sure the design is perfect or whether it’s actually something they want," Kay said. “It’s especially useful for people who aren’t really doing it for design but are just making little trinkets that they don’t want anymore.”
The potential implications for the design world are massive.
“You look at 3D printer sales and the growth of the industry over the past five years and it’s gigantic and continues to grow at an exponential rate,” said Kay. “Every single person with a 3D printer… every one of them could benefit from this (product).”
The industry hasn’t failed to take notice, either. ReDeTec counts a former Dell Canada CEO as an advisor and caught the eye of multinational design firm Autodesk, which donated thousands of dollars worth of software to the company, while the ProtoCycler was featured in a recent issue of Popular Science.
“It’s largely just been pretty astonishing,” said Kay of the flurry of recent attention.
But Kay and his colleagues have their sights set beyond the manufacturing industry.
“We see this product’s embodiment in schools because schools are shifting more and more into 3D printing,” he said. “We see 3D printers becoming standard in all high schools, universities and even elementary schools over the next five years.”
The company is already in talks with several Canadian schools interested in using the ProtoCycler, and Kay hopes 3D printing will become a regular part of school curriculum in the near future.
The ProtoCycler is available for preorder now at www.redetec.com.
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