Trash to treasure: Bicycle brings 3D printing to Taiwan streets

Mon Mar 17, 2014 4:45am EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Michael Gold

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Cycling through the streets of Taiwan's capital, staff from a design company turn discarded plastic cups and bottles into pieces of art on the spot with Mobile Fab - an ordinary bike kitted out with a computer and 3D printer.

"We wanted to do something to bring both recycling and 3D printing closer to average people," said Kamm Kai-yu, a co-founder of the Taipei-based company Fabraft.

Festooned with pumps, wires, tubes and display panels, the Mobile Fab cuts the plastic into strips before grinding it into fine powder. The operators feed the powder into the 3D printer on the front of the bike, using it as the "ink" to create a small medallion they attach to a colored light.

People who bring plastic items to the roving lab wait a couple of hours for the trash to be turned into art. The medallion is meant to attach to the spokes of a bike wheel but can be worn in any way the person pleases.

It's given free as long as the person provides the plastic.

Almost any design can be printed but the medallion is the team's standard output. One of the few limitations is that the printer can only use polypropylene, or No.5 plastic, due to the different melting points of various plastics.

Kamm and three colleagues at Fabraft, all 20-something graduates of design or art schools, are adherents of the "Maker" movement that brings a do-it-yourself spirit back to hardware after so much start-up attention was focused on software.

Motivational slogans including "Keep Calm and Make Things" and "Make What You Love, Love What You Make" adorn the walls of their garage-style workshop.   Continued...

Kamm Kai-yu (R), a co-founder of boutique design studio Fabraft, displays a bicycle with a 3D printer installed in front, in Taipei March 13, 2014. REUTERS/Patrick Lin