Winners Of James Dyson Award Build Machine That Turns Plastic Bottles Into 3D Printer Filament

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On the website of the James Dyson Award, it explains that it is ‘an international design award that celebrates, encourages and inspires the next generation of design engineers.’ Moreover, it also shares that it is ‘a chance for budding inventors to make a name for themselves,’ while also providing them with an opportunity to win a significant cash prize and media exposure to help them propel their career forward.

Moreover, the James Dyson Award goes to someone that ‘designs something that solves a problem.’ Which is why it came as no surprise when these two rather young co-inventors took home the grand prize for their innovative design since it solved not just one problem, but two.

Swaleh Owais and Reiten Cheng designed a Polyformer machine with two goals in mind. One was to tackle plastic waste, while the other was to turn it into low-cost filament for 3D printing, solutions that would both benefit many developing and poor countries wallowing in seas of waste and landfill problems.

More often than not, 3D printer filament is rather expensive for both creators and hobbyists, especially for those that live in developing countries, which is also where plastic waste is at its worst.

As for Owais, a student of McMaster University in Canada, explained that the cost of importing the standard roll of 3D printer filament into Rwanda was sold for more than $60. But in Canada, you can buy the same amount – which is around 1 kilo or 2.2 pounds per roll – for just a fraction of that price.

Their creation, the Polyformer machine, has the ability to convert a standard 500ml plastic bottle, or ½ quart size, into a ¾ ounce of print filament, which is roughly 20 grams.

In addition to this, the Polyformer’s design is also considered an open-source project. This means that rather than getting a patent for their design, Owais and Cheng chose to release all the needed code, CAD, and building instructions via their public team discord website so that anyone that needs it can put it together for themselves.


Cheng, who studied at the ArtCenter College of Design in California, said “We want people from around the world to be able to access Polyformer, which is why we’ve made it open to all. We’ve also designed it so that you can use a 3D printer to print many parts of the machine, or if desired, purchase the parts as needed.”

Within the Polyformer community all over the world, there are approximately 1,500 active people who have built around 30 or so machines in such countries like Rwanda, France, Mexico, Spain, Germany, Canada, Paraguay and the United States.

With the custom bottle cutter mechanism of the machine, the user takes a plastic bottle and cuts it into one continuous strip. This is then fed into the extruder of the Polyformer machine. When the filament is ejected from the nozzle, it’s cooled then eventually wrapped around the spool. Then, it can be inserted into any FDM 3D printer.

According to the founder and chief engineer at Dyson, Sir James Dyson, who is responsible for reinventing the vacuum many decades ago, even chose the winners of the award himself.

Dyson shared, “By turning used plastic bottles into 3D printer filament, Polyformer helps reduce the amount of waste going to landfill. Their idea will provide new opportunities for other inventors to prototype their ideas using 3D printing.”

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According the award winners, they have decided to use their $40,000 prize money to send several Polyformers to their partner maker-spaces in Rwanda. That’s because these amazing machines will allow the local students, designers and makers access to low-cost 3D printer filament while also keeping more plastic bottles out of landfills at the same time.

“James Dyson is a personal hero to both of us. We have been actively following the James Dyson Award for our entire academic career, and are keen to follow in his footsteps of designing elegant and useful products,” said Cheng.

See more about their invention in the video below:


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