Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Trash to Treasure Fabrication Facility

The Ely Shoshone Tribe (EST) needs to focus on projects that promote self reliance, sustainability, adaptive potential, and profit potential.

There is a world-wide “maker” movement developing a set of fabrication processes that help on all of these issues. However, most makers are individuals, without the time to fully realize all of the possible potential of a small factory.

I recommend that the EST consider helping start a facility utilizing a number of small, relatively inexpensive tools together to create a fabrication facility for custom and small factory output.

The parts built could be made of various plastics, aluminum, copper, brass, silver, gold, and other low melting temperature metals.

Consider this:
80% of the plastic made today does not get recycled.
Which means there is a huge potential free feedstock for recycled plastic components.

Those components could be cast, milled, or 3D printed – and castings made from them can be used to cast metal parts. (Moreover, the aluminum parts could be made from aluminum scrap.) Home-built tool designs exist online that inexpensively accomplish these tasks.

As it may sound; this is too big a project for any individual to handle on their own. It should be done as a cooperative.

I can help.

I am willing to purchase a LulzBot TAZ 6 3D printer (cost $2500) as part of my buy-in to the cooperative.

But I need a facility, help collecting recycled plastic, help building the plastic recycling tools, resources to build those tools, and help operating the facility.

This should not be a substantial burden on the EST. But I need the help of Tribal members and/or students to realize this dream.

If there is an interest, please let me know.
Rick Spilsbury
Preliminary Technical Overview

I would like to see this project function as a cooperative. So, rather than tell you what to do, I'd prefer to point out the issues and we can work them out together.

1. First things first; a fabrication shop needs needs a location. I think one of the buildings behind the Charter School would be ideal. In part, because we could work together with the students.

2. A fab shop needs something to fabricate. And used plastic is free. If we could explain what we were doing to the school, the students might be willing to bring us their waste plastic for recycling – and help us sort it by putting each type of plastic in its respective box.

3. The plastic needs to be processed for storage and use – shred. That means we need a shredder. The website PreciousPlastic.com has plans for building a thermoplastic shredder. The design is rather straightforward, but welding skills and fab shop tools are temporarily required. I believe someone in town has a plasma cutting table. So, cutting the components is something that can be outsourced. I can help by sourcing components and assembling the shredder assembly. Or, we could buy a shredder at retail price from Filabot.com for $4200.

4. At this point, we pretty much have to figure out what we want to make first. PreciousPlastic.com also has instructions for building a compressor oven, an injection molder, and an extruder.
a. A compressor oven works best on large and more solid objects. Additionally, those solid objects could be later carved into masterpieces in a CNC milling machine.
b. Injection molding can create many complex parts quickly, but require molds. One option is for a CNC milling machine to cut these molds from aluminum. The other option is to “lost wax” cast the molds from hand-carved foam, CNC milled wax, or 3D printed PLA plastic. This gives us an option to save money. We can make complex injection molds with either a CNC milling machine or a 3D printer. Initially, we don't need both.
c. An extruder could make filament for 3D printers – which might make us money the quickest and/or save us a lot of money on our own 3D prints. But we would have to buy a spooler. A spooler from Filabot.com costs $1200. And if we don't want to build our own extruder, its retail cost is $2500.

5. Now it's time to brainstorm. What would you like to build?
I would like to build:
  • an aluminum bracket to mount a ski to the front fork of a fat mountain bike (combined with an electric hub motor, this would be a hybrid human powered snowmobile).
  • aluminum bicycle, kickbike, and scooter lugs (that could be glued to any tube material to make custom fitted rides right in a retailer's store)
  • Custom designed jewelry
  • lego/puzzle designed plastic components to construct custom recycled plastic furniture (bookcases, desks, drawers, and cabinets)
  • custom shoe soles
  • aluminum components of suspensions attached to frames of a hybrid human powered ATV
  • brass and recycled plastic belt buckles
  • hollow translucent greenhouse bricks

Your turn.
Go ahead and be artsy.
For instance; melted aluminum can be poured into the cracks of wood to make beautiful furniture, picture frames, etc.


  • The people who buy recycled plastics often want to show it off.
  • Some plastics can be used in place of wood.
  • Existing physical shapes can be 3D scanned.
  • Anything designed with CAD software will be easier to modify.
  • Some 3D printed designs cannot be replicated in castings.
  • Anything 3D printed or CNC milled will take significantly longer to produce.
  • Neither the recycled plastics nor the recycled aluminum will be as strong as materials specifically made for the item. (Which means they will have to be designed slightly heavier.)
  • Anything cast from metal will require a kiln.

6. Which brings us to the subject of how to fire the castings and melt the metals. I think a kiln in the far back end of the parking lot behind the buildings behind the School is a great location. Far away enough to not be dangerous, but close enough to conveniently utilize in school projects. It would be fired by propane. But I have seen wood fired rocket stoves online. (And maybe someday we could make our own hydrogen to fire it.) A kiln could also be used to fire pottery. (If someone local has experience with kilns, that would sure be nice.)

7. Components can be designed on anyone's computer with free CAD software. Which means build requests could come in from anywhere. Moreover, many designs are available for download.

8. By having the capacity to construct our own components gives us the capacity to build our own machines. OpenSourceEcology.org has collected what they call a “Global Village Construction Set” - a set of easy fabrication DIY plans for 50 low cost industrial machines. They are sharing these designs online for free – with the hopes that we can build small, sustainable civilizations with modern comforts.

Proposed Business Structure

As with most businesses, there will be no income initially. Tools will need to be purchased. Work will need to be done. And on top of that, we will need to organize into a functional group.

Unlike most businesses, cooperatives are democratic institutions. Which means, without someone to order us around, we need to write by-laws before we can start. But of course, that means there has to be a “we.”

If EST tribal members are interested in forming a limited liability corporation manufacturing cooperative, please call me, Rick Spilsbury, at 775-235-7557.

I hope to run the Fabrication Shop something like a library. Use of the shop will be shared amongst cooperative members. Non-members can pay rent to use the Fab Shop. Contracted work will have to be figured out as needed.

As with most cooperatives, there will be a buy-in fee to provide the cooperative with start-up funds. And as with most cooperatives, you don't have to be a member to help out. But if you help out enough, your labor counts towards your membership fee.

The ultimate pay off for this project should be self-sufficiency and respectable long-term earnings. But initially, we will need help from the EST. We have no money for rent. And building the machines to recycle plastic and cast aluminum will take money – even though we will be making them from “junkyard” parts.

If there are talented people in the EST who want to help with the welding and construction of the machines and kiln, we're set. But if not, we will have to either find others willing to help, or pay others willing to help.

I estimate initial costs will run in the low thousands – depending upon what tools we invest in. To make complex parts, we will need either a 3D printer or a CNC milling machine. However, initially; we could carve simple parts out of wax or foam by hand – and then use lost wax casting techniques to make molds.

Which means; with a little help and a lot of participation we could be fabricating parts and arts up to a little bigger than a basketball – out of plastics and low melting temperature metals. The profits will be shared fairly. And not only will some EST members be employed, but they may also receive on the job training.

This project will promote self-reliance by setting up manufacturing on Tribal land.
This project will promote sustainability by recycling unused plastic and aluminum waste.
This project will assist our adaptive potential by providing tools to build most anything solid (within it's size and material limits).
And this project will assist profit potential for artists, mechanics, inventors, and manufacturers.

We can turn trash into treasure, make money, and maybe even export goods from White Pine County. The technology to do this is now affordable. The skills required to draw a CAD (Computer Aided Drafting) description of your part are not that hard to learn. And moreover, we can have fun making things we cannot buy.

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