I’ve seen some strange 3D printing materials over the last few years, but this is a new one: the tape from a VHS cassette. So VHS, which stands for Video Home System, is a staple for consumer-grade analog video recording on tape cassettes. The home video industry came around in the 1970s, and people were pretty excited to have videocassette recorders (VCRs) on which to watch movies. VHS beat out Betamax to become the major home video format during the tape media years, but as new formats emerged, like LaserDisc and DVD, VHS tapes became less popular. Now many of us, myself included, have huge piles of old VHS tapes sitting around in our homes collecting dust, because we can watch them on Blu-ray or a streaming service, such as Netflix or Hulu, and probably no longer have a working VCR anyway. But Russian maker Brother has a better idea.
“Some people still have home video tapes,” Brother, also called Andrew in a Hackaday post, said in a translated YouTube video. “Let’s give tapes a second life!”
You can access miles of tape from just a few cassettes, and Brother figured out how to use all of that tape as 3D printing filament. He explained that the tape has four to five layers, one of which is magnetic, which he found pretty interesting. It’s pretty easy to remove tape from a VHS by pushing a button on the top left of the cassette, which pops the top open, and then you have to press down in the middle of the back of the cassette to unlock it before you can unwind all of the tape.
So to create the filament itself, Brother used a homemade, purpose-built press to tightly spin the tape from several cassettes into one strand of 3 mm filament, not dissimilar to how someone would spin flax or cotton into yarn. But he had to experiment a little to make sure it didn’t end up being too thick or thin.
“For three millimeter filament, the optimal variant turned out to be ten magnetic tapes,” Brother explained.
In the video, you can see how excited he is to actually handle a magnetic polymer for the first time. When he measured “the passage of electric current” in his homespun filament, he said that while the resistance was high, the current definitely passes.
To test out his filament, Brother used an old Omni 3D printer, and while his first few test pieces certainly didn’t look that pretty, he was able to print them just the same. He then experimented with making more kinds of filament, like one with a 1.75 mm diameter, and testing out different sizes of nozzles in the printer as well. He noted that his filament was pretty strong, and that the resulting electrically conductive prints had a “pleasant to the touch texture.”
“The tape filament needs to be heated higher than a standard 3D printer filament so he prints at a much slower rate, but the resulting product is indistinguishable from a normal print except for the color,” Bryan Cockfield wrote in the Hackaday post. “It has some other interesting properties as well, such as retaining its magnetism from the magnetic tape, and being a little more brittle than PET plastic although it seems to be a little stronger.”
Brother’s final test was to print a tiny cactus pot out of his VHS tape filament, with a print bed heated to 90°, a 255° nozzle, and 80% infill. He printed a couple of finishing touches out of PET plastic from a landfill, and voila! A cactus pot, emblazoned with VHS on the front, 3D printed out of filament made from old VHS tapes.
“While the VHS filament might not be a replacement for all plastic 3D prints, it’s still a great use for something that would likely otherwise head straight to the landfill,” Cockfield concluded.
People made a lot of interesting comments on the Hackaday post, including that the consistency of the tapes is probably what “makes them good feedstock for creating consistent filament,” or if it would be better to magnetize the material after it’s printing, so it works as an actual magnet as opposed to just sticking to one.
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