Drill bit testing for a HDPE extruder.

Now that I have a small supply of food grade HDPE granules, my next task is to find a way of extruding it. I should point out that I’m not concerned with building an extruder that’s compact enough to go directly on a Mendel. At least not at this stage. Instead, I am looking to build something that is reliable enough that it can produce a filament of plastic which can then be spooled and later used for a traditional pinch feed extruder. This gives me the freedom to make it any size or shape that works best.

Not wanting to reinvent the wheel, I did some quick research on the topic of granular extrusion to see what stage the rest of the reprap community is up to.

The most useful links that I found were;

The general concept is to use some mechanical means to compress the plastic granules into a heated chamber and forcing them through a nozzle. Two different methods of compressing the granules was discussed; compression by a piston and by a auger.

Some good points were made about the piston method in the comments from Adrian’s discussion. Most importantly, with a single piston it would be difficult to produce a filament of even thickness and it would be unable to let the air escape from around the granules as they were compressed. So I decided to pursue the idea of the auger, which is used extensively in industry for plastic extrusion.

People who have experimented with augers thus far include Adrian, who constructed his own auger and the students from Delft University, who had theirs machined from a rod of aluminium.

Neither method seemed very backyard shed friendly so I decided to do my own experiments using a drill bit as an auger. In my shed I found a large drill bit and a section of pipe that fit it snugly. I then curt a half section out the pipe to allow granules to enter.

A drill bit and steel pipe.

Using an empty plastic cordial bottle I made an impromptu granule hopper and by turning the drill by hand tried to get the granules to pass through. Despite the granules of HDPE having an extremely low coefficient of friction the drill bit was very hard to turn by hand. This seemed to be due to the granules entering the pipe getting compressed against the opening.

What the drill looked like inserted into the pipe.

This set-up obviously wasn’t working so I instead used an empty soda bottle bottle top as a hopper to try and copy the method of feeding the granules used by the Delft students.


This worked very well, with near no resistance and a constant flow of granules. By placing the opening of the pipe flush against the bottom of a bucket I was able to feel the upwards pressure created as the granules collected at the base.

From playing around with this drill bit and reading other peoples work I think my own design will have the following:

  • Use a longer, shallower threaded auger bit such as this one.
  • Use a stainless steel pipe for the auger housing for its low thermal conductivity and ware resistance.
  • Use a copper or brass hot end for its high thermal conductivity and high temperature corrosion resistance.
  • Use an all metal feeder such as the Delft students one.
  • Have the drill bit only extend as far as the stainless steel pipe so that it stays well below the HDPE’s Tg.
  • Use some form of heat sinking on the stainless steel pipe to help keep the drill bit cool and provide a sharp thermal gradient at the copper/stainless steel pipe interface.
  • Use an old cheap drill press that I have to old the drill bit and turn it by hand during testing.

So once my exams are over next week I will be off to the local tip shop to try and rustle up these parts.

As a final note, I have also started to order parts relating to my Mendel build which I have listed on a new page here.

About Richard

I am a Materials Engineering working in the field of Magnetic Materials in Melbourne, Australia. This blog covers my personal interest in all things CNC.
This entry was posted in DIY Granular extruding and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Drill bit testing for a HDPE extruder.

  1. Eric says:

    I need to make batches of seawater using salt mix like “Instant Ocean Reef Crystals”. I have a controller that fills a barrel with R/O DI water automatically but I still need to add the salt by hand. A screw conveyor like what you show with the drill bit might be the answer. I can control the salt amounts by a separate controller and a conductivity probe to determine salinity. I would want slow feed, maybe a cup per minute so i can control the total easily by using on/off switching. e.g feed a small mount and wait for conductivity to stabilize, if low repeat. Typical mix is 1/2 cup per gallon and my barrel is about 40 gallons. The barrel has constant water circulation via a small submersible pump. I’d be interested to get your comments and ideas on building a device to feed salt.

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