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The company I work for is protective of IP and has security procedures for disposing of anything that could be stolen for industrial espionage. Paper gets shredded and sent to trusted recycling center, all old data storage media gets obliterated, but what do we do with 3D prints? For any functional prototype, I have 10 or more early versions and failed prints. Is there a good way to dispose of these so that they are unrecognizable? Given the volume of prints I need to dispose of, it should be safe, cheap, and able to handle large batches.

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    $\begingroup$ I doubt that this is a new problem. Maybe the concern around IP is, but design companies should have solved this decades ago. $\endgroup$ – Sean Houlihane Sep 3 '18 at 22:53
  • $\begingroup$ @SeanHoulihane many design companies destroy prototypes in many ways: some keep a stove to burn their wood/paper prototypes and sketches, others use a waste compactor, others again use old, massive prototypes as stock to machine new, smaller prototypes from. Yet these don't work for 3D printing well $\endgroup$ – Trish Sep 4 '18 at 11:34
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    $\begingroup$ Well, what did you do with prototype models before using 3D printers to produce them? $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Sep 4 '18 at 14:35
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Big batches need you to be time efficient - or use a method that uses little work. So my suggestions are mainly needing oversight. Keep a fire extinguisher and safety gear handy though!

Melting together

Most filaments are melting at or around 200 °C.

I recently got rid of my box of (PLA) waste material by putting them on a tray and melting them together in a standard kitchen oven at 200 °C for about 1-2 hours. The resulting plate of plastic destroyed all structure that could be identified. This plate can be then broken up or recycled without the risk to disclose any company secrets.

I suggest to use a baking paper under the filament to be molten or a teflon coated tray, as the filament will be REALLY sticky to a blank metal surface.

About 4 liters of broken prints resulted in approximately a 5x450x300 mm sheet. If you make sure that no filament can touch the heating elements, you can get rid of quite a lot of material in each batch.

Don't do this with ABS and don't contaminate your food trays with plastic rests - use specially marked ones that are for disposal of prints only.

Green destruction

If you want to be green when destroying prints: a box solar cooker with a glass lid easily runs at 200 °C, is decently cheap and runs all day on just a couple seconds of adjusting every hour or so. You have to set it up in an access restricted area, but as long as the sun shines, it runs pretty much for free. Just make sure to put the prints to be destroyed onto some kind of non-combustible carriers, like tinfoil or aluminium trays.

ABS in Acetone

If you use ABS, exposing it to acetone fumes for a short time (seconds to half a minute will smooth the surface. Give it some minutes can destroy the structure into a batch of plastic waste without heat that hardens as the acetone evaporates again, though complex structures might need as much as an hour. Dunking ABS into acetone results in pure chemical waste, that is just a waste of acetone.

To save acetone and a way to the chemical waste disposal, try this:

Put a batch of several prints into a large, airtight box that isn't made from ABS. Pour some acetone on a tray and add a paper towel to generate a consistent acetone atmosphere in the box. Make sure to keep the tray on the floor of the box but in a way so no print will fall into it. This should dispose of the prints by merging them into a huge lump within about an hour.

Do this outside & keep fire away.

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  • $\begingroup$ The acetone merge system leaves a lot of acetone dissolved in the ABS which will be outgassing for months. If the concern is fumes from the hot ABS, heating in a ventilated oven should be enough. You might consider disposable aluminum trays to hold the plastics and the resulting slabs. I have concerns the three shredder solutions would leave too much information. They are built for separating items into small pieces, not for information hiding. $\endgroup$ – cmm Sep 4 '18 at 23:40
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A plastic shredder machine it's better then a melting/burning solution. It is faster and it doesn't produce fumes. Imagine burning PET bottles.

For the shredder you need nothing but electricity for the motor. For plastic melting it would be much higher consumption. Additionally you could reuse shredded plastic for filament machine like Filastruder or Strooder.

enter image description here

There is a nice article about shredders on 3dhubs from 2015.

Then it depends on your budget. Around 400$ you can build one. A nice tutorial on preciousplastic.com. For 1000$ you can find shredder machines on Alibaba.

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There are industrial shredders that will destroy just about anything. They are not cheap, at least from a hobbyist point of view. You might look into them because they might be right for the size of your company.

Otherwise, you can simply melt them in a hot oven or with a heat gun. I would be careful about getting them too hot because some filaments release toxic fumes when heated and that might pose a hazard risk with potential liability risk.

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If your company has a shredder which would handle large amounts of paper at one time, it should be able to handle the plastics from 3D printing. Most larger shredders can handle paper clips and staples. 3D plastics would be even less of a burden than them. You may need to break the pieces down into smaller chunks, but I doubt it would be an issue. Even destroying most prints by hand shouldn't be too arduous.

Secondarily, you could also melt them using something hot ... a heat gun would probably do the job without issue. They get in excess of 1100°F. Since we usually melt filament at around 200°C (~392°F), a heat gun should be more than hot enough to make it an unrecognizable blob of plastic.

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    $\begingroup$ You can even recycle the failed print to make filament again. One more great use ABS is to make ABS juice. $\endgroup$ – Himanshu Sep 4 '18 at 1:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Himanshu Recycling prints to filament isn't cost-effective, especially so for an engineer working at a company. I also doubt that anyone needs that much ABS juice (to the tune of using up many failed prints). $\endgroup$ – Tom van der Zanden Sep 4 '18 at 7:32
  • $\begingroup$ Heat is the most easy way $\endgroup$ – Trish Sep 4 '18 at 11:21
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My 2 cents. If you have a CNC machine, you could "mill" them down. other than that, garden shredder/mulcher might suffice.

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  • $\begingroup$ PLA is biodegradable, but not in a private compost - you need to put it into an industrial composting setup to destroy it. On the other hand ABS and PC are absolutely not biodegradable, making composting them impossible. Plus, hiding the to be destroyed IP objects in the front garden for months is a lawsuit waiting to happen. Milling down the prints will create a lot of filament shredds and pieces that could give information about some parts of the print if recovered. $\endgroup$ – Trish Sep 5 '18 at 22:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Trish, I never said put it in the garden. After it's shredded, you throw it away. $\endgroup$ – user77232 Sep 6 '18 at 1:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Trish Did you ever saw the shreds of a CNC? I bet you you are not able to reconstruct the original part from it not even parts of that part. And at this point I only talk about only the shreds of one part not multiple milled down parts in on batch of shreds. $\endgroup$ – Horitsu Sep 18 '18 at 4:42
  • $\begingroup$ But using a CNC to shred something down is a missuse of the machine. I blocks the machine for other tasks and just a fine shredder would be better. $\endgroup$ – Horitsu Sep 18 '18 at 4:43

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