What Does PLA Stand For In 3D Printing?

If you have an interest in 3D printing, then it is essential to know of the specific properties. 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) is the process of creating three-dimensional objects using a computer design. These objects are formed layer by layer in a 3D printer and, depending on the size of the object, can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an entire week to complete.

What Does PLA Stand For In 3D Printing

You would often find big and established companies using the 3D printer such as Ford and BMW, and they use this device in order to create prototypes of car parts and fixtures. Although made in the 1980s, it was on in the mid 2000s that the 3D printer saw a surge in popularity. People were starting to see the appeal of such device as in 2009 when the FDM patent fell to the public domain, there was more access for companies to 3D printing.

We take a look at the PLA, its properties and what to use it for.

What Is PLA?

PLA is an abbreviation of the word Polylactic Acid and is a type of polyester made from fermented plant starch – this can include sugarcane, maize, and corn.

This polyester material is used for a variety of things, but its main purpose is to manufacture plastic film and bottles. PLA is also great for the manufacturing of biodegradable devices such as pins and screws.

PLA is a bioplastic and is one of the basic materials used in 3D printing technology. What makes PLA so appealing, however, is how it is economically produced from renewable resources. As well as this, the PLA parts can also take on a number of different colors creating that versatile finish.

PLA vs ABS

When people hear about PLA it is easy to also contort your mind into thinking of ABS but what is the difference?

Both of the filaments are very popular for 3D printing and hold some similarities. However, there are some main differences to be noted. Although PLA is the most used material and has many benefits, it is known that ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is more durable. ABS is commonly used for a number of things such as car interiors and consumer goods, and this is because it is a sturdy and reliable plastic.

However, this is not to limit the potential of PLA, for it is still the top plastic for many. It is dependent on what object you choose to create and which filament you rely on the most.

PLA holds such popularity because it is best suited for detailed, intrinsic models. This is because polylactide can sustain heat better, having no sensitivity to temperature changes. This is a good feature as this means there are little problems with the 3D making process in terms of potential warping.

PLA Environmental Properties

PLA is known for its environmental properties, being recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable. As well as this, it reduces the demand for fossil fuels used to make certain plastics as it is derived from plant material. However, it should be known that PLA isn’t only used for 3D printing – it carries many other properties.

You will often find that your plastic grocery bags and plastic drinking straws are made from PLA and this, as we know, has not always reacted too well towards the environment. Plastic straws are not known to biodegrade in the sea, for example, and you will find many plastic bags endangering sea life.

But despite all this, PLA does have its positives. The production uses 65% less energy than other plastics and generates 68% less greenhouse gases.

In order to use PLA in the best way possible, it is important to deal with the plastic responsibly as to not cause any harm to the environment. There are a variety of options to choose from.

Incineration

PLA can be incinerated and this will leave no residue.

Recycling

You are able to recycle your PLA and this can be done either chemically or mechanically.

Disposing of PLA in landfills is also an option, however is not at all beneficial to the environment. Other options of disposing will be more suitable.

Advantages and Disadvantages

With everything comes advantages and disadvantages. Not one thing can be all good, nor entirely negative. It is important to acknowledge what makes Polylactic Acid the popular choice but also what makes people turn away from it.

Advantages

  • Good for the environment (if disposed of properly)
  • PLA is safe to be used for everyday products such as plastic straws and food containers
  • It is simple to 3D print
  • Reacts well to changing temperatures
  • Has anti-bacterial and anti-fungi properties

Disadvantages

  • Not as notably strong as other products (e.g., ABS)
  • PLA is high in price
  • The composting process does not work fast enough
  • There is a possibility of it deforming because of the heat

Final Thoughts

When exploring the avenues of 3D printing there is much to consider. It is important to consider which plastic you will be using, what is more appropriate for your 3D project, and it is important to acknowledge the pros and cons. You want to be sure that whatever you are printing will be long lasting and worth the time and effort.

PLA is a great plastic used by many for its easy use and efficiency. Although pricey, you can be reassured that your 3D printed product will be of the highest quality and worth the extra cost.

As well as just looking into what plastics will be best when creating, it is also good to note the aftereffects of using it. Is the plastic you are using good for the environment? Is it recyclable? Will I be endangering anyone or anything?

PLA is known to be environmentally friendly, but only if disposed of correctly. It would be best to avoid landfills as this does nothing for the environment, but PLA can be recycled as well as incinerated.

The process of 3D printing can be done as a profession or as a hobby. As long as it is done correctly and you use the best plastics, 3D printing will be a good experience.

Michael Moore
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