PC is just a shorthand way of writing polycarbonates, which are what we refer to when we say PC plastics. Polycarbonates are a group of thermoplastic polymers that are known for creating tough materials that can withstand impact and high heat environments. Naturally, this means they are used for all sorts of things, including 3D printing.
Here we have gathered everything you need to know about polycarbonates and how they are used in the world of 3D printing. You won’t just find out what PC plastics are, you’ll also find out how it’s made, their properties, the pros and cons of using them, and other information relevant for 3D printers.
PC Plastic Production
Polycarbonates are made through a process known as condensation polymerization, where bisphenol A and phosgene are mixed together. It was first made in 1953 by a German doctor called Hermann Schnell for Bayer AG. An American polymer doctor, Daniel W. Fox, also made the same for the General Electric Company.
Chemical specifics aside, you should know that polycarbonate objects are made in a few different ways, mainly through injection molding or extrusion.
Injection molding is the most common method of creating polycarbonates. The high viscosity of polycarbonates makes them easy to use with injection molding. With high pressure, it’s possible to push hot polymers through a mold where it then cools, taking the shape of the object.
Extrusion, on the other hand, is where the melted polymer is passed into a cavity that is shaped like the intended result. The melt cools against the shaped cavity and then takes the shape of it.
PC Plastic Properties
So, why is PC plastic ideal for 3D printing? Polycarbonates have several characteristics that make them useful for so many applications.
First, it’s tough. When you’re creating whole objects from non-solid materials, it needs to be tough once it has turned solid so it doesn’t fall apart. Fortunately, polycarbonates are known for their toughness, particularly their high impact strength. If your prints tend to develop fractures and other minor imperfections, polycarbonates can help you get rid of those in your printed objects.
It’s not just tough against impacts, it’s also resistant to heat, chemical corrosion, and it’s a great insulator, so it dampens electrical charge. Polycarbonate objects can survive up to 135 degrees Celsius once they are done printing. If you expect your printed object to come into contact with alcohol, diluted acids, oils, and greases, then using polycarbonate can help. They are, however, sensitive to abrasive alkaline cleaners.
It’s also light, which is another great thing for a 3D printer material. This doesn’t just make printed objects that are easier to work on, it also increases the efficiency of the printer when using PC plastics. Speaking of light, polycarbonates also block UV radiation very well. This means that printed objects won’t get faded by prolonged exposure to sunlight.
PC plastics are also great at transmitting light through themselves, so it’s perfect if you’re building something that relies on housing a visible light or allowing light to pass through it in some way. It can transmit light nearly as well as glass. It even has some refractive properties, so it can be used to provide slight optical focus on certain printed objects.
PC Plastic Pros & Cons
With those properties, we can figure out the pros and cons of using polycarbonate plastics with 3D printers.
PC Plastic Pros
- Tough, capable of bending down to -20 degrees Celsius
- High mechanical retention at 140 degrees Celsius
- Almost transparent and allows great light transmission through the material
- Flame retardant
- Electrical insulation, even when wet or at any temperature
PC Plastic Cons
- Hydrocarbons will wear it away
- Water, over time, will degrade its mechanical structure
- Must be dried meticulously before processing
- May turn slightly yellow after prolonged UV exposure
PC Plastic Safety
If the use of BPA in polycarbonates is a concern, you may be wondering how safe PC plastic is for you and the environment. Polycarbonate plastic is used for plastic bottles and other food containers, so it’s natural to be concerned if that’s what you plan on building.
PC is marked as safe for use by many regulatory authorities, like the FDA, Britain’s Food Standards Agency, and Europe’s Scientific Committee on Food. This is because the transfer of BPA from PC to water, or other substances that are ingested, has not been linked to any recognizable medical issues.
The PC plastic itself is 100% recyclable, so that’s the safest way to get rid of any excess material that you have. There is a huge demand for polycarbonate plastics to be recycled in industrializing countries like China, so there should be local services that will take the PC off your hands and put it to some use elsewhere.
PC Plastic Price
Knowing the properties of polycarbonate plastic is great, though it’s pointless if you can’t afford to buy it. With so many other alternatives, your chosen 3D printer materials should be affordable and worth the price you’re paying for them.
With that in mind, you should expect to pay more per kilogram for polycarbonate plastic than PLA or ABS, which are known as cheaper, beginner alternatives. PC is a more rigorous material that can do things that they can’t, however. PC is still cheaper than nylon filaments and some of the other, more exotic filament materials like wood or certain metals.
Note that many who own 3D printers keep several varied materials around for different jobs if they can afford it. Smaller, simpler jobs may require PLA, outdoor printed objects may require ASA, but if you need to print a strong object that also fends off UV rays, then PC plastic is your best bet and won’t set you back as much as nylon. By keeping a small amount of each, you’ll be ready for all manner of prints.
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