Three-dimensional printers, what did we ever do without them? Before the human race developed the ability to get a machine to create our design in the three-dimensional world, we would have had to spend hours fiddling with tiny bits of paper or whittling our imaginings out of wood, just to show our colleagues what was in our mind.
For the ability to make prototypes alone, they are a revolutionary technology, not to mention all the cute and fun models and such they can create with a little ingenuity. All in all, they make modern life much easier and are fun to work with, too.
Then again, 3D printers are still not that common in domestic situations. You may know a lot about them, or you may never have heard of them. Even though they are becoming more affordable each year, they are still a bit of a niche market.
With that in mind, we thought it could be helpful to explain some of the terms commonly used in connection with 3D printers and explain the various materials involved, so you know what they’re called in the future.
In the next few years, the technology will only continue to improve and become more affordable, so it’s worth getting to grips with the technology now.
How Does A 3D Printer Work?
A 3-dimensional printer works in much the same way as a standard ink printer. A 2-Dimensional printer prints with ink onto a flat surface, the 3D printer sort of does the same. Except it doesn’t use ink, it uses molten plastic which hardens almost instantly as it is cooled by the air.
Then it prints on top of that layer to make a second layer, then it prints again, and again, and so on. It places layers of composite plastic on top of one another to replicate a design blueprint which is input by a computer or memory card.
These blueprints act like a set of instructions from which to build whatever 3D model you are trying to create.
3D printers can take a long time to create a finished item because the layers of the molten plastic are so thin, so they can be precise. The plastic is ejected from a thin nozzle, which is called an extruder. This is like the ink coming through the nib of a pen as it rolls across the page.
What Do 3D Printers Use To ‘Print’?
It is important to use the right types of plastic filaments that are compatible with the printer you are using. Not every 3D printer will accept all types of filaments. Filaments are essentially like the stick of lead or graphite in the middle of a pencil.
They come in different colors and are usually stored on spools like thread, or string. The thin filament is then fed into the 3D printer and melted at the part of the printer called the hot end before it can come out of the extruder. It then solidifies and returns to a hardened state.
There are different types of composite plastic that can be used in 3D printers, although not all printers are compatible with all types. Some higher specification printers do not use plastic, but instead use a powdered compound that, combined with the heat of a laser, solidifies.
This is only the case in the most sophisticated of 3D printers. Most hobbyist 3-dimensional printers use either ABS filament or PLA filament.
What Types of Filament Are Used In 3D Printers?
ABS is the most common type of plastic filament. This stands for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene. It is a thermoplastic and amorphous polymer, which means it is a plastic that can react to heat in the way that the 3D printer will require.
It is a flexible, yet strong plastic when hard and a malleable substance when in molten liquid form. Some plastics can not be heated more than once and so would not make a good polymer for a 3D printer.
The filament has to be the correct width of wire to be fed into the machine, so naturally, this means that the plastic must first be heated and molded into this shape before it can be reheated by the printer and reshaped.
PLA or Polylactic acid is the second most common fuel for a 3D printer. Unlike most plastics, Polylactic acid is made from renewable materials such as sugar cane or cornstarch.
This means it is biodegradable and more sustainable to produce compared to other similar plastics. This makes it a more ethical choice of 3D printer polymer filament than ABS.
They both come in different colors and work in exactly the same way. They are molded into a thin wire-like form which is then fed into the printer and heated to become flexible.
Which Is Best: ABS Or PLA?
They are much alike in their properties and create products of comparable quality. The biggest difference between them is what happens to them once they are no longer in use.
According to creativemecahnism.com, “a PLA bottle left in the ocean would typically degrade in six to 24 months. Compared to conventional plastics (which in the same environment can take several hundred to a thousand years to degrade)”.
This means that 3D printers may not be as damaging to the environment as it might have initially been thought.
So, which is better for 3D printing? Well, the best filament for your printer is the one that is compatible with it.
Most new 3D printers choose to use PLA as their raw material because it’s more eco-friendly, but PLA is more brittle than lots of other similar plastics, so it’s not everyone’s first choice.
ABS is stronger and more durable than PLA, so it is a popular choice, but whatever the pros and cons of each filament, the important thing to take away from this article, is that the best filament for your printer, is the one that it’s been built to use.
Different plastics have different melting points and consistencies, so it matters which one you use.
You won’t help the environment by blocking up your extruder with PLA plastic when the printer was designed to use ABS. That’s just going to mean that there’s one more extruder tip in the landfill than there was before.
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