3D Printing and The Interesting Materials We Use
@3DNFC, we commonly print with a variety of experimental and cutting edge materials such as Composite Conductive PLA, Nylon (Flexible filament), Resin, Iron fill magnetic PLA, and various Glow In The Dark filaments. Our standard 3D printing filament types are PLA, TPU (Flexible filament), PETG, Metal Copper Fill, and Wood Filled PLA.
We’ll briefly examine these filaments, their properties, and some common use cases below.
What is filament in 3D printing?
3D printing filament is the thermoplastic feedstock for fused deposition modeling 3D printers. There are many types of filament available with different properties, requiring different print procedures.
Polylactic Acid, commonly known as PLA, is one of the most popular materials used in 3D printing.
PLA is the go-to material for most users due to its ease-of-use, dimensional accuracy, and low cost. It is also one of the most environmentally friendly filaments on the market today. Derived from crops such as corn and sugarcane, PLA is renewable and most importantly biodegradable.
Common PLA Applications & Use Cases
- Test and calibration items
- Dimensionally accurate assemblies
- Decorative Parts
Aesthetically pleasing, Wood filaments combine a PLA base material with cork, wood dust, or other derivatives, giving your projects a real wooden look and feel.
Wood Filled Overview
Wood-based filaments are typically a composite that combines a PLA base material with wood dust, cork, and other powdered wood derivatives. Typically, the filament consists of around 30% wood particles, but the exact number may vary. The presence of these particles gives your 3D printed materials the aesthetics of real wood.
Common Wood Filled Applications
& Use Cases
- Household decorations
PETG is short for polyethylene terephthalate glycol-modified and is a transparent type of Copolyester. PETG is the perfect filament to combine strength and ductility, which is why it’s used in so many mechanical parts and robotics. It has great chemical resistance with good water, acidic and alkalic resistance.
PETG is food and skin safe, so it can be used in medical and food applications. In medical applications, it stands up to radiation and chemical sterilization techniques without changing color.
PETG is not hydroscopic and is also UV and chemical resistant. PETG is considered to be a good all-around material due to its flexibility, strength, and temperature, and impact resistance. This makes it an ideal filament to use for objects which might experience sustained or sudden stress, like mechanical parts and protective components. Additionally, this filament is likely the perfect option for objects that will encounter food or drink.
Common PETG Applications & Use Cases
PETG is used in a variety of signage, packaging, industrial and medical applications:
- Medical braces
- Point-of-purchase and graphic displays.
Nylon (a.k.a. Polyamide) is a popular material in the plastics industry, known for its toughness and flexibility.
Nylon is a tough and semi-flexible material that offers high impact and abrasion resistance. It is an ideal choice for printing durable parts.
Common Nylon Applications & Use Cases
- Plastic Gears
- Screws, nuts, bolts
- Cable ties
Metal Copper is a filament that allows unique prints with a metallic look and finish. Metal Copper filament is a unique blend made by combining real copper powder with PLA filament. Metal Copper PLA introduces real metal characteristics, such as a 3x higher weight than PLA, and a metallic feel.
Metal Copper Overview
Metal Copper filament is one example of a metal-filled filament along with brass, bronze, and stainless steel. The filament is basically made of a mixture of copper in metal powder suspended in a PLA matrix.
Part of the Thermoplastic Elastomer family, Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU material) is a flexible, abrasion-resistant thermoplastic that can withstand impacts, and is resistant to many chemicals. TPU is versatile and used in many different industries. TPU is created by combining a standard polymer with a rubber. This creates a filament that is very similar to what is used in standard manufacturing for parts in automobiles and many household items.
While there are different types of TPU material, it can mainly be classified into two types: Polyether Polyurethane and Polyester Polyurethane. Both of these materials have different characteristics that can be suited to a specific need.
TPU has several advantages such as resistance to abrasion, ability to perform at low temperature, elasticity, and mechanical properties along with rubber-like elasticity. Parts printed with TPU are durable and have the ability to withstand ambient temperatures of up to 176 degrees Fahrenheit or 80 degrees Celsius.
TPU filament, unlike other stiffer thermoplastics, has qualities that include flexibility and conformity, yet can also be rigid. TPU might be considered as a hybrid material between hard plastic and soft silicone.
Features of TPU filament
TPU filament has a number of features that make it a great choice for a wide range of uses. It is resistant to abrasion, oil, chemicals, and wearing, which makes it perfect for use in various industrial spaces such as the automotive industry.
Compared to TPE, which is also a flexible filament, TPU retains its elastic properties better at lower temperatures, which means that it does not become brittle and difficult to work with.
Common TPU Applications & Use Cases
There are many different industries that use TPU 3D printing because its features offer them a number of advantages.
Sporting goods and footwear
As sporting goods need to be flexible and heavy-duty, TPU material is a perfect choice. It is often can be found in training aids, water equipment, and fitness equipment. Footwear has to withstand low temperatures, flexibility, and be resistant to water and chemicals. Therefore, 3D printing TPU is great for manufacturing sporting goods.
The aerospace industry is also taking the use of TPU 3D printing seriously as it too has increased its use, understanding exactly what it has to offer. It can also be found in instrument panels and sensors.
The automotive industry has turned to TPU material and implemented it into the manufacturing process of vehicles. In recent years its use has risen considerably, it can often be found in instrument panels, sensors, and levers as well as many other areas.
TPU Material Properties
TPU parts are both highly elastic and flexible which offers a unique combination of 3D printing applications for both visual and functional prototypes.
Parts produced with TPU are resistant to most standard chemical solutions which open it up for a range of uses to create long-lasting parts.
TPU parts are impact-resistant due to their elastic rubber-like properties.
Due to its abrasion-resistant properties, coupled with the elasticity, TPU parts will last and endure various stress situations.
Composite Conductive PLA
We currently use Protopasta’s Conductive PLA which is a compound of Natureworks 4043D PLA, a dispersant and conductive carbon black.
Composite Conductive PLA is a great choice for low-voltage circuitry applications, touch sensor projects, and using prints to interact with touch screens (which require low conductivity, that’s why you can’t use your smartphone screen with gloves on). As a general rule, anything you can run through a 1K resistor should be doable with composite conductive PLA.
Volume Resistivity: 1 ohm-cm
Conductivity isn’t the only benefit to Composite Conductive PLA, however. In fact, it offers several key benefits over typical ABS or PLA materials, including the following:
High Strength Mechanical/Functioning Parts – The filament itself is much stronger than typical ABS or PLA. This makes it perfect for printing objects such as hand-tools, hooks, or parts which require tooling.
Electromagnetic and Radiofrequency Shielding – Capable of uses within EMI and RF shielding applications, making it perfect for many applications within the telecommunications, medical device, packaging, aerospace, and automotive industries.
Sensors – High conductivity means that this material is perfect for capacitive sensors used to measure proximity, humidity, position, fluid levels, acceleration and more.
When combined with a flexible material such as TPU, the Potential applications include flexible sensors, flexible conductive traces and electrodes to be used in wearable electronic devices, as well as medical devices, pressure-sensitive buttons, digital keyboards and trackpads, electromagnetic/radiofrequency shielding, and much more.
(Note: The recommendation for this material is for low-current applications of no more than 12 volts.)
Composite Iron (Magnetic) PLA
Magnets stick to this material and the parts made with it as they would to iron or steel; it is not a magnet itself and will not “stick” to other metals. Magnetic iron prints beautifully with a Matte Gray finish similar to cast metal. The surface can be rusted with a water mixture for an age distressed look.
Magnetic iron PLA responds to magnets and behaves similarly to pure iron, even to the point of rusting in the right environment! The density is about 50 percent higher than standard PLA giving printed parts a bit more “heft” and a less plastic feel.
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- Leapfrog 3D Printers