"We know from science that nothing in the universe exists as an isolated or independent entity. "
- Margaret Wheatley
Many people have a misconception that 3D printing is a new technology invented in recent years. The reality is that 3D printing is receiving huge media coverage in the last few years with the development of technology in the consumer space.
If we take a look at the history of 3D printing the first patent for 3D printing was issued in the year 1986. By the 1990s the invention of stereolithography also known as SLA 3D printing became one of the most popular techniques used in additive manufacturing. By the early 2000s 3D printing was only used in areas of engineering, architecture and manufacturing. In the year 2012, 3D printing technology gained huge importance among the general public, thereby entering the consumer market. In the last few years, 3D systems are one of the biggest 3D printing companies and one of the market’s leaders for 3D printing innovation.
The recently released 3D-printing market study found that growing technological advancement will drive the 3D-printing market value to $35.6 billion by 2024.
3D printers are becoming widely available and various businesses can now afford to use them in their routine operations. Now-a-days there is a lot of demand for personalized products and the small businesses stand to benefit from using 3D printers as they can provide advanced customized products to their customers.
One of the crucial aspects of 3D printing technology is using the right materials that are cost effective to your business. For instance, when 3D printing a food container, you will prefer using 3D printing materials that are food-safe, like PETG. So depending upon the type of product, the 3D printing materials used will differ.
So let us understand the different materials used in 3D printing technology for the purpose of object-making:
Plastics are the most commonly used 3D printing material. Many consumer products are made from thermoplastics. These thermoplastic 3D printing materials can be used in our houses and professional applications. Every product is made up of different types of materials. So it is essential to know the various types of plastics used in 3D printing.
Following are the types of plastic used in 3D printing-
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) is the most popular type of plastic that is tough, non-toxic and retains its color. The important characteristics of ABS include – easy to shape, tough to break and as it melts it further becomes pliable at 220 Degree Celsius. These properties of ABS make it most suitable for 3D printing.
Pros of ABS include – It is water-resistant, chemical resistant and very tough.
Cons of ABS include – It is not advisable for outdoor use, has a very high melting point and unpleasant odour.
Polylactic Acid (PLA) is a polymer plastic that is made from natural materials like sugarcane and corn-starch. PLA is best for bioplastic 3D printing and it melts between 180 and 200 Degree Celsius. PLA is the most suitable for the materials that come in contact with food items like cans for soft drinks.
Pros of PLA include – It is a preferred type for low-cost 3D printers and easier to work with than ABS. It is also biodegradable.
Cons of PLA include – It has a rougher texture than ABS.
Nylon also known as ‘white plastic’ is the foremost choice for a wide range of applications in areas of manufacturing, engineering, arts and so on. It is a tough material that can hold a large amount of weight without breaking. It melts at 250 Degree Celsius. Nylon prints have a rough surface that can be polished smooth.
If nylon is used for home 3D printing, ensure that it is stored in airtight containers and bags.
Pros of Nylon 3D printing include – It is an affordable printing material that is flexible and strong.
Cons of Nylon 3D printing include – Nylon requires high temperature to print.
Metal 3D printing is popular in aerospace, automotive and medical industries to create complex designs that don’t require additional welding and machining. 3D printing can be done on metals like steel, brass, copper, bronze, aluminum, titanium and nickel.
Pros of Metal 3D printing include – The metal finishing looks very attractive and eye-catching.
Cons of Metal 3D printing include – It is expensive, requires specialized printers, demands expertise in terms of engineering and composition in comparison to thermoplastics.
4) Resins (Photopolymers)
Photopolymers refers to a range of liquid resins that solidifies to plastic components when exposed to ultraviolet rays or any visible light. The technologies that are extensively used include SLA (Stereolithography) and PolyJet. Photopolymers are susceptible to sunlight.
Pros of Photopolymers include – It provides high-resolution printing, has a smooth surface and can print complex designs.
Cons of Photopolymers include – It is expensive and certain materials are toxic. Objects containing these materials can be heated up to 48 Degree Celsius, not higher as they start changing their properties.