Over the last few decades China began to dominate numerous manufacturing industries including, and not limited to, electronics, toys, automobiles and metal production. As industrial labour costs increased, combined with external political pressures and the global recession of the late 2000s, so this dominance has inevitably dipped slightly. One approach China quickly adopted to address this issue was the increased implementation and use of 3D printing within the manufacturing industry. This has helped to alleviate the increased labour costs in manufacturing and has seen yet further support from the Chinese government as they begin to incorporate 3D printing education within its schooling system.
With the future of manufacturing clearly shifting towards a greater focus and utilisation of 3D printer based production, it has become an area many businesses and individuals wish to explore further. There are, however, a plethora of options to consider and knowing what types of 3D printer and the compatible printing materials they require can prove to be a technical minefield to the uninformed. Whilst looking through the wide selection of 3d printers for sale how do you decide which printing material will be most applicable for your requirements? The two most common types of plastic in use are ABS filament and PLA polyester but what are the main differences between these two?
ABS stands for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene and it is a thermoplastic polymer. Its glass transition temperature, meaning the temperature at which it begins to become malleable, is relatively high at 105 degrees Celsius which makes it ideal for use on parts which may need to tolerate temperatures up to this such as machinery components. ABS filament is robust whilst maintaining a certain amount of flexibility which makes it favoured for inter-connecting pieces rather than standalone pieces. It is easy to sand down and machine this polymer and it can be dissolved by acetone which can therefore be used to weld it together or smoothen its finish. Because abs filament is a plastic material and needs to be heated considerably it can generate a noticeable smell during printing. Due to these factors the main applications of ABS printers lie within creating machinery parts and engineers tend to favour the use of this plastic for 3D printing.
PLA, or Polylactic Acid, is a biodegradable thermoplastic polyester which is processed from natural sources such as corn and sugarcane. It produces a somewhat higher detail, gloss finish and is ideal for uses which require sharper edges and corners. PLA has a lower glass transition temperature than ABS of 60-65 degrees Celsius and so it is not as suitable for use in situations where it will be exposed to higher temperatures. Additionally, it is not as tough as ABS filament proving to be more brittle and so this combined with its lower temperature tolerance means it is generally used for different applications. As PLA consists of natural products the smell which is created during printing is less unpleasant than with ABS. Overall PLA printers tend to see more use with hobbyists or people printing in the home than within the industrial sector.