EDUCATION

Know Your 3D Printing Material: PLA Filament

PLA Filament
PLA filament
Above: EagePLA 3D Printing/Image Credit: Shapeways

The additive manufacturing technology is evolving rapidly. Novel 3D printing technologies, new materials, and software are being developed to bring the best out of the technology.

One of the crucial aspects of consideration for the technology to grow further is the development of new or composite materials. As the materials library evolves and grows, the technology will also penetrate the traditional industries and the adoption will increase. Experts believe that the 3D printing material technology will be the driving force behind the mass adoption of 3D printing in various sectors.

Through this article, we intend to educate you about some of the popular and widely used materials in 3D printing. Let us talk about PLA Filament – the most popular material used in the FDM 3D printing technology.

WHAT IS PLA MATERIAL?

PLA Filament
Above: PLA has applications in bottles as they can biodegrade in six to 24 months/Image Credit: Bioplastics News

PLA or Poly Lactic Acid is a thermoplastic polyester with a chemical formula of (C3H4O2)n. Since it is a thermoplastic material, PLA can be heated to be melted to a liquid state, and cooled to a solid-state and melted again to its liquid state. This heating and cooling can be carried out multiple times without any significant impact on its mechanical properties.

Over the years, PLA has become a fairly popular material due to its biodegradable nature. Moreover, since it is produced from renewable resources, PLA material has become one of the highest consumed bioplastic materials in the world.

PLA is obtained from fermented plant starch such as from corn, cassava, sugarcane, or sugar beet pulp. PLA being a bioplastic degrades naturally upon exposure to the environment and can degrade anytime within six to 24 months. Such a quick degradation is not seen in any other plastic. This property can be utilized to good effect if it is used in products where periodic degradation is desirable like plastic bottles, use & throw containers, packaging, etc.

PLA FILAMENT FOR 3D PRINTING

PLA Filament
Above: PRO Series Tough PLA Filament/Image Credit: MatterHackers

PLA filament is hands-down the most popular filament of choice in FDM 3D printing. It has numerous benefits that make it the preferred choice by many and especially by new users. It has almost all the features an ideal printing material should have and even more. Apart from its natural tendency to offer better print quality, it is also easy to control while printing PLA-based composites. Comparatively, users may not find a material with a better success rate than PLA.

PLA is already used in multiple applications and its properties are quite known in the industry. But in 3D printing, PLA is mostly used for aesthetic prototyping applications.

PLA filament is found in two diameters of 1.75 mm and 2.85 mm. The diameter has a direct impact on the flow rate and PLA can works smoothly well for both the diameters.

General Printing Settings for PLA Filament

  • Printing Temperature: 190oC to 210oC
  • Bed Temperature: 50oC to 75oC
  • Print Speed: 30-60mm/sec

TYPES OF PLA 3D PRINTING FILAMENT

Metal-filled PLA Filament

PLA Filament
Above: Steel-fill PLA filament/Image Credit: ColorFabb

Metal-filled PLA filament is manufactured by adding minute metal particles to PLA while the extrusion process. The mixture is drawn into a filament to form the metal-filled material. Depending on the composition the material exhibits certain superior properties over regular PLA like the metal PLA has better strength, better magnetic properties, and has a metallic texture to the printed parts.

But such filaments can often cause nozzle clogging and so care should be taken that the nozzle is regularly cleaned up if such composite blends are used regularly.

The commonly used metals are iron, copper, brass & aluminium.

Wood-filled PLA Filament

Above: Bamboo-fill PLA filament/Image Credit: ColorFabb

To obtain a wood-filled PLA filament, wood particles like wood dust or powdered wood is added to the material. Wood filaments offer wooden feel and texture to the PLA material and are used only for aesthetic purposes as wood does not impact on the strength of PLA.

The commonly used woods are bamboo, cork, coconut & birch.

Glow-in-the-Dark Filament

PLA Filament
Above: Glow-in-the-Dark filament/Image Credit: MatterHackers

This is an exotic material and is mostly used for props and cosplay products. This material is formed by mixing phosphorescent materials in the base PLA filament.

Carbon Fibre PLA

PLA filament
Above: Carbon Fibre PLA filament samples/Image Credit: Hello3D

To increase the mechanical properties of PLA, some manufacturers experimented with Carbon Fibre PLA. It is a success and this composite helps in increasing the strength of the PLA and allows easy printing of Carbon fibre, which in itself is difficult to print with. The general composition of such a composite is 30% carbon fibre and rest PLA.

Other Exotic PLA Filaments

PLA Silk: This material offers silk-like smoothness to the 3D printed product.

PLA Stone: This material provides a stone-like visual fee to the 3D printed products.

Coffee-filled PLA: This composite is much like a fun experiment and just gives out a coffee flavoured smell to the part.

Colour-changing PLA: Colour-changing materials change their colours upon application of a heat stimulus. This can be put to good use in certain applications to identify the heat patterns.

FEATURES OF PLA 3D PRINTING FILAMENT

  • Bio-degradable

PLA filament is a biodegradable material and it naturally breaks down within six to 24 months. Its biodegradable nature also makes it attractive to environmentally conscious users.

  • Unlimited Colours
PLA Filament
Above: FibReel ‘Rever Industries’ offers PLA filaments in a wide range of colours/Image Credit: Rever Industries

PLA filament is found in a wide range of colours. There is no limit to the availability of colour blends for PLA.

  • Wide Range of Composites

PLA is a fantastic base material for a lot of composite 3D printing materials. Popular materials like wood-filled, metal-filed, ceramic-filed, glow-in-the-dark, silk material, magnetic, copper-filled, etc. are all blended with PLA to offer a great printing experience.

  • No Warping

PLA is not prone to warping and easily sticks to the print bed thereby also eliminating the first layer bed adhesion issues faced while printing with other materials like ABS, Nylon, etc.

  • No Nozzle Clogging

Since PLA filament melts at low temperatures, nozzle clogging issues are unheard of for PLA filament.

  • Works with Base Printer Settings

PLA filament is a very modest material and it can easily print with all 3D printers at base printer settings. It does not require a heated bed, requires the cheapest nozzle (brass), does not require enclosure printing, nor does it give out any foul odour like ABS.

MAJOR DRAWBACKS OF PLA FILAMENT

  • Low-Melting Point

PLA filament has a low melting point. While this is great for printing purposes but this also makes it useless for high-temperature applications. It will simply melt in such environments

  • Shorter Lifespan

Since PLA is a biodegradable material, it is not suitable for long-duration applications. As the material starts to naturally degrade, it also starts losing its strength.

  • Brittle

PLA is a brittle material thus it breaks when put under stress. This limits its practical applications.

COMMON FAQS ON PLA FILAMENT- ANSWERED

Through this section, we address some of the common queries users have with the PLA filament.

  1. Is PLA safe to use with food?

PLA is bio-degradable and is safe at the material level. But when PLA is 3D printed, the material flows through the brass nozzle of the 3D printer and this may contaminate the material as the same nozzle is used to print with other materials. So, even though the PLA material is bio-degradable and food safe, the 3D printed parts from PLA should not be considered as safe and appropriate precautions should be taken if at all they are used for products that come in direct contact with food.

  1. How long does it take for PLA to decompose?

PLA takes anywhere around six months to 24 months to completely decompose.

  1. What is the best bed temperature for PLA?

The ideal bed temperature for PLA is 50oC to 75oC

  1. Is PLA biodegradable?

Yes, PLA is Biodegradable.


About Manufactur3D Magazine: Manufactur3D is an online magazine on 3D printing. which publishes the latest 3D printing news, insights and analysis from all around the world. Visit our 3D Printing Education page to read more such informative articles. To stay up-to-date about the latest happenings in the 3D printing world, like us on Facebook or follow us on LinkedIn.

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