Life in Plastic…It’s Fantastic!

For the majority of Fused Deposition Modeling-type printers, their lifeblood is filament. It’s the raw material from which the electronic dreams of their creators are made into reality. Today I will touch on the major types, and maybe some of the more exotic materials.

By far, the two major types of filament used in 3D printing are Polylactic Acid (PLA) and Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). PLA is a biodegradable filament made from cornstarch, sugarcane or tapioca chips. It is a harder plastic than ABS, but has a lower melting point, so applications where strength is needed but the temperature does not get to high are ideal. Because of the materials it is made out of, many users note that it smells like waffles, maple syrup or even French toast when printing with it.

ABS is the same material LEGO bricks are made of. While it seems like it is the toughest plastic in the world when you step on it at 2:30 in the morning, it is actually a soft plastic. However, it has a higher melting temperature than PLA, so is suitable where higher temperatures may exist, but with the understanding that it can’t take as much stress as PLA.

Both PLA and ABS are available in a wide range of colors, even glow-in-the-dark!

Other than PLA and ABS, there are other filament materials out there. Many “exotic” materials are generally powdered and use PLA as their carrier material. Laywood, which use wood particles mixed with PLA is an example. One of the most popular materials after PLA and ABS is Nylon. However, it prints at a higher temperature than even ABS, so an all-metal hotend is almost required to print this material. There are also flexible filaments, metal composite filaments, even carbon-fiber filaments. This page on matterhackers.com is a GREAT resource for learning the different capabilities, uses and printing techniques for the many types of filament out there.

As I alluded to in the previous post, when this printer is built, it will be using PLA and ABS almost exclusively, while FrankenPrusa with it’s all-metal hotend will become my testbed for trying out the exotic materials.

Build Log

The printer is starting to take shape. The aluminum bed came in today and I have mounted the threaded rod and smooth rods the Z-axis will move up and down on and mounted the build plate to the Z-axis carriage.

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This bed was reclaimed from a Lulzbot TAZ printer and while I did have to drill a couple of extra holes for mounting, I was also able to use some of the existing holes.

One of the benefits of doing a project like this is learning new skills or techniques. In order to mount the cantilevered arms to the carriage, I had to learn how to tap a hole. Tapping a hole means cutting threads into it so an appropriately-sized bolt will screw into it. I had never done it before and was kind of trepedatious – I didn’t want to have to cut more extrusion if I messed this up! However, it turned out to be really easy and those arms are not going anywhere.

Next time I’ll start talking about the electronics and the different options available, and I might be able to start the “core xy” part of this build, where I put together the X and Y axis assemblies!