Introduction to filament

The most common types of plastic used are PLA and ABS:

PLA stands for Polylactic Acid or Polylactide, which is plant starch based.

ABS stands for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, which is petroleum based.

Both thermoplastics have their own specifics with respect to impact strength, density and melting temperatures. This means it is up to the user to decide which thermoplastic is best suited for the design.

PLA

PLA is a thermoplastic which is extruded from the starch of plants, such as corn, cassava, sugarcane, cereals, or sugar beet. By being derived from biological resources this type of thermoplastic can be biodegradable under the right conditions. Biodegradable means that it can be broken down over time through a process involving microorganisms (fungi or bacteria).

ABS

ABS is a thermoplastic which is produced by the polymerization of acrylonitrile, butadiene, and styrene. ABS is produced from fossil fuels, meaning that it is not biodegradable and has a greater environmental impact than PLA. Also it is not safe to use for products which may come into contact with food. ABS requires higher temperatures to extrude than PLA.

COMPARISON

Why PLA?

  • PLA is a plastic made of renewable starches such as corn and sugarcane.
  • It is biodegradable and does not emit a lot of ultra fines particles (UFCs).
  • Benefits from heated bed.
  • It produces a barely noticeable, but quite pleasant, sugary smell when extruding.
  • Depending on the specifications and the color, extrusion temperature can vary between 160 and 220 °C.
  • Parts printed using PLA are more rigid than ABS parts (ABS is more flexible).
  • In general, parts printed using PLA have a slightly glossy finish.
  • PLA is less prone to warping during print and is much more ‘stickier’ than ABS.
  • PLA starts to become malleable (heat deflection point) at around 60 °C.
  • PLA requires a bit more force to be extruded as it has a higher coefficient of friction than ABS.

Why ABS?

  • ABS is a common thermoplastic (LEGO blocks are made of ABS) that is essentially petroleum based.
  • ABS is more prone to producing UFCs when compared to PLA. Good ventilation is recommended.
  • Requires a heated bed.
  • It produces a slight ‘burnt plastic’ smell when extruding.
  • Depending on the specifications and the color, extrusion temperature can vary between 220 and 260 degrees Celsius.
  • Parts printed using ABS have a “bend” to them and are less brittle than PLA.
  • In general, parts printed using ABS have a glossier finish than PLA parts.
  • ABS starts to become malleable (heat deflection point) at around 100 °C (which makes it more heat resistant than PLA).
  • ABS has a lower coefficient of friction than PLA and requires slightly less force to be extruded than PLA. 

ENVIRONMENT

Please keep in mind that PLA has less environmental impact and therefore, whenever the situation occurs that either thermoplastic specifications are suitable for your design, PLA is recommended as the most sustainable option.

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