Understanding PLA 3D Printing Filament

We’ve already learned quite a bit through the “Understanding 3D Printing Filament” series, and today we’ll continue by analyzing one of the most widely used filaments in the industry, PLA. Why PLA 3D printing filament so popular? And what makes it unique? Let’s find out.

PLA Filament Composition

Polylactic acid is a thermoplastic polyester. It is formed through polymerization of lactide with a metal catalyst such as tin octoate.

Printed PLA Qualities

PLA is tougher and less brittle than ABS 3D printing filament, and forms a higher-quality surface. It also does not suffer as much from warping, and prints at lower temperatures. As far as fumes, PLA does not create as strong or unpleasant an odor as ABS. In fact, since it is made out of food products, when printing with PLA, you may even notice an odor reminiscent of food.

Melting and Warping

Reaching the ideal temperature for printing PLA on any given printer will be based on a combination of experimentation and preference, but if you’re looking for a good starting point, try a temperature between 410 and 428° F.

If you choose to print with a heated platform, try a temperature between 122 and 140° F. It may make a notable difference in the look of your final print.

PLA Chemical Solubility

PLA is Soluble in chlorinated solvents such as hot benzene, tetrahydrofuran, and dioxane.

Commonly Made with PLA

Products commonly made with PLA include medical implants such as anchors, screws, plates, pins, rods, and mesh. PLA is particularly useful for creating implants because it naturally dissolves inside the body within a span of 6 months to 2 years, allowing the body to heal incrementally.

PLA medical screws
PLA surgical screws

PLA is also used to create packaging materials, and in the production of bags, shrink wrap, disposable dinnerware, upholstery, awnings, textiles, and diapers.

PLA and Water

If not properly stored, PLA will absorb water, which will affect the filaments natural properties. For best results, always store your unused filament in a sealed container and add silica beads fur ultimate moisture reduction.

PLA will also begin to decompose in the rain, so it is not ideal for outdoor use, or long-term applications where it will be in constant contact with liquids (unless, of course, it is meant to degrade).

ABS, Sunlight, & Heat

Pieces printed with ABS are vulnerable to degradation due to sun exposure and heat, so store your designs away from direct sunlight in order to preserve them, and do not expose them to temperatures above 150° F.

PLA and the Environment

PLA plastic biodegrading
Biodegradation of PLA via – tobuya3dprinter.com

PLA is derived from renewable resources such as corn starch, tapioca (roots, chips, or starch), and sugarcane.

It can be recycled into a monomer by thermal depolymerization or hydrolysis, then reformed into PLA.

In addition, PLA is biodegradable, which makes it great for the environment.

Precautions for Printing with PLA

When 3D printing, it is always best to take precaution. Be aware of your proximity to heated elements, and remember that there is always a risk of skin burns.

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