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We compared the 3D filament on following criteria:
- Energy consumption
- Printing Speed
- Does all material Cool Down at same speed
- Printer compatibility
- Possibility to recycle
- Fumes during printing.
- Food contact Material
- Fossil vs BIOBASED
- Recycled Content
- Technical performances
- Esthetic performances
Personal vs Professional use
PLA filament is the most adequate for personal use because it’s cheap and easy-to-use.
There are more over the counter & ready-to-use options with PLA filament.
PLA will be the most used plastic because it has the lower melting point,
Personal Application 3D Printing
DIY – hobby, maquette, repair broken object interruptors, bike parts, table angles to for kids protection, kids toys
Artistic – sculptures, jewels,
Children can play – develop kids’ artistic and creative skills
Professional Applications of 3D Printing
Nylon, PET, ABS filament will mostly be used in a professional context. The choice will depend on the application.
Usually, several prototype will be done and the first visual prototype could be done with PLA filament because it’s easy-to use.
The second/functional test / prototype may be done in another material closer to the desired end material
The design process summarised: prototyping a new product, design on paper, 3D design, then 3D printing (several prototypes).
PLA – Cheapest
ABS – Cheapest
PET – More expensive
PLA – Available, widest choice in terms of over-the counter options
ABS – Available
PET – Available
PLA melting point is 180° – 210° Celsius. The heated bed (to stick 3D printed object) should be at 60 °Celsius. 3D printing with PLA filament is the most sustainable option in terms of energy consumption
ABS melting point is 250 ° celsius and heated bed should be at 100° C
PET melting points is 250 ° celsius and the heated bed should be at 100° C
PLA – 50 mm / second
ABS – 50 mm / second
PET – 50 mm / second
PLA – Needs a fan to cool down
ABS – No fan needed as it dries faster
PET – You need a fan
PLA – Most compatible filament with 3D printers
PET – Most compatible filament with 3D printers
ABS – More difficult, you need a close chamber, there’s a warping effect risk.
End-of-Life and Recyclability
PLA waste – There’s no separate collection of PLA waste. There are no possibilities to recycle the PLA waste.
ABS waste will go in the domestic waste
PET waste – There’s a separate collection for PET, but recyclers will probably remove it because they won’t recognise it.
What is not recycled, will be incinerated.
Some companies provide equipment to shred the waste and extrude a recycled content filament. The problem is that most plastic are not indefinitely recyclable. You will have to add virgin plastic to it at some point.
Fumes During Printing
- PLA – No fumes, it’s safe to work next to the printer. There’s no need for a closed chamber and filter
- ABS – You will need a closed chamber and a filter
- PET – No toxic fumes, no need for a closed chamber and filter
Food Contact Material
The challenge is that 3D printer will place plastic layers on top of layers. Some food might get stuck between these layers and contaminate the objects (in the case of reusable containers for instance.)
PET – only material that can be in contact with food; but dedicated machine just for that. See legal framework and best practice.
PLA filament should not be used for food grade applications.
ABS filament should not be used for food grade applications.
Fossil vs Biobased
PLA filament are bio-based but could be upgraded with fossil-based additives.
ABS filament are fossil-based.
PET filament are fossil based.
PLA – You cannot find PLA filament with recycled content.
ABS – You cannot find ABS filament with recycled content.
PET – You can find recycled content PET filament, and PET waste can be recycled.
PLA – There are many over the counter PLA filaments blends (additives and composites) possible such as PLA + wood, PLA + metal, PLA + stone (concrete, terra cotta, clay). You can also find PLA filament that glows at night.
The weakest point of PLA is that it’s not strong in terms of technical performance. PLA filaments are not very resistant and have a low impact resistance.
ABS and PET – It’s technically feasible to blend them but you probably won’t find them over the counter. It’s not that easy to get all those variants.
The strongest point of PLA is its availability in many colours. You can find PLA filament in almost any colour; many more that with the other two options.
I had the chance to interview Nicolas Usuwiel from Unic-3D Printing. Nicolas has one of the only 3D printing shops in Belgium and is probably one of the most “3D printing” savvy person in Brussels and Belgium at this point-in-time. Visit his website on https://unic-3d.com/en/