The power of 3D printing is the ability to produce impossible designs that lead to enhanced functionality and performance. While it’s important to evaluate different technologies and processes, never underestimate material selection and capabilities.
With so many different 3D printing options in the marketplace and countless material options available, what makes the most sense for you? In this post we will compare several FDM materials and how these thermoplastics can be augmented to service a wider range of manufacturing applications. PLA vs. ABS, ASA, PLX, PRO HT, HI-TEMP, Carbon Fiber, Bio-ABS, and more.
The most commonly used 3D printed material is ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene). ABS variations are used in every industry imaginable (transportation, consumer products, electronics, etc.). For example, plastic components make up 50 percent of a vehicle’s volume, but only about 10 percent of its weight. Therefore, prototypers, product developers, and production engineers feel comfortable printing materials that mimic the end-use product or purpose. Printing with ABS is an acceptable and easy solution for many manufacturers.
Second only to ABS, PLA (Polylactic Acid) is a highly preferred 3D printing material because it is inexpensive, easy to use, and accessible on many platforms. Compared to ABS, PLA has slightly better tensile strength properties but generally doesn’t have enough flex strength. Both materials are comparable when it comes to pricing. However, under the right conditions, PLA is biodegradable and oftentimes used for food and packaging products making it rather attractive for many consumer product industries. In many instances, PLA is the preferred material choice. PLX, a PLA derivative, was recently introduced by BigRep and available on all platforms. PLX prints up to 80% faster and produces excellent surface features, eliminating the need for post processing.
ASA (Acrylonitrile Styrene Acrylate) is an ABS alternative material with improved weather resistance properties that make it ideal for many outdoor applications. Compared to ABS, ASA has better mechanical properties, superior aesthetics, and it’s UV resistant. Printing with ASA is advantageous for industrial and end-use parts, oftentimes used for automotive, sporting goods, and consumer appliances. The downside is that ASA is slightly more expensive than ABS and produces toxic smoke when burned. Many UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) developers will prototype with ASA material and even consider using it in the final product due to its UV stability and weather resistance.
PRO HT, BigRep’s flagship material, is the most popular filament amongst BigRep customers and users. With a softening resistance up to 115 °C, it has significant increase in temperature resistance compared to the average PLA, making it ideal for practical, end-use applications. In addition, PRO HT is FDA compliant for food safety and meets all requirements of EU Directives for food contact. Derived from organic compounds, PRO HT is biodegradable under the correct conditions and has a much lower ecological impact than other plastics derived from fossil fuels. Most common applications include consumer products, packaging, general prototyping, manufacturing and low production tooling.
Carbon fiber materials are unique and fairly new to the 3D printing industry. Highly stiff and incredibly durable, HI-TEMP CF is heat resistant up to 115 °C and perfect for many tooling applications. For example, thermoforming, pattern and mold making will use HI-TEMP CF for class A surface finish and low moisture absorption.
Compared to many other thermoplastics, the carbon fiber attributes provide significant strength capabilities (>65 MPa) and is recommended as a superior alternative to ASA for functional prototyping or production. HI-TEMP CF is robust and resilient to withstand harsh manufacturing environments.
How to truly maximize the right filament for your application? When it comes to general prototyping, all of these materials can be considered and will most likely yield positive results for your product development. However, prototyping goes beyond just form, fit and function so we recommend taking a deeper dive into specific material characteristics to determine which makes the most sense for you. When it comes to production, it’s very important to consider the mechanical properties of your chosen material and how it will perform. Tooling or end-use products are required to meet certain standards and more often than not, sacrifices cannot be made.
To simplify, we recommend: