Chances are good that if you’ve done any 3D printing, it was of the standard fused deposition modeling variety. FDM is pretty simple stuff — get a bit of plastic filament hot enough, squeeze the molten goo out of a fine nozzle, control the position of the nozzle more or less precisely in three dimensions, and repeat for hours on end until your print is done. To the outsider it looks like magic, but to us it’s just another Saturday afternoon.
Resin printing is another thing altogether, and a lot closer to magic for most of us. The current crop of stereolithography printers just have a high-resolution LCD display between a UV light source and a build tank with a transparent bottom. Prints are built up layer by layer by flashing UV light patterns into the tank as a build plate slowly lifts it up from the resin, like some creature emerging from the primordial goo.
Of course it’s all just science, but if there is any magic in SLA printing, surely it’s in the resins used for it. Their nondescript brown plastic bottles and information-poor labels give little clue as to their ingredients, although their hydrocarbon reek and viscous, sticky texture are pretty good clues. Let’s take a look inside the resin bottle and find out what it is that makes the magic of SLA happen.
Continue reading “Plastics: Photopolymers For 3D Printing And Beyond”
You’d be hard-pressed to walk down nearly any aisle of a modern food store without coming across something made of plastic. From jars of peanut butter to bottles of soda, along with the trays that hold cookies firmly in place to prevent breakage or let a meal go directly from freezer to microwave, food is often in very close contact with a plastic that is specifically engineered for the job: polyethylene terephthalate, or PET.
For makers of non-food objects, PET and more importantly its derivative, PETG, also happen to have excellent properties that make them the superior choice for 3D-printing filament for some applications. Here’s a look at the chemistry of polyester resins, and how just one slight change can turn a synthetic fiber into a rather useful 3D-printing filament.
Continue reading “Plastics: PETG”
If anything ends up on the beds of hobbyist-grade laser cutters more often than birch plywood, it’s probably sheets of acrylic. There’s something strangely satisfying about watching a laser beam trace over a sheet of the crystal-clear stuff, vaporizing a hairs-breadth line while it goes, and (hopefully) leaving a flame-polished cut in its wake.
Acrylic, more properly known as poly(methyl methacrylate) or PMMA, is a wonder material that helped win a war before being developed for peacetime use. It has some interesting chemistry and properties that position it well for use in the home shop as everything from simple enclosures to laser-cut parts like gears and sprockets.
Continue reading “Plastics: Acrylic”
It would be really hard to go through a typical day in the developed world without running across something made from ABS plastic. It’s literally all over the place, from toothbrush handles to refrigerator interiors to car dashboards to computer keyboards. Many houses are plumbed with pipes extruded from ABS, and it lives in rolls next to millions of 3D-printers, loved and hated by those who use and misuse it. And in the form of LEGO bricks, it lurks on carpets in the dark rooms of children around the world, ready to puncture the bare feet of their parents.
ABS is so ubiquitous that it makes sense to take a look at this material in terms of its chemistry and its properties. As we’ll see, ABS isn’t just a single plastic, but a mixture that takes the best properties of its components to create one of the most versatile plastics in the world.
Continue reading “ABS: Three Plastics In One”
If you’ve ever taken a coast-to-coast car trip across the United States, the one thing that’s sure to impress you is the mind-bogglingly immense amount of corn that we grow here. If you take the northern route — I’ve done it seven times, so I know it by heart — you’ll see almost nothing but corn from Ohio to Montana. The size of the fields is simply staggering, and you’re left wondering, “Do we really eat all this corn?”
The simple answer is no, we don’t. We grow way more corn than we can eat or, once turned into alcohol, drink. We do feed a lot to animals, many of which subsequently end up as burgers or pork chops. But even after all that, and after accounting for exports, we still have a heck of a lot of corn to put to work. There are lots of industrial uses for this surplus corn, though, and chances are pretty good you’ve got an ear or two worth coiled up next to your 3D-printer, in the form of polylactic acid, or PLA.
Continue reading “PLA: The Plastic That Grows”