Plastics: Acrylic

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.

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True Transparent Parts from a Desktop 3D Printer

We’re no strangers to seeing translucent 3D printed parts: if you print in a clear filament with thin enough walls you can sorta see through the resulting parts. It’s not perfect, but if you’re trying to make a lamp shade or decorative object, it’s good enough. You certainly couldn’t print anything practical like viewing windows or lenses, leaving “clear” 3D printing as more of a novelty than a practical process.

But after months of refining his process, [Tomer Glick] has finally put together his guide for creating transparent prints on a standard desktop FDM machine. It doesn’t even require any special filament, he says it will work on PLA, ABS, or PETG, though for the purposes of this demonstration he’s using the new Prusament ABS. The process requires some specific print settings and some post processing, but the results he’s achieved are well worth jumping though a few hoops.

According to [Tomer] the secret is in the print settings. Essentially, you want the printer to push the layers together far closer than normal, in combination with using a high hotend temperature and 100% infill. The end result (hopefully) is the plastic being laid down by the printer is completely fused with the preceding one, making a print that is more of a literal solid object than we’re used to seeing with FDM printing. In fact, you could argue these settings generate internal structures that are nearly the polar opposite of what you’d see on a normal print.

The downside with these unusual print settings is that the outside of the print is exceptionally rough and ugly (as you might expect when forcing as much plastic together as possible). To expose the clear internals, you’ll need to knock the outsides down with some fairly intense sanding. [Tomer] says he starts with 600 and works his way up to 4000, and even mentions that when you get up to the real high grits you might as well use a piece of cardboard to sand the print because that’s about how rough the sandpaper would be anyway.

[Tomer] goes on to demonstrate a printed laser lens, and even shows how you can recreate the effect of laser-engraved acrylic by intentionally putting voids inside the print in whatever shape you like. It’s a really awesome effect and honestly something we would never have believed came off a standard desktop 3D printer.

In the past we’ve seen specialized filament deliver some fairly translucent parts, but those results still weren’t as good as what [Tomer] is getting with standard filament. We’re very interested in seeing more of this process, and are excited to see what kind of applications hackers can come up with.

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The Filament Pelletizer For Fused Granular Fabrication

The ABS and PLA that goes into your 3D printer is sold in two forms. The first, naturally, is filament. The second is plastic granules, the raw material for your filament, and costs an order of magnitude less than the filament itself. For years we’ve been seeing machines that either print directly with plastic granules or are converted into filament with fancy filament-extruding machines. Now we can do it the other way. [Aubrey Woern] and [Joshua Pearce] of Michigan Tech have been working on a polymer pelletizer chopper that takes plastic filament and turns it into pellets.

The system uses a large corded drill motor to drive a Forstner drill bit. Filament is then threaded into the top of this spinning drill bit with the help of a small DC motor and grippy wheel printed out of Ninjaflex. The system works, and the authors of the paper were able to vary the size of the chopped filament by feeding it into the Forstner bit faster or slower.

While turning an expensive product (filament) back into its raw material (pellets) may not seem like a great idea, there have been a significant number of advancements in the state of manufacturing filament on a desktop and printing directly from pellets in recent years. A machine that turns plastic back into its raw state is something that’s needed if you want to experiment with plastic recycling, and this machine is more than capable of chopping up a spool of filament in two hours or so.

3D Printer Warning: Heating Plastic To High Temps is Not Healthy

If you’ve ever tried to cut a piece of acrylic with a tool designed to cut wood or metal, you know that the plastic doesn’t cut in the same way that either of the other materials would. It melts at the cutting location, often gumming up the tool but always releasing a terrible smell that will encourage anyone who has tried this to get the proper plastic cutting tools instead of taking shortcuts. Other tools that heat up plastic also have this problem, as Gizmodo reported recently, and it turns out that the plastic particles aren’t just smelly, they’re toxic.

The report released recently in Aerosol Science and Technology (first part and second part) focuses on 3D printers which heat plastic of some form or other in order to make it malleable and form to the specifications of the print. Similar to cutting plastic with the wrong tool, this releases vaporized plastic particles into the air which are incredibly small and can cause health issues when inhaled. They are too small to be seen, and can enter the bloodstream through the lungs. The study found 200 different compounds that were emitted by the printers, some of which are known to be harmful, including several carcinogens. The worst of the emissions seem to be released when the prints are first initiated, but they are continuously released throuhgout the print session as well.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that aerosolized plastic is harmful to breathe, but the sheer magnitude of particles detected in this study is worth taking note of. If you don’t already, it might be good to run your 3D printer in the garage or at least in a room that isn’t used as living space. If that’s not possible, you might want to look at other options to keep your work area safe.

Thanks to [Michael] for the tip!

Living Hinges at the Next Level

First of all, a living hinge is not a biological entity nor does it move on its own. Think of the top of a Tic Tac container where the lid and the cover are a single piece, and the thin plastic holding them together flexes to allow you to reach the candies disguised as mints. [Xiaoyu “Rayne” Zheng] at Virginia Tech designed a method of multimaterial programmable additive manufacturing which is fancy-ese for printing with more than one type of material.

The process works under the premise of printing a 3D latticework, similar to the “FILL” function of a consumer printer. Each segment of material is determined by the software and mixed on the spot by the printer and cured before moving onto the next segment. Like building a bridge one beam at a time, if that bridge were meant for tardigrades and many beams were fabricated each minute. Mixing up each segment as needed means that a different recipe results in a different rigidity, so it is possible to make a robotic leg with stiff “bones” and flexible “joints.”

We love printing in different materials, even if it is only one medium at a time. Printing in metal is useful and could be consumer level soon, but you can print in chocolate right now.

Via Phys.org. Thank you again for the tip, [Qes].

PLA: The Plastic That Grows

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.

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Spot Welding …Plastic?

Plastic milk bottles, when your project or prototype needs an urgent source of plastic, they are often the first thing to hand. Convenient and flexible, but strong at the same time and usually free, they’re the ultimate source of material in a pinch. However, when it comes to actually manipulating the HDPE plastic they’re made from, there’s often a challenge. It’s easy to cut, but not so easy to join. Conventional glues can have a hard time, making it difficult to bond.

Enter [zimitt], and a spot welding solution for joining HDPE with ease. Ok, so ‘spot welding’ might be a little optimistic given the speed of this process, but it’s useful nonetheless. To heat the plastic, a cheap soldering iron is recommended. A low wattage, straight-to-the-wall one does well, especially as they commonly have the washer-style end shown in the picture. To protect the plastic from burning, a BBQ mat is used – they’re temperature resistant and usually made with a PTFE surface.

First, place the two sheets of plastic face to face and sandwich top and bottom with the BBQ mat. Apply some heat to the mat with the soldering iron then, after a few seconds, remove the iron and provide pressure with a flat object to bond the plastic. [zimitt] used an espresso tamper for this which was ideal.

The results are impressive, and [zimitt] experiments with different plastics as well. Of course, you should exercise caution when attempting anything like this, given the health risks present when heating up different types of plastic.

HDPE is easy to recycle at home, and we’ve seen a lot of great uses: a plastic joiner’s mallet, plastic tiles, and even a filament extruder for 3D printing.