Measuring The Stiffness Of 3D-Printed Parts

How do you choose filament when you want strong 3D-printed parts? Like most of us, you probably take a guess, or just use what you have on hand and hope for the best. But armed with a little knowledge on strength of materials, you might be able to make a more educated assessment.

To help you further your armchair mechanical engineer ambitions, [Stefan] has thoughtfully put together this video of tests he conducted to determine the stiffness of common 3D-printing plastics. He’s quick to point out that strength and stiffness are not the same thing, and that stiffness might be more important than strength in some applications. Strength measures how much stress can be applied to an element before it deforms, while stiffness describes how well an element returns to its original state after being stressed. The test rig [Stefan] built for the video analyzes stiffness by measuring the deflection of printed parts under increasing loads. Graphing the applied force versus the deflection gives an indication of the rigidity of the part, while taking the thickness of the material into account yields the bending modulus. The results are not terribly surprising, with polypropylene being the floppiest material and exotic composite filaments, like glass fiber or even “nanodiamond” reinforced PLA coming out as the stiffest. PLA, the workhorse filament, comes in around the middle of the pack.

[Stefan] did some great work here, but as he points out, in the final analysis it almost doesn’t matter what the stiffness and strength of the filament are since you can easily change your design and add more material where it’s needed. That only works up to a point, of course, but it’s one of the many advantages of additive manufacturing.

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The Effects Of Color On Material Properties Of 3D Printed Components

The strength of object printed on filament-based 3D printers varies by the plastic used, the G-code used by the printer, the percent infill, and even the temperature the plastic was extruded at. Everything, it seems, has an effect on the strength of 3D printed parts, but does the color of filament have an effect on the stress and strain a plastic part it can withstand? [Joshua M. Pearce] set out to answer that question in one of his most recent papers.

The methods section of the paper is about what you would expect for someone investigating the strength of parts printed on a RepRap. A Lulzbot TAZ 4 was used, along with natural, white, black, silver, and blue 3mm PLA filament. All parts were printed at 190°C with a 60°C heated bed.

The printed parts demonstrated yet again that a RepRap can produce parts that are at least equal in material strength to those produced by a proprietary 3D printer. But what about a difference in the strength among different colors? While there wasn’t a significant variation in the Young’s modulus of parts printed in different colors, there was a significant variation of the crystallization of differently colored printed parts, with white PLA producing the largest percent crystallinity, followed by blue, grey, black, and finally natural PLA. This crystallinity of a printed part can affect the tensile properties of a printed part, but [Pearce] found the extrusion temperature also has a large effect on the percentage of crystallinity.