One of the most important parts of a 3D printer is the filament itself. Generally, this is a thermoplastic that is able to melt and solidify with the changing of temperatures to allow seamless layering of material. Two of the most common filaments on the market are Poly Lactic Acid (PLA) and Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS). Both of these filaments have their own benefits and shortcomings, which will be reviewed and analyzed to determine the overall best solution for current 3D printing.
PLA is a natural, bio-degradable plastic due to it being formed from corn starch and sugar cane. Because of this, it is suitable for interaction with foods and consumables. This contrasts heavily with ABS as it is oil-based and much worse for the environment, also causing it to be unsafe for food handling. This causes a major limitation in the design possibilities for ABS printing that PLA can easily fill. However, this benefit raises a con for PLA; it has a much lower melting point. Although this can be a good thing, as it doesn’t require a hot surface to print on, PLA is much more susceptible to deformations caused by heat. For this reason ABS can be used in higher heat applications such as parts for automobiles. Not only is ABS more optimal for applications such as this because of the higher melting point, but it is also much more sturdy and solid. This increases the lifespan of ABS printed parts and makes it a better solution for scenarios where force will be constant and large. However, PLA is able to print at a much higher speed smoothly and consistently due to the flow of material and is able to support higher detail in the prints. Although the difference isn’t incredibly dramatic, it still provides a benefit, in this aspect, over ABS. Another benefit of PLA is the lack of dangerous fumes that is produced while printing. ABS should not be used in a poorly ventilated area, as the fumes could cause negative effects to the user’s health. PLA, on the other hand, has a sweet smell that reflects the natural ingredients used to make it.
Overall, both materials have a set of benefits that make them application specific such as ABS being ideal for scenarios where large, consistent forces and high temperatures will be present and PLA being extremely useful for higher detailed prints and applications that involve consumables. The aspect of PLA that makes it the best solution for current 3D printing is the natural materials that it is constructed from. Due to the corn starch and sugar cane, it is bio-degradable, emits safe fumes when melted, and can be safe to use with food and beverages. For most scenarios, PLA will effectively get the job done resulting in quicker and more detailed prints. However, it is a good idea to keep ABS around for objects that will be affected by high forces and temperatures. Together, these materials will provide users with the ability to print an enormous multitude of objects that is sure to meet his or her needs.