Advanced Materials for 3D Printing

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Taking 3DP To The Next Level

We’ve gotten really good at making desktop Fused-Filament Fabrication printers, but how do we take it to the next level? There are 100s of different types of plastics, but we have been sticking to PLA and ABS in the 3DP world. So, what’s the next frontier in desktop 3DP?

According to Matt Stultz, the leader of 3D Printing Providence and a member of the testing team for this year’s Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing, the next big thing is materials. There are several new varieties of printable plastic that appeared on the market in 2013; including: thermochromic, conductive, Laywood, Laybrick, polypropylene, HIPS, nylon, and TGlass (PET) filaments.


Why Advanced Materials?

Each plastic has different properties that make it useful for different tasks.  For example, nylon is both strong and non-reactive to substances like gasoline; making it ideal for durable automobile parts like gas tanks. Other plastics like PET (TGlass), have excellent optical clarity and are easy to work with. Laywood and Laybrick are PLA composites that look similar to wood or sandstone when printed.


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Some of the most interesting uses of these substances are as dissolvable support materials. HIPS (High Impact Polystyrene), typically used for fast food packaging, interacts well when used in a dual extrusion machine with ABS. The HIPS can be dissolved with Limonene, making impossible print overhangs a thing of the past.

How to Get Started?

Matt recommends that those who want to get started with these materials to first keep their printer in mind.  Does it have a heated bed or dual extruders?  If not, your options are more limited when it comes to multi-material printing, but there are many filaments that you can try with any printer.  You can buy these filaments from a number of online vendors, but some good places to start are: Filaco (for HIPS), Taulman 3D (for nylon and TGlass), and Maker Geeks (Laywood, Laybrick, flexPLA and more).

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See Matt’s 3D Printing Providence post for more details on using HIPS as a soluble support material and keep an eye on their blog for more materials updates and tutorials.  Also, check out the Make: 3D Printing book, Chapter 8 – Plastics for 3D Printing, for extrusion temps and adhesion methods for these new materials.

Have you been experimenting with these materials?  Send your tips and tricks to me at anna at makermedia dot com or take to the comments.

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Anna Kaziunas France is interested practical digital fabrication focused project documentation (anything that turns codes into things), as well as adventures in synthetic biology, biohacking, personal genomics and programmable materials.

She's currently working on the forthcoming book "Design for CNC: Practical Joinery Techniques, Projects, and Tips for CNC-routed Furniture".

She’s also the Academic Dean of the global Fab Academy program, the co-author of Getting Started with MakerBot and compiled the Make: 3D Printing book.

Formerly, she worked as an editor for Make: Books, was digital fabrication editor and skill builder section editor for Make: Magazine, and directed Make:'s 2015 and 2014 3D Printer Shootout testing events.

She likes things that are computer-controlled, parametric, and open— preferably all three.

Find her on her personal site, Twitter and Facebook.

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