What is PLA and How Does it Impact 3D Printing?

PLA meaning

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If you’re just starting out in the world of 3D printing, you may have come across the term PLA and might be wondering what it means. PLA, a popular material in the 3D printing industry, stands for polylactic acid, which is a type of bioplastic made from renewable resources like corn starch or sugarcane.

It’s a great alternative to traditional petroleum-based plastics and is becoming a popular choice for many 3D printing projects due to its affordability and ease of use.

In this article, we will delve deeper into what PLA is and why it’s a crucial material in the world of 3D printing, particularly in terms of its mechanical properties.

PLA Filament And Its Properties

PLA is a popular material in the 3D printing industry, and it’s known for its ease of use and relatively low printing temperature. It’s also one of the 3D printing plastics that are widely available as 3D printing filament.

PLA filament is a plastic that is commonly used in 3D printing with FDM technology due to its low melting point (around 185°C) and minimal shrinkage when exposed to heat. It is also a polymer similar to PET, often used to make containers. Made from maize starch, it can be considered biodegradable under specific humidity and temperature conditions.

One of the main benefits of using PLA is its eco-friendliness and biodegradability. It is also easy to work with, making it suitable for all levels of 3D printing experience. Its strength and versatility make it a popular choice for long-lasting 3D prints, and its wide range of colors allows for intricate designs and complex color combinations.

PLA a Popular 3D Printing Material?

There are several reasons why PLA is considered the most popular filament for 3D printing. 

  1. its mechanical properties make it easy to print with, as it is less prone to warping and requires lower printing temperature. As a result, it’s great for beginners who may not have the skills or experience to tackle more complicated materials like ABS.
  2. It is a relatively cheap material, which makes it great for people who are just starting out with 3D printing.
  3. It is a strong and durable material with excellent impact resistance, making it ideal for applications such as prototyping and functional parts.
  4. In the 3D printing industry, PLA is widely used due to its ease of use and versatility. It is compatible with a wide range of 3D printing technologies, making it a popular choice for creating a variety of 3D models.
  5. It is an environmentally friendly material as it is biodegradable and made from renewable sources.
  6. Post-processing is also straightforward with PLA; it can be sanded, polished, or painted easily to achieve a smooth finish.
  7. It creates colorful and edible confections when used with the right nozzle configuration, making it a great choice for culinary 3D printing.
  8. The 3D printing filament is also available in a wide range of colors, making it ideal for creating colorful and unique designs.

How PLA Printing Works

3D printing with PLA filament is a process in which renewable resources such as corn starch and sugar cane are transformed into a pliable material that can be molded into various shapes. 

This is achieved by feeding the PLA filament into an extruder, which heats it until it becomes malleable. The extruder then directs the filament through a nozzle, which is guided along a predetermined path to build objects layer by layer from the bottom up.

One of the major benefits of this process is that it produces minimal odors and can be easily printed at low temperatures, resulting in energy savings. Overall, 3D printing with PLA offers numerous advantages over traditional 3D printing methods.

Drawbacks of Using PLA Filament

Although there are many advantages to using PLA, there are also a few drawbacks to consider. Here are some of the disadvantages of using PLA for 3D printing

  1. PLA is not as strong or durable as other materials like ABS, so it may not be suitable for applications that require a high level of strength or durability.
  2. PLA can be easily damaged by heat or sunlight because it has a lower melting point than ABS.
  3. It is not as versatile as other materials and can have trouble with intricate details or complex structures.
  4. PLA filament may not be biodegradable in all environments. For example, if PLA filament is disposed of in a landfill, it will not decompose as quickly as some other materials.
  5. PLA can be prone to warping if the printing conditions are not ideal and it is not as mechanically strong, so for functional parts, you may need to consider a different material.
  6. PLA filament is made from corn, which is a renewable resource. However, the process of growing and harvesting corn requires the use of fossil fuels, which can contribute to air pollution and climate change.
  7. PLA filament is also much more brittle than other materials, making it susceptible to breakage if dropped or handled roughly.
  8. The colors of PLA filament fade over time when exposed to light, making long-term color matching difficult.
  9. PLA filaments may require support structures when printing on certain designs due to their low strength. This adds to the printing time and complexity of the process.

When to Consider the Use of PLA In 3D Printing

As popular as PLA is, it is not suitable for all applications, especially where strength and durability are concerned. However, it can be a great choice for the following applications or scenarios;

Prototyping Small Objects

If you need to quickly prototype a small item, then you may want to consider PLA printing. The ease of use and low cost make it ideal for producing quick and accurate results.

Culinary 3D Printing

PLA filament is ideal for culinary 3D printing due to its low toxicity and ability to create colorful, edible confections.

Edible Confections

PLA filament is food-safe and can be used in conjunction with specialized nozzles to create intricate edible confections. This makes it a great choice for food-related 3D printing projects.

Environmentally Friendly Projects

PLA is a biodegradable material that is made from renewable sources, making it ideal for projects with an environmental focus. It is also low-odor, making it a good choice for indoor and enclosed projects.

FAQ

Why is PLA Widely Used?

PLA is one of the most popular 3D printing materials because it’s easy to use, affordable, and environmentally friendly. PLA is a bioplastic made from renewable resources like corn starch, tapioca roots, and sugarcane.

This makes it much easier on the environment than traditional petroleum-based plastic materials. It’s also more user-friendly than other materials, thanks to its low melting temperature and tendency not to warp or shrink during the cooling process.

Why is PLA Good for 3D Printing?

PLA is great for 3D printing because it’s easy to work with, produces smoother prints, and doesn’t require a heated bed. It’s also relatively strong and versatile, making it suitable for a variety of applications.

Can PLA hold water?

No, PLA is not a waterproof material. If exposed to water or other liquids, it will dissolve and break down over time.

Does PLA need to be heated?

No, PLA does not require any heating. It can be printed directly from the filament spool at room temperature. However, it is important to make sure that the temperature of your 3D printer is set correctly for PLA printing.

What does ABS mean in 3D printing?

ABS stands for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene and is a type of plastic commonly used in 3D printing. It has good heat resistance, is tough, and has good chemical resistance. ABS is more difficult to work with than PLA and requires higher temperatures for printing. It also has a tendency to warp and shrink during the cooling process.

Wrapping Up

 PLA is a great 3D printing material because it’s easy to work with, produces smoother prints, and doesn’t require a heated bed. It’s also relatively strong and versatile, making it suitable for a variety of applications. 

However, PLA has some drawbacks; it’s not waterproof, can dissolve in water over time, and has a lower melting point. Ultimately, the choice of material should be based on the application and desired results. 

If you’re looking for an easy-to-use, affordable 3D printing material, then PLA is definitely worth considering. 

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