Plastics are either thermoplastics (with FDM or SLS), which are generally more suited for functional applications, or thermosets (with SLA/DLP or Material Jetting), which are generally more suited for applications that require good visual appearance.
Below is a list of comonly used plastics in 3D printing:
- PLA: High stiffness, good detail, affordable. PLA is a biodegradable thermoplastic for low-cost, non-functional prototyping. Greater detail than ABS, but more brittle. Unsuitable for high temperatures.
- ABS: Commodity plastic, improved mechanical and thermal properties compared to PLA. ABS is a common thermoplastic with good mechanical properties and excellent impact strength, superior to PLA but with less defined details.
- Resin: High detail and smooth surface, injection mold-like prototyping. Resins are thermoset photopolymers that solidify when exposed to light, producing high detail parts with a smooth, injection mold-like surface finish.
- Nylon: Used to substitute functional injection moulded parts, good chemical resistance. Nylon or polyamide (PA) is a thermoplastic with excellent mechanical properties, high chemical and abrasion resistance. Perfect for functional applications.
- PETG: Good for mechanical parts with high impact resistance and flexibility. Sterilizable. PETG is a thermoplastic with improved properties over PLA, with high impact resistance and excellent chemical and moisture resistance. PETG can be sterilized.
- TPU: Rubber-like material, suitable for tubes, grips, seals and gaskets. TPU is a thermoplastic elastomer with low Shore Hardness and a rubber-like feel that can be easily flexed and compressed.
- ASA: UV stability and high chemical resistance, preferred material for outdoor applications. ASA is a thermoplastic with properties similar to ABS but with improved thermal, chemical and weather resistance. Perfect for outdoor applications.
- PEI: Engineering plastic, high performance applications, flame retardant. PEI is an engineering thermoplastic with good mechanical properties and exceptional heat, chemical and flame resistance.
3D printing metals are mainly used in applications that require high strength, high hardness or high thermal resistance. When 3D printing in metal, topology optimization is critical to maximize part performance and mitigate the high cost of the technology.
DMLS/SLM are compatible with the largest range of metals and produces parts for high-end engineering applications. For less demanding use-cases, Binder Jetting is gaining popularity due to its lower cost with Stainless steel being by far the most used material.
Extrusion based metal 3D printing systems (similar to FDM) are being released in 2018 which are expected to drive down the costs of metal 3D printing for prototyping purposes. Below is a list of commonly used metals in the 3D printing field.
- Stainless steel: High tensile strength, temperature and corrosion resistance. Stainless steel is a metal alloy with high ductility, wear and corrosion resistance that can be easily welded, machined and polished.
- Aluminum: High machinability and ductility, good strength-to-weight ratio. Aluminum is a metal with good strength-to-weight ratio, high thermal and electrical conductivity, low density and natural weather resistance.
- Titanium: Used in aerospace, automotive and medical industries, excellent strength-to-weight ratio. Titanium is a metal with excellent strength-to-weight ratio, low thermal expansion and high corrosion resistance that is sterilizable and biocompatible.
- Cobalt-chrome: Super alloy used in extreme environments, aerospace and biomedical applications. Cobalt-chrome (CoCr) is a metal super-alloy with excellent strength and outstanding corrosion, wear and temperature resistance.
- Nickel Alloys: Super alloy used in extreme environments, aerospace applications. Nickel alloys (Ni) have excellent strength and fatigue resistance. Can be used permanently at temperatures above 600°C.
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