The MaterialMatters Series at the MakingSociety kicks off with a dedicated exploration of PLA Plastic, a very popular material for 3D Printing and other activities!
Main characteristics of PLA
PLA comes transparent but can be coloured. It can be translucent or opaque depending on the degree wanted. Objects made in PLA have usually a glossy look.
Resistance and Solidity
PLA is more sensitive to environment than other types of plastic such as ABS. If put in the water for too long, your PLA product can slightly loose its colours. Because it melts at a low temperature (180°C), it is usually not recommended to use PLA products in a very hot environment. You may have experienced it when your stirrer gets deformed in your hot coffee. PLA is stronger than ABS and also a bit less flexible, which makes it less suitable for designs that clip and assembly. For more details about material properties of PLA, this link might be of great interest.
PLA can be machined and sanded.
Is PLA easily biodegradable ?
The love for PLA comes from the fact that it’s biodegradable. If you look at it quickly, you may think it’s the perfect plastic of the future, made from nature and returning to nature. It’s actually a bit more complicated as PLA cannot be recycled in a home compost trash. It needs an industrial composting facility heated to 60 °C and the addition of digestive microbes to really disappeared.
There is actually only a very limited number of facilities around the world designed for degrading PLA, which means that it takes energy to bring the trashed products there. PLA products also tend to be confused for other types of plastics by the end users, and often end up in the general trash. Composting times can greatly vary, taking from 1 to 6 months in a commercial composting facility.
Is PLA always food-safe?
Many users of home 3D printers think that it’s 3D printed objects in PLA for food-related purpose: cups, eating ustensiles, juicers…. Don’t do it! 3D printed PLA is usually NOT safe. Filament of PLA goes through pieces of your 3D printer that contain lead, and PLA filament rolls sold for 3D printing are usually mixed with other materials. If you want to 3D print food-safe products in PLA, you will have to use pure PLA and a 3D printer made of stainless steel. With the rapid growth of 3D printing, PLA is gaining in popularity. Hobbyists love it for its green and low-cost qualities, professionals love it for its strengh and appearance.
PLA is massively used by users of personal 3D printers using deposition modelling technique. PLA melts at a temperature of about 180°C and cools down faster than ABS, which means that no heated bed is needed. Because of its property (it heats up and cools down fast), PLA can be a bit more difficult to use at first than ABS. But it smells much better.
Casing for electronics
Even if it’s still really rare to find electronics casings made of PLA, a few products have been launched on the market, mostly for communication purpose (“look how green we are!”). Examples below were experiments from big brands such as Samsung, Fujitsu or Sony. They used PLA as a marketing tool, surfing on the “green tech” trend.
Every Thursday is #3dthursday here at Adafruit! The DIY 3D printing community has passion and dedication for making solid objects from digital models. Recently, we have noticed electronics projects integrated with 3D printed enclosures, brackets, and sculptures, so each Thursday we celebrate and highlight these bold pioneers!
Have you considered building a 3D project around an Arduino or other microcontroller? How about printing a bracket to mount your Raspberry Pi to the back of your HD monitor? And don’t forget the countless LED projects that are possible when you are modeling your projects in 3D!
The Adafruit Learning System has dozens of great tools to get you well on your way to creating incredible works of engineering, interactive art, and design with your 3D printer! If you’ve made a cool project that combines 3D printing and electronics, be sure to let us know, and we’ll feature it here!