A short guide on material: Why does it matter so much?
Successful 3D printing is often reduced to expensive hardware. In reality though, it's not that simple. While a quality 3D printer certainly plays its part in a good print-result, it's equally down to choosing the most suitable material for the job and getting many settings right.
Choosing the right material means understanding what our customer's requirements are, or more precisely: how is the part later going to be used, and what are its most important functions?
Here are a few examples:
- Technical parts must be precise and exact in dimensions as well as durable and strong to withstand mechanical forces.
- Detailed models for example are the exact opposite; here, the focus is predominantly on the quality (smoothness) of the surfaces.
- Some products will receive post-treatment such as sanding and filler, hence a surface that's easy to work on is essential.
- Other products must either be super-flexible, work in chemical environments, or withstand extremely high temperatures.
- Last but not least, some products simply have to fit our customer's budget, hence cost-effectiveness is what really matters.
PLA, PETG & ABS
The majority of print jobs we perform is printed on one of the three filament-types in this group. We use PLA, PETG and ABS from the Maertz Budget Line. These three materials are all-rounders, well-suitable for a wide array of applications, available in multiple colors and have a great price-performance, making even larger projects and parts affordable.
Given the large volume of print jobs run on these materials, you can expect us to have a decent selection of colors available in stock. What isn’t in stock but available can usually be sourced within the space of a working day.
PLA stands for "Polyactic acid". PLA is the most-commonly printed material in the world of filament printing. It’s easy to handle, allowing us to print relatively large parts at high speeds in a relatively short timeframe. This is a Tough PLA, having been reinforced using additives. PLA is available in a vast array of colours and very cost-effective.
PETG stands for Polyethylene terephthalate; fundamentally, this is the same material as the one used for PET drink bottles, just not in its raw structure but Glycol-modified, hence the “G” in its abbreviation. Like PLA and ABS, PETG is available in a multitude of colors and similarly priced. Of the three Essentials, PETG is the compromise between PLA and ABS: more flexible than PLA but less challenging to print.
ABS is the abbreviation for Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. It’s the most complex of the essential materials and the challenges of printing ABS are often underestimated.
Compared to PLA and PETG, ABS is substantially more durable and flexible. ABS parts have less of a filament-structure and look a lot more like "one piece", therefore post-processing (sanding and filler) is far easier to apply. Furthermore, ABS parts have a superior heat resistance (more than 100 degrees C compared to 50-55 degrees C of PLA).
Printing ABS is only possible in a fully-enclosed printer without any kind of air-draft. Also, printing ABS may emit acrid fumes that should be filtered and contained in the system.
PC, PP, CPE/CPE+, TPU, NYLON, PVA & Breakaway
The filaments in this group are primarily used in professional applications or whenever our customers have very specific expectations for their product. For materials such as PC, PP, CPE/CPE+, TPU, Nylon or the support materials Breakaway / PVA we use original filament from Ultimaker.
That's the same manufacturer that also makes our machines, and there’s a good reason for that: Filament spools from Ultimaker are equipped with an NFC-Chip which lets the machines automatically detect the material loaded and apply the optimal settings that have been tested and refined in this specific hardware-material combination.
This way, we ensure that when you're already investing in high-quality material, you’re getting the absolute maximum out of it, for every gram of filament you use.
PC is the abbreviation for Polycarbonate. Like Nylon, it is one of the strongest natural filaments able to withstand extreme mechanical forces but unlike Nylon it can cope with higher temperatures of up to 110 degrees C and more. PC is among the filaments with the highest print temperatures (up to 300 degrees C and more) and requires dry storage.
PP stands for Polypropylene. It is light, flexible and tough, but unlike Nylon or PC for example, it is fully chemically resistant and also food-safe, which is a combination of different characteristics not to be found in this combination on other materials. PP is one of the most challenging filament types to use in 3D FDM/FFF printing.
CPE is a special high-temperature filament variant of PETG, which again is a derivative of PET. It is also often labelled UPET (Ultra-PET). Unlike PETG, it is even stronger and more stable to print, but has a tendency for significant machine wear. CPE is therefore not suitable for large parts.
TPU stands for thermoplastic polyurethane. It is an almost rubber-like flexible and soft material used for all kinds of parts that must be able to tolerate an extreme amount of flex without breaking / and or fatigue, or to re-create rubber effects.
Nylon is a synthetic polymer. Out ff the natural filaments, Nylon by far has the best characteristics when it comes to durability, overall material strength and flexibility together. Nylon must be stored dry and is rather difficult to process after printing, in other words not the first choice when surface quality is of pivotal importance.
PVA stands for Polyvinyl alcohol and is one of the two dedicated support filaments we offer from stock. In most cases - this goes especially for printing with the ESSENTIALS – supports can be built from the main print filament. But sometimes, that's not possible – for separate parts that are fully enclosed within another part but hanging in the air; or for very fine/thin parts. PVA will then be used simultaneously to build the supports through the second Printcore that all our machines have (Dual Extrusion). Once the print is finished, the object will be placed in water and within a few hours, the PVA supports will dissolve.
BREAKAWAY, like PVA is a dedicated supports material. Like PVA, it can be printed simultaneously to the actual print-part filament using Dual Extrusion via a second set of Printcore on all of our machines. The advantage of using BREAKAWAY over the print-part filament to generate supports is that it leaves behind smoother and cleaner edges that require no post-processing in the ideal case, and there is no damage when removing the supports, This applies especially to thin and fragile prints.
Steel, Reinforced Nylon
"A steel-part from a filament printer? Is that possible?" The key word is "Abrasive Materials". These filaments have a metal core but a plastics coating and can thereby be loaded into the filament system of a normal FDM/FFF printer. After a process of Debinding and Sintering which is performed externally, the plastics coating is dissolved and reinforced composite, or a solid full-metal part remains. For smaller, one-off metal parts, this is dramatically more cost-effective than printing on a multi-million EUR laser-sintering machine.
However, "Abrasive Materials" are not suitable for hobby equipment: due to the relatively-soft coating, standard material feeders on the printers would normally grind deep into the material and fragments coming off the filaments (hence the term "abrasive") block and destroy the standard nozzles of the print cores. To counter this, we have installed special print cores with jewel-nozzles and heavy-duty material feeders on selected machines and are able to offer prints on both BASF Ultrafuse 316L for full-metal parts, as well as BASF Ultrafuse PAHT CF15 for parts in reinforced Nylon.
Please note: reduced build volumes apply to parts made using abrasive materials. Parts made using abrasive materials may require Debinding and Sintering which cannot be performed by us ourselves, thereby stretching the overall production time until delivery. Please contact us for more information.
Ultrafuse 316L (STAINLESS STEEL)
Ultrafuse 316L is an abrasive filament to be used for solid, full-metal stainless steel parts. Prints are limited in build-volume and must have a high degree of infill, ideally be solid. The actual print is performed larger than the end part. Through the process of De-Binding and sintering – which is performed by an external company – the part shrinks to its original size.
Due to the complex array of processes, producing parts in 316L are significantly more cost-intensive and take longer than printing on standard filaments. Nevertheless, this process is still significantly cheaper than using a laser-synthering machine.
ULTRAFUSE PAHT CF15 (REINFORCED NYLON)
PAHT CF15 is an abrasive Nylon filament that has been reinforced by a 15% share of Carbon fiber. NYLON already is the most durable, flexible and strongest filament type out there, so PAHT CF15 is designed for the toughest-imaginable environments a 3D part can possibly survive in. Furthermore, PAHT CF15 can withstand temperatures of up to 130 degrees C.
Working with other filaments: Can I bring my own?
Generally speaking, we believe it's a great advantage for both You and Us if we work with our stock filament. We've spent a lot of time testing and comparing different filaments from different manufacturers. We've selected what we believed worked best, and fine-tuned material-profiles for our machines enabling us to offer a continuous high quality for our customers. And we've arranged bulk-buy agreements to buy larger quantities of filament to lower our printing costs which we can pass on to you as our customer.
Nevertheless, we sometimes experience that our customers themselves already have a material they like and would like to continue using. Therefore, we're open to working with a filament of your choice, as long as it's a 2.85mm diameter material compatible with our hardware. This may mean that we have to make some test prints first and can have an impact on pricing.