Thermoplastics, or polymers, are amongst the cheapest materials that can be used in additive manufacturing and are the typical content for commercial 3D printers being sold for home use.
But despite the widespread availability of these plastics, they still offer some very real benefits.
The main thermoplastics being used in Additive Manufacturing are:
- Acrylonitile butadiene styrene (ABS)
- Polylactic acid (PLA)
- Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA)
ABS is the type of polymer which is the most widespread and can most easily be described as the type of plastic used for making Lego bricks. PLA is however starting to rise in popularity because of its flexibility, being available in both rigid and soft finishes. There’s a third type of PLA which provides a rubbery finish, remaining flexible.
PVA is used as a material to create supports within the Additive Manufacturing process, and is entirely dissolvable. These supports can be removed once the final design is complete and being soluble can just be washed away.
Polycarbonate is a material which is still in development as it requires a high-temperature nozzle but holds possibilities for the future.
The additive manufacturing process allows the combination of plastics with carbon fiber. This has the advantage of strengthening the product without adding any weight to the design.