The FDM method of printing, used by our equipment, uses polymers known as thermoplastics which are perfect for us. Thermoplastics can endure heat, chemicals and mechanical stress, which makes them an ideal material for printing prototypes that must withstand testing. Also, because FDM can print highly detailed objects, it is also ideal for engineers that need to test parts for fit and form.
Originally ABS was a popular filament although in recent years PLA has become widely popular. PLA has two advantages; firstly unlike ABS which is petroleum based and toxic during the manufacturing process, PLA is good for you, being made from plant fibres it is biodegradable and requires no special ventilation during the manufacturing process. PLA is also much easier to work with providing greater consistency and less manufacturing defects. ABS has the advantage of a higher melt temperature.
Since early 2015 there has been a continuing plethora of new filaments for FDM printing. Typically these have been PLA mixed with a variety of additives, such as copper, bronze, brass, wood, carbon fibre and the end product takes the look and feel of the additive.
Nylon is another popular filament and provides excellent strength where required.
Amphora is a new material to appear this year (2016) and like PLA is easy to use but provides a higher melt temp, and increased strength.
Customised filaments are also available, at a cost. One of our customers is considering a filament mixed with an anti-microbial additive which prevents the transfer of microbes from one person’s skin to another.
We currently use PLA, Amphora, Nylon, Flexible PLA.
The Taulman t-glase nylon material is made of FDA approved polymers for direct food contact/containers. This includes cups and other liquids storage parts as well as utensils.
As a British business we try to source our materials from British companies. The vast majority is although some of the specialist filaments have to be sourced from mainland Europe, especially Holland.
The choice of material for your part will be influenced by the requirements of the model. Our default and preferred material is PLA, along with nGen occasionally if a higher melt temperature is required. One of a number of things that excites us about 3D printing is its ability to reduce waste and pollution in the manufacturing process and being able to use a polymer that is good for the planet just adds to that! PLA is derived from renewable resources such as corn starch, sugarcane or tapioca roots.
Our advanced equipment has dual print heads (extruders) which normally allow a part to be printed in two colours if required. There are techniques which can be used to increase the colours. If this is a requirement please discuss this with us.
Of course if we are producing an assembly for you then each part can be a different colour if printed separately and then assembled.
Many rapid prototyping companies take the Ford approach; any colour as long as it is white or ivory. And indeed in many cases this is acceptable.
Colour may affect your choice of material. Some materials have a smaller range of colours available and nylon and flexible PLA are currently very limited, although colour finishing with commercial dyes is available.
We normally have in stock a palette of 10-15 colours although many other colours can be obtained (including glow in the dark ). Doing this for a one-off order would often incur extra cost but if it were for low volume production we may be able to absorb the extra material cost. Non-stock colours will normally add 3-4 days to our delivery timescale.
Custom colours based on Pantone codes, e.g. for matching corporate brand colours, can be obtained but are extremely expensive.