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CAD/CAM Corner
Next-Gen 3D Printer Targets Professionals
9/26/2012

With its 100-micro layer resolution, the MakerBot Replicator 2 aims to set a new standard in professional-looking models and true-to-life replicas.   (Source: MakerBot)
With its 100-micro layer resolution, the MakerBot Replicator 2 aims to set a new standard in professional-looking models and true-to-life replicas.
(Source: MakerBot)

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Ann R. Thryft
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3D printing bioplastics
Ann R. Thryft   9/26/2012 12:46:05 PM
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Beth, I notice that the Replicator 2 uses bioplastic PLA, not ABS. This appears to be an emerging trend in additive manufacturing, at least at the higher end. Do you know of any other 3D printers that use bioplastics?

JimT@Future-Product-Innovations
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Re: 3D printing bioplastics
JimT@Future-Product-Innovations   9/26/2012 1:09:41 PM
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This device looks very attractive for a small sized design house.  I would ask the entry-questions:

1)    Not familiar with the PLA material; can we compare it something familiar and provide some specs-?

2)    How big is the platen-? (max LxWxH of printed result)

3)    What is the expected cost of the materials to print (per unit volume of delivered objects)-?

4)    While 100 microns sounds awesome, it equals .004" – nearly 10x the coarse resolution of an Objet printer;  but at 1/10th the price, still very acceptable.

Realizing these value-added points, it makes this very desirable for my office.  I'm looking forward to learning more about it.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: 3D printing bioplastics
Ann R. Thryft   9/26/2012 1:16:21 PM
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Jim, I just did a little googling on the topic of PLA use in 3D printers. Here's some info: http://blog.makezine.com/2010/05/15/3d-printing-using-pla-as-a-support/

JimT@Future-Product-Innovations
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Re: 3D printing bioplastics
JimT@Future-Product-Innovations   9/26/2012 2:14:46 PM
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Gosh, Ann – That article is less than encouraging as an endorsement for PLA.  It actually says it is best used as the support-structure for the primary material being ABS; that the PLA will degrade away, leaving the host ABS in place.  The article is about 2 years old. I'm hoping that if MakerBot has invested their product line on this material as the primary building block, that it has rugged, stable material characteristics.  Guess the Jury's still out.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: 3D printing bioplastics
Ann R. Thryft   9/26/2012 2:54:29 PM
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Jim, I noticed the same things about the article. I included the link as an example of what's out there. If you Google "PLA and 3D printing", you''ll come up with a lot of other sources, some of which have a very different take. Beth's article says "PLA was chosen because of its strength and ability to make very large prints without cracking or warping."

Beth Stackpole
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Re: 3D printing bioplastics
Beth Stackpole   9/26/2012 3:07:52 PM
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I did some googling on my own to see what others are saying about PLA and come up with this long, but interesting video on Youtube where an engineer and maker of a printer kit is talking about the tradeoffs of PLA vs. ABS and why he sees PLA as the next big thing in home printing. For what it's worth: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wF-w3eT0CdY

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: 3D printing bioplastics
Ann R. Thryft   9/27/2012 12:04:35 PM
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Thanks, Beth, for that video. I got about half way through it. The guy being interviewed, who designed a 3D printer kit, says PLA vs ABS is easier to print with, harder to drill, and doesn't take the high temps that ABS does. Also, that ABS's smell is really bad. He says PLA is great for prototypes, then prints the final part in ABS.

JimT@Future-Product-Innovations
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Re: 3D printing bioplastics
JimT@Future-Product-Innovations   9/27/2012 12:40:47 PM
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Beth, thanks for finding that candid discussion on YouTube – I watched the entire thing, and now have very little faith in PLA, from what the guys were saying.  In a Nutshell, its less heat tolerant, less process capable, less robust, so why would they use it-?  Only because it doesn't smell as bad as ABS during processing.  To me, that's a pretty weak reason for choosing a material. I've been in Injection-mold production press rooms running ABS, and while the odor there is strong, its not intolerable.  Maybe the MakerBot apparatus really brings the 'Stink" out of it!

Beth Stackpole
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Re: 3D printing bioplastics
Beth Stackpole   9/27/2012 1:26:26 PM
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Based on what was said in that video, it is a bit surprising. I found a wiki page on Makerbot's site that provides some insight into their choice of PLA and provides some hands-on perspective from Makerbot users. http://wiki.makerbot.com/pla

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: 3D printing bioplastics
Ann R. Thryft   9/27/2012 3:23:08 PM
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If PLA is supposedly so difficult to use, I wonder why it's so common in lower-end 3D printing? As Beth's article states, "PLA was chosen because of its strength and ability to make very large prints without cracking or warping." I also suspect some people are a lot more sensitive to the smell than others.

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