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What is 3D Printer Filament?

3D printer filament is a certain kind of printing material used by the FFF type 3D printer. It is one of the most commonly used 3D printing material categories in the world now. Differentiated from powder and liquid resin for other 3D printing technology, the filament is produced into one continuous slender plastic thread in hundred meters long, which is usually spooled into a reel for purpose of storage and printer feeding. Determined by the thermal extrusion process of FFF printers, the raw material of filament is thermoplastic material including most widely applied plastics in life, as well as some special formula material for a certain purpose.

 

3D Printer Filament from Raise3D

 

Currently, Filaments are manufactured with two standards as 1.75mm radius and a 3mm radius. The former one has a dominant market share due to its better printing performance such as extrusion flow consistency. Consumers can find most 1.75mm plastic filament is sold in 1KG per spool as much as the length of 330 meters. Total usage from such a roll can be expected to be approximately 98 iPhone 5 cases.

Filament with different material has different printing temperature and properties which will be discussed later. Generally, consumable FFF printers provide maximum printing temperatures around 260 Celsius Degree, which can cover basic plastic filament printing. While more advanced filament and printing efficiency require higher capacity from professional FFF printers whose printing temperature can reach 300 Celsius Degree, such as Raise3D E2.

 

How is 3D Printer Filament Used?

3D printed objects by filament have been applied in wide areas. Although its thermoplastic nature decides its limitation in the mechanical dimension, filaments find its value in prototyping and light-duty usage. Prototyping is the most common application which requires lower mechanical property from the material itself. For similar reasons, many enterprises and professionals choose filament for props, jigs and fixtures, toysassemble parts, and education models. One exceptional case is the flexible filament. This category, primarily TPU, is applied for the functional part since its emergence, especially in footwear industries. Footwear manufacturers enjoy its rubber-like property which hits their core requirement for the material mechanical property.

 

What is the Future of the 3D Printer Filament?

As is happening and is expected by the market, filament property is marching to a higher level with more market value, and closer to serious industrial application. In these years, almost every chemical giant is exploring and launching high-functional plastic such as PEI and PEEK. More sophisticated, advanced filament solutions are joining the big family as well, such as composite filament consisting of carbon fiber, fiberglass, ceramic, even metal powder.

Filament Development is towards High Functional Application

3D Printer Filament Development is towards High Functional Application

 

3D Printer Filament Quality

3D printer filament may look the same and easy to manufacture from appearance, but the quality still matters. Most obvious, all filament has a radius variety. The professional manufacturer can control the scale within +/- 0.05mm. The larger variety will result in poor printing performance such as surface quality and part accuracy. Material purity, batch consistency, spool winding, and moisture absorbing are all factors to affect printing performance and result quality. Different application scenarios and filaments are sensitive to certain factors above. For example, the printing shoe upper face with TPU is sensitive to moisture and radius variety. Absorbing moisture too quickly during printing will cause vapor to burst from inside and leads to a lag between extruded thread. One spool with too large variety range will create an uneven extruded thread and probably will lead to the broken fabric.

The result from TPU Filament Absorbed Moisture vs. Result from Dry TPU Filament

TPU Filament Moisture Results

How to Choose 3D Printer Filament?

For a 3D printed object, its material properties decide half of the value. Mechanical property is the primary factor for application performance, then is the chemical property. To better understand filament property difference, or choose appropriate filament, user can evaluate by plastics pyramid, since mainstream of filament is plastics. The plastics pyramid indicates a simple rule that filament with higher performance should have a higher melting temperature. Therefore, if someone is looking for a filament with higher performance, they need to ready a FFF 3D printer with higher heating temperatures.

 

3D Printer Filament Performance

Beginner Level 3D Printer Filament

To begin with, PLA is the most easy-to-print filament with the lowest melting temperature (190-205 Celsius Degree) and minimum calibration requirement on the printing parameter and printer itself. It is below the bottom tier of the plastic pyramid. Even middle school students can print PLA filament into very fine geometry. However, as the plastic pyramid indicated, users can expect a PLA object to easily fail in a mechanical challenge. Also, PLA filament has the lowest price level. Therefore, it is the first choice for 3D printing beginner and hobbyist for visual purposes including cosplay props, statues, toys, and decorations.

3D Printing Visual Application by PLA Filament. Click to view more.

3D Printing Visual Application by PLA Filament

 

Meanwhile, the company and institute users exploit PLA for rapid prototyping regarding its low printing condition and fine geometry result. However, PLA’s fragile and brittle property prevent it away from the complicated and dynamic application.

3D Printing Prototyping Application by PLA Filament. Click to View More.

3D Printing Prototyping Application by PLA Filament

Commodity and Engineer Level 3D Printer Filament

Above PLA, it is a commodity and engineer level where filaments are booming last a few years. Popular filament types include ABS, PC, PETG, TPU, ASA, PA, and PP. These filament types feature more distinct property and higher melting temperature. Comparing to PLA’s limited performance, these group filaments are adopted in serious commercial and manufacturing production. For example, ABS has been found applied in the orthodontic model, jigs, and fixtures for automotive assembling. While PC is found printed as a frame to keep air drone integrated. TPU, as mentioned previously, has been directly printed as orthotic insoles and sneaker uppers.

Blackbird Drone with PC Printed Frame. Click to View More

Blackbird Drone with PC Printed Frame

 

When considering these two levels filament for serious application, users should aware of filament property difference. Plastic property is not the focus of this blog, but some descriptions are given to provide a big picture. In terms of mechanical properties including stiffness, strength, toughness, tensile modulus, and hardness, each material has its unique mixture, thus leads to different performance under certain physical conditions. User should choose appropriate filament with properties can achieve the desired purpose. For example, like jigs and fixtures, tool heads should not scratch the product surface. Thus, ABS is usually chosen as its relatively lower hardness among other plastics. The theory behind is that, when two materials cut each other, one with lower hardness will be left a scratch on its surface, not the other one. On the other hand, PETG filament is preferred over ABS filament for package and container due to its better impact resistance and durability. When adding more aspects like chemical property, ASA is better for automotive parts because of its UV stability when exposed to sunlight.

 

Gears by Different Filament for Different Usage. Click to View More.

3D Printed Gears

 

Aligning with a complicated plastic family tree in the chemical industry, filament suppliers are developing and launching various specifications for every single plastic-type, to fulfill numerous economy sectors (Check Raise3D Open Filament Program to glimpse filament subdivision). Users can expect the filament family to get more complete in the future since suppliers want to seize more profit from selling. For example, Taulman3D provides a nylon filament category including 9 different specifications.

The Trend of Advanced 3D Printer Filament

There are a few trends for filament development as high-performance plastic filament, composite filament, and metal filament. At this moment, the filament industry is breaking through high-performance material categories such as PEEK and PEI whose melting temperature is beyond professional FFF 3D printer capacity. These materials’ properties are valuable for more advanced applications such as human implants and aerospace. The metal filament is a blend of metal powder and adhesive. It doesn’t need the superior temperature to meltdown but needs extra sintering process to burn out adhesive and fuse the metal powder. Composite filament refers to plastic filament reinforced with fiber. It intends to raise the 3D printed part’s tensile strength. But the tricky situation is that many suppliers reinforce filament with shredded fiber because it is hard to add in continuous long fiber. Only a few high-end brands provide such composite filament solutions which can raise tensile strength of 3D printed parts to a similar level as traditional reinforced part, to some extent.

 

In conclusion, this blog draws a clear picture of 3D printing filament. It enables FFF 3D printer users to appropriately choose, apply, and further research into filament. Users can expect rapidly updating in the FFF printer and filament industries in at least a decade. How to efficiently match up between filament and printers will grant company user speed advantage in production upgrading.

 

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