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PLA plastic or polylactic acid is a vegetable-based plastic material, which commonly uses cornstarch as a raw material. This material is a thermoplastic aliphatic polyester and it is the primary natural raw material used in 3D printing. PLA is a fully biodegradable thermoplastic polymer consisting of renewable raw materials.
Among all 3D printing materials, PLA is part of the most popular materials used for additive manufacturing.
In plastic injection, this material is used to make packaging, primarily for the food industry as a substitute for fossil fuel-derived plastics, because the material is appropriate for food contact.
PLA is used in 3D printing using the FDM (fused deposition modeling) technology, and along with ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), this material is one of the standard materials for this technology. There is often a tendency to compare these plastic materials, as they are the two alternatives available for consumer printers. PLA plastic material is easy-to-use.
Moreover, different versions of PLA filaments have been developed over the years. That is why you can now find some Aluminum PLA, PLA made with wood fibers or PLA with bronze particles. Possibilities offered by PLA actually seems to be endless.
In contrast, PLA will be less durable, more fragile, and more sensitive to heat than ABS.
PLA has a glass transition temperature of 65 °C and a melting temperature of 178 °C. PLA is not the most heat resistant material, this is why it is particularly suitable for decorative objects with no mechanical constraints.
To manufacture parts subject to major limitations, using ABS is preferable if you want to manufacture your part with FDM technology. The layer thickness varies between approximately 70 and 400 microns and depends on the 3D printer’s precision.
Using polyamide powder sintering technology will provide even better results from a mechanical point of view.
PLA material has numerous advantages, and that is precisely why this is the most used plastic material for desktop 3D printers. PLA filaments come in a lot of different shades, styles, that can fit many different applications.
This plastic material is especially efficient
It comes in the form of wire on a spool, which is fed into the extruder head where the plastic is melted and deposited into fine drops on the printing tray. This material is translucent in its natural form, but spools of dyed filament can be used to make objects in different colors.
When cooling, this material contracts less than ABS, which gives it good geometric stability during the manufacturing process.
PLA can be useful for your product development, as this material can be used for rapid prototyping. But the main applications for this material are toys, figurines, non-functional prototypes, etc.
The post-process possibilities with PLA are depending on the filament you are actually working with. The most common post-processing methods remains sanding, allowing to get a 3D printed part with a smooth surface