3D printing is hot

3D Printing Flies High now. Articles on three-dimensional printers are popping up everywhere these days. And nowadays there are many 3D printer products. Some are small enough to fit in a briefcase and others are large enough to print houses.

Everything you ever wanted to know about 3D printing article tells that 3D printing is having its “Macintosh moment,” declares Wired editor -in-chief Chris Anderson in cover story on the subject. 3D printers are now where the PC was 30 years ago. They are just becoming affordable and accessible to non-geeks, will be maybe able to democratize manufacturing the same way that PCs democratized publishing.

Gartner’s 2012 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies Identifies “Tipping Point” Technologies That Will Unlock Long-Awaited Technology Scenarios lists 3D Print It at Home as important topic. In this scenario, 3D printing allows consumers to print physical objects, such as toys or housewares, at home, just as they print digital photos today. Combined with 3D scanning, it may be possible to scan certain objects with a smartphone and print a near-duplicate. Analysts predict that 3D printing will take more than five years to mature beyond the niche market. Eventually, 3D printing will enable individuals to print just about anything from the comfort of their own homes.Slideshow: 3D Printers Make Prototypes Pop article tells that advances in performance, and the durability and range of materials used in additive manufacturing and stereolithography offerings, are enabling companies to produce highly durable prototypes and parts, while also cost-effectively churning out manufactured products in limited production runs.

3D printing can have implications to manufacturers of some expensive products. The Pirate Bay declares 3D printed “physibles” as the next frontier of piracy. Pirate Bay Launches 3D-Printed ‘Physibles’ Downloads. The idea is to have freely available designs for different products that you can print at home with your 3D printer. Here a video demonstrating 3D home printing in operation.

Shapeways is a marketplace and community that encourages the making and sharing of 3D-printed designs. 3D Printing Shapes Factory of the Future article tells that recently New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg cut the Shapeways‘ Factory (filled with industrial-sized 3D printers) ribbon using a pair of 3D-printed scissors.

The Next Battle for Internet Freedom Could Be Over 3D Printing article tells up to date, 3D printing has primarily been used for rapid commercial prototyping largely because of its associated high costs. Now, companies such as MakerBot are selling 3D printers for under $2,000. Slideshow: 3D Printers Make Prototypes Pop article gives view a wide range of 3D printers, from half-million-dollar rapid prototyping systems to $1,000 home units. Cheapest 3D printers (with quite limited performance) now start from 500-1000 US dollars. It is rather expensive or inexpensive is how you view that.

RepRap Project is a cheap 3D printer that started huge 3D printing buzz. RepRap Project is an initiative to develop an open design 3D printer that can print most of its own components. RepRap (short for replicating rapid prototyper) uses a variant of fused deposition modeling, an additive manufacturing technique (The project calls it Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) to avoid trademark issues around the “fused deposition modeling” term). It is almost like a small hot glue gun that melts special plastic is moved around to make the printout. I saw RepRap (Mendel) and Cupcake CNC 3D printers in operation at at Assembly Summer 2010.

There has been some time been trials to make 3D-Printed Circuit Boards. 3D Printers Will Build Circuit Boards ‘In Two Years’ article tells that printing actual electronics circuit boards is very close. Most of the assembly tools are already completely automated anyway.

3D printing can be used to prototype things like entire cars or planes. The makers of James Bond’s latest outing, Skyfall, cut a couple corners in production and used modern 3D printing techniques to fake the decimation of a classic 1960s Aston Martin DB5 (made1:3 scale replicas of the car for use in explosive scenes). The world’s first 3D printed racing car can pace at 140 km/h article tells that a group of 16 engineers named “Group T” has unveiled a racing car “Areion” that is competing in Formula Student 2012 challenge. It is described as the world’s first 3D printed race car. The Areion is not fully 3D printed but most of it is.

Student Engineers Design, Build, Fly ‘Printed’ Airplane article tells that when University of Virginia engineering students posted a YouTube video last spring of a plastic turbofan engine they had designed and built using 3-D printing technology, they didn’t expect it to lead to anything except some page views. But it lead to something bigger. 3-D Printing Enables UVA Student-Built Unmanned Plane article tells that in an effort that took four months and $2000, instead of the quarter million dollars and two years they estimate it would have using conventional design methods, a group of University of Virginia engineering students has built and flown an airplane of parts created on a 3-D printer. The plane is 6.5 feet in wingspan, and cruises at 45 mph.

3D printers can also print guns and synthetic chemical compounds (aka drugs). The potential policy implications are obvious. US Army Deploys 3D Printing Labs to Battlefield to print different things army needs. ‘Wiki Weapon Project’ Aims To Create A Gun Anyone Can 3D-Print At Home. If high-quality weapons can be printed by anyone with a 3D printer, and 3D printers are widely available, then law enforcement agencies will be forced to monitor what you’re printing in order to maintain current gun control laws.

Software Advances Do Their Part to Spur 3D Print Revolution article tells that much of the recent hype around 3D printing has been focused on the bevy of new, lower-cost printer models. Yet, significant improvements to content creation software on both the low and high end of the spectrum are also helping to advance the cause, making the technology more accessible and appealing to a broader audience. Slideshow: Content Creation Tools Push 3D Printing Mainstream article tells that there is still a sizeable bottleneck standing in the way of mainstream adoption of 3D printing: the easy to use software used to create the 3D content. Enter a new genre of low-cost (many even free like Tikercad) and easy-to-use 3D content creation tools. By putting the tools in reach, anyone with a compelling idea will be able to easily translate that concept into a physical working prototype without the baggage of full-blown CAD and without having to make the huge capital investments required for traditional manufacturing.

Finally when you have reached the end of the article there is time for some fun. Check out this 3D printing on Dilbert strip so see a creative use of 3D printing.


  1. Tomi Engdahl says:

    3D Printed Bikini Top- and Yes It’s Comfortable !

    STLs files and more detailed build guide posted here:

    This is a bikini designed to be printed in flexible filament. The straps come in many lengths, and two cup sizes are provided.

  2. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Arduino Watchdog Sniffs Out Hot 3D Printers

    We know we’ve told you this already, but you should really keep a close eye on your 3D printer. The cheaper import machines are starting to display a worrying tendency to go up in flames, either due to cheap components or design flaws. The fact that it happens is, sadly, no longer up for debate. The best thing we can do now is figure out ways to mitigate the risk for all the printers that are already deployed in the field.

    At the risk of making a generalization, most 3D printer fires seem to be due to overheating components. Not a huge surprise, of course, as parts of a 3D printer heat up to hundreds of degrees and must remain there for hours and hours on end. Accordingly, [Bin Sun] has created a very slick device that keeps a close eye on the printer’s temperature at various locations, and cuts power if anything goes out of acceptable range.

    3D Printer Thermal Runaway Watchdog / Thermistor Tester

  3. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Implantable 3D-printed organs could be coming sooner than you think

    At MBC Biolabs, an incubator for biotech startups in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood, a team of scientists and interns working for the small startup Prellis Biologics have just taken a big step on the path toward developing viable 3D-printed organs for humans.

  4. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Tattoo your 3D Prints with Velocity Painting

    Just when it seems like we’ve juiced all the creative potential out of our 3D printers, a bold new feature lands on the table. Enter Velocity Painting, a concept brought to life by [Mark Wheadon] that textures our 3D prints with greyscale images.

    At its core, the technique is straightforward: skin an image onto a 3D print by varying the print speed in specific locations and, thereby, varying just how much plastic oozes out of the nozzle. While the concept seems simple, the result is stunning.


    The technique varies the print speed (not the temperature) of a 3D print to map a pattern or image onto the model. The software post-processes the GCODE output from your slicer to affect changes in the print speed. It has some effect when used with opaque filament but really sings with translucents.

  5. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Open Source DIY Printers are Alive and Well: What We Saw At ERRF 18

    If you follow the desktop 3D printer market, it probably won’t surprise you to hear that nearly every 3D printer on display at the inaugural East Coast RepRap Festival (ERRF) was made in China.

    When you can get a decent (but let’s be clear, not great) 3D printer for $200 USD, it’s no surprise that American and European manufacturers are having a hard time staying competitive. But not everyone is seduced by low-cost printers. They know they could buy a decent printer for a couple hundred bucks, but for them that’s not the point. Some hackers are just as (if not more) interested in designing and building the machines than they are churning out little plastic boats with the finished product.

    Luckily for us, these are also the type of folks who document their builds and make all their collected information and design files available for others under an open source license. Such builders exemplify the true spirit of the RepRap movement,

  6. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Coolest Way to Watch 3D Printing: Lights, Camera, Octolapse!

    One particularly popular plugin that has been making the rounds lately is Octolapse by [FormerLurker]. This plugin provides a comprehensive intelligent system for creating time-lapse videos of prints.


  7. Tomi Engdahl says:

    3D printed guns are now legal… What’s next?

    On Tuesday, July 10, the DOJ announced a landmark settlement with Austin-based Defense Distributed, a controversial startup led by a young, charismatic anarchist whom Wired once named one of the 15 most dangerous people in the world.

    Hyper-loquacious and media-savvy, Cody Wilson is fond of telling any reporter who’ll listen that Defense Distributed’s main product, a gun fabricator called the Ghost Gunner, represents the endgame for gun control, not just in the US but everywhere in the world. With nothing but the Ghost Gunner, an internet connection, and some raw materials, anyone, anywhere can make an unmarked, untraceable gun in their home or garage.

  8. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Tina Bellon / Reuters:
    Several states including NY, PA, NJ, MA say they’ll sue Trump admin over a case settlement that will allow public to download the plans for 3D printable guns

    U.S. states make last-minute legal bid to halt 3-D online guns

    Several U.S. states on Monday said they would jointly sue the Trump administration for allowing the public to download blueprints for 3-D printable guns in a last-ditch effort to block the designs from becoming available on Wednesday.

    At issue is a June settlement between the U.S. government and Texas-based Defense Distributed company that will allow it to legally publish gun blueprints online

    The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump failed to explain why it settled the case and allowed the publication of the blueprints

    The U.S. State Department had previously banned the blueprints as a national security risk and a violation of arms trafficking regulations.

  9. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Incredible 3D Printed Overwatch Airsoft Pistol

    If you ever needed evidence that gamers are some of the most dedicated individuals in all of fandom, then look no further than this fantastic 3D printed recreation of the “Pulse Pistol” as featured in the immensely popular “Overwatch”. Built by the guys at [Danger Doc], this replica doesn’t just look the part, it’s also a fully functional Airsoft gun.

    How to make Tracer’s Pulse Pistols (Airsoft Working Replica)

  10. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Tariff Expansion Set to Hit 3D-Printing Right in the Filament

    Mere weeks after tariffs were put into place raising the cost of many Chinese-sourced electronics components by 25%, a second round of tariffs is scheduled to begin that will deal yet another blow to hackers. And this time it hits right at the heart of our community: 3D-printing.

  11. Tomi Engdahl says:

    DIY Long Term Plug Safety

    Lamps, alarm clocks, pencil sharpeners .. we leave some plugs in outlets for years unnoticed and hidden by furniture .. but over time these plugs can become loose and exposed .. leading to dangerous conditions.

    Plugtite is your do-it-your-self-tho-Vije-did-it-for-you 3D printed solution to secure your plugs for life .. so that your home can safely burn down around you for a cadre of other reasons.

  12. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Ease Rover Development With These Self-Contained Track Units

    To solve this, [nahueltaibo] designed a modular, 3D printable rover track system. It contains both a motor driver and a common DC gearmotor in order to make a standalone unit that can be more easily integrated into other designs. These self-contained rover tracks don’t even have a particular “inside” or “outside”; they can be mounted on a vehicle’s left or right without any need to mirror the design.


  13. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Replacement Audi Plastics Thanks To 3D Printing

    Old cars can be fun, and as long as you drive something that was once moderately popular, mechanical parts can be easy enough to come by. Things like filters, spark plugs, idle air solenoids – they’re generally available for decades after a car is out of production as long as you know where to look. However, plastics can be much harder to come by. 20 to 30 years into a car’s lifetime, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a radio surround or vent trim in as-new condition – they’ve all long ago succumbed to the sun and air like the cracked and discoloured piece in your own car. What is a hacker to do? Bust out the 3D printer, of course!

  14. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Conductive 3D Printing Filament – Resistance/Power Test

  15. Tomi Engdahl says:

    3D-Printed Lithium-Ion Batteries Perform Better Than the Conventional Kind

    To make lithium-ion batteries at an affordable price, many thousands or millions identical units need to be produced, which limits their form factors. But, researchers from the University of Chicago College of Engineering have developed a new fabrication method that allows for a variety of form factors, while simultaneously improving performance

    Their fabrication technique utilizes 3D printing to produce both the electrolyte and the cathode and anode.

    the batteries are printed at a high temperature, which prevents the electrolyte shrinkage that’s associated with traditional chemical processing

    The unique high-temperature printing process increases the charge and discharge capacity, and overall performance.


  16. Tomi Engdahl says:

    How to Print an Electric Motor

    I started out by just wanting to make a very small drone. But I quickly realized that there was a limiting factor in just how small and light I could make any design: the motors. Even small motors are still discrete packages that have to be attached to all the other electronic and structural elements. So I began wondering if there was a way to merge these elements and save some mass.

  17. Tomi Engdahl says:

    How to Authenticate a 3D-Printed Part: ‘Explode’ and Embed a QR Code

    3D-printed parts are increasingly finding their way into airplanes and operating rooms.

    Garter experts predict that, by 2021, 75% of new commercial and military aircraft will feature engine and airframe components made through additive manufacturing.

    Similarly, the use of 3D-printed medical implants are set to increase by 20 percent over the next decade.

    As the role of additive manufacturing emerges in a variety of industries, engineers will need to verify that their 3D-printed part is genuine and works as designed.

    A team at NYU Tandon School of Engineering has found a new way to prove the provenance of a part.

  18. Tomi Engdahl says:

    3D Printers in The Wild, What Can Go Wrong?

    Richard wrote a quick diary yesterday about an interesting information that we received from one of our readers. It’s about a huge amount of OctoPrint interfaces that are publicly facing the Internet. Octoprint[1] is a web interface for 3D printers that allows to control and monitor all features of the printer. They are thousands of Octoprint instances accessible without any authentication reported by Shoda

    Here is an example of a publicly open interface connected to an online printer (status is “operational”)

    So, what can go wrong with this kind of interface? It’s just another unauthenticated access to an online device. Sure but the printer owners could face very bad situations.

    The interface allows downloading the 3D objects loaded in the printer. Those objects are in G-code format

    We are facing here the first issue: G-code files can be downloaded and lead to potentially trade secret data leak. Indeed, many companies R&D departments are using 3D printers to develop and test some pieces of their future product.

    If the authentication is completely disabled, it is possible to upload G-code files and… print them! What if an anonymous person sends a malicious G-code file to the printer and instructs to print it while nobody is around? There were bad stories of low-cost 3D printers which simply burned!

    Worse, what if the attacker downloads a G-code file, alters it and re-upload it. Be changing the G-code instructions, you will instruct the device to print the object but the altered one won’t have the same physical capabilities and could be a potential danger once used. Think about 3D-printer guns[4] but also 3D-printed objects used in drones. Drone owners are big fans of self-printed hardware.

  19. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Printing with sound

    Researchers use acoustic forces to print droplets that couldn’t be printed before

    Harvard University researchers have developed a new printing method that uses soundwaves to generate droplets from liquids with an unprecedented range of composition and viscosity. This technique could finally enable the manufacturing of many new biopharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and food and expand the possibilities of optical and conductive materials.

    “By harnessing acoustic forces, we have created a new technology that enables myriad materials to be printed in a drop-on-demand manner,”

    Liquid droplets are used in many applications from printing ink on paper to creating microcapsules for drug delivery. Inkjet printing is the most common technique used to pattern liquid droplets, but it’s only suitable for liquids that are roughly 10 times more viscous than water. Yet many fluids of interest to researchers are far more viscous.

    “Our goal was to take viscosity out of the picture by developing a printing system that is independent from the material properties of the fluid,”

    The idea is to generate an acoustic field that literally detaches tiny droplets from the nozzle, much like picking apples from a tree

  20. Tomi Engdahl says:

    MIT researchers 3-D print colloidal crystals

    Technique could be used to scale-up self-assembled materials for use as optical sensors, color displays, and light-guided electronics.

  21. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Teaching Alexa to 3D Print

    Sometimes a gadget like Alexa or Google Home is a solution looking for a problem. Then the problem you’ve been looking for hits you square in the face. I’ve confessed before that I have an oscilloscope problem. I also have a microcontroller development board habit. It appears now I have too many 3D printers.

    The Plan

    Obviously, the Alexa is going to be my voice control input so that part is taken care of. You could use Google Home, too. What would have been the hardest part a few years ago is now perhaps the easiest part, paradoxically.

    The second part of the puzzle is Repetier Server. You could probably use Octoprint (Tom Nardi just wrote a great guide for setting up Octoprint), but I use Reptier. If you haven’t used either, these programs create a Web page that allows you to control your printer from a browser. They also provide a Web-based API. That means you can send commands to your printer remotely just by forming a valid web request.

    You might be able to guess the third part of this equation: If This Then That or IFTTT. You’ve probably used this before. It is something of a Swiss Army knife for routing web events to different web services.

  22. Tomi Engdahl says:

    A High Speed, Infinite Volume 3D Printer

    <100€ High Speed RepRap 3D printer
    evolutionary project with several architectures: transportable, compact/closed, multi-arms, infinite Z

  23. Tomi Engdahl says:

    3D Printed Zipper Box
    Broke the zipper on your coat? Print a fix.

  24. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Customize All the Fan Covers You Never Knew You Needed

    The Customizable Fan Grill Cover is a parametric design in OpenSCAD that allows adjusting the frame style, size, and grill pattern for any fan cover one may possibly need.

    Customizable Fan Grill Cover

  25. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Hybrid 3D-Printer Creates Complete Circuits, Case and All

    The cool kids these days all seem to think we’re on the verge of an AI apocalypse, at least judging by all the virtual ink expended on various theories. But our putative AI overlords will have a hard time taking over the world without being able to build robotic legions to impose their will. That’s why this advance in 3D printing that can incorporate electronic circuits may be a little terrifying, at least to some.

    Conductive Printing Project

  26. Tomi Engdahl says:

    3D Printing Watertight Containers

    Most normal 3D prints are not watertight. There are a few reasons for this, but primarily it is little gaps between layers that is the culprit. [Mikey77] was determined to come up with a process for creating watertight objects and he shared his results.


  27. Tomi Engdahl says:

    GPL Violations Cost Creality a US Distributor

    One of the core tenets of free and open source software licenses is that you’re being provided source code for a project with the hope that you’ll “pay it forward” if and when you utilize that code. In fact some licenses, such as the GNU Public License (GPL), require that you keep the source code for subsequent spin-offs or forks open. These are known as viral licenses, and the hope is that they will help spread the use of open source as derivative works can’t turn around and refuse to release their source code.

    Unfortunately, not everyone plays by the rules. In a recent post on their blog, Printed Solid has announced they are ending their relationship with Chinese manufacturer Creality, best known for their popular CR-10 printer. Creality produces a number of printers which make use of Marlin, a GPLv3 licensed firmware that runs (in some form or another) a large majority of desktop 3D printers. But as explained in the blog post, Printed Solid has grown tired with the manufacturer’s back and forth promises to comply with the viral aspects of the GPL license.

    Rather than helping to support a company they believe is violating the trust of the open source community, they have decided to mark down their existing stock of Creality printers to the point they will be selling them at a loss until they run out. In addition, for each Creality printer that is sold Printed Solid has promised to make a $50 USD donation to the development of Marlin saying: “if Creality won’t support Marlin development then we will.”


  28. Tomi Engdahl says:

    How to Put the ‘Pro’ in Prototype

    It’s easy to get professional-quality finishes on your prints and prototypes if you take the right steps. In the final installment of his series about building with Bondo, product designer [Eric Strebel] shows us how it’s done no matter what the substrate.

    How does he get such a smooth surface? A few key steps make all the difference. First, he always uses a sanding block of some kind, even if he’s just wrapping sandpaper around a tongue depressor. For instance, his phone holder has a round indent on each side. We love that [Eric] made a custom sanding block by making a negative of the indent with—you guessed it—more Bondo and a piece of PVC. The other key is spraying light coats of both primer and paint in focused, sweeping motions to allow the layers to build up.

    Spray Paint Finish Process

  29. Tomi Engdahl says:

    3D Printing Electronics Direct to Body

    researchers at the University of Minnesota have their way. They’ve modified a common 3D printer to print electronic circuits directly to the skin, including the back of the hand, as you can see in the video below. There’s also a preview of an academic paper available, but you’ll have to pay for access to that, for now, unless you can find it on the gray market.

    Researchers 3D print electronics and cells directly on skin

  30. Tomi Engdahl says:

    DIY Space Grade PCBs

    3D print circuits using silver ink and ceramic substrates to make high performance, multilayer, fine line < 3mil, PCBs

    Low temperature co-fired ceramics (LTCC) is a well established technology for making many of the electronic components we use today. Ceramic capacitors and resistors for instance may be made using LTCC technologies.

  31. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Smooth PLA Through the Fire and Flames

    3D printing makes it easy to produce complex geometries, but the fused deposition methods generally create parts with poor surface finish, largely due to the layers being highly visible in the finished part. There are a wide variety of ways to deal with this, often involving sanding parts after production, or the use of fillers and paints. [XerotoLabs] has another solution.

    To smooth the parts, a butane torch is pressed into service. The flame temperature is kept fairly low, and the torch is used almost like a brush to evenly apply heat to the surface of the part. As the PLA reaches its melting temperature, surface tension helps to smooth the part out. This is very similar to flame polishing which is commonly used in the fabrication of acrylic plastics.

    Torchin’ PLA [Smoothing 3D prints]

  32. Tomi Engdahl says:

    3D Printering: Which Raspberry Pi is Best at Slicing in Octoprint?

    OctoPrint is arguably the ultimate tool for remote 3D printer control and monitoring. Whether you simply want a way to send G-Code to your printer without it being physically connected to your computer or you want to be able to monitor a print from your phone while at work, OctoPrint is what you’re looking for. The core software itself is fantastic, and the community that has sprung up around the development of OctoPrint plugins has done an incredible job expanding the basic functionality into some very impressive new territory.

  33. Tomi Engdahl says:

    3D Printing Air Quality Study

    You’ll often hear about some study in the media and then — on examination — find it doesn’t really apply to your situation. Sure, substance X causes cancer in rats, but they ate 8 pounds of it a day for a decade. That’s why we were glad to see [Chuck] post a series of videos about 3D printing air quality based on his practical experience.

  34. Tomi Engdahl says:



    Propel your business with the most advanced metals 3D printing technology for mass production.

  35. Tomi Engdahl says:


    WHEN YOU THINK about 3-D printing, chances are you think of little plastic doodads created by desktop devices like those made by MakerBot. Computing and printer giant HP wants you to think about metal.

    Today the company announced the Metal Jet printer, an industrial-scale 3-D printer that builds items not of plastic but of steel.

  36. Tomi Engdahl says:

    PLA: The Plastic That Grows

    If you’ve ever taken a coast-to-coast car trip across the United States, the one thing that’s sure to impress you is the mind-bogglingly immense amount of corn that we grow here. If you take the northern route — I’ve done it seven times, so I know it by heart — you’ll see almost nothing but corn from Ohio to Montana. The size of the fields is simply staggering, and you’re left wondering, “Do we really eat all this corn?”

    The simple answer is no, we don’t. We grow way more corn than we can eat or, once turned into alcohol, drink. We do feed a lot to animals, many of which subsequently end up as burgers or pork chops. But even after all that, and after accounting for exports, we still have a heck of a lot of corn to put to work. There are lots of industrial uses for this surplus corn, though, and chances are pretty good you’ve got an ear or two worth coiled up next to your 3D-printer, in the form of polylactic acid, or PLA.

    All polymers are made up of small, repeating units, called monomers, that are linked together chemically into long chains. A

    PLA remained a niche polymer for decades, so much so that DuPont never even bothered to patent Dr. Carother’s invention until the 1950s.

    Work on making PLA into a product would pick up again in the 1980s. With images of the oil embargoes of the 1970s fresh in their minds and the need for an alternative to petroleum as a feedstock for the polymer industry

    The commercial production process for PLA has been refined over the years, and the price per pound of PLA has dropped markedly. There are several paths to the finished resin, but it all starts with corn.

    The starch is fermented in huge tanks in a controlled manner so as to produce lactic acid rather than ethanol. The lactic acid is either directly polymerized into PLA, or reacted with lactide, a cyclic molecule that looks like two lactic acids stuck together. The polymerization reaction produces water which must be removed either by a vacuum or by distillation. The resulting plastic is technically a polyester since the monomers are linked through ester groups.

    Commercially produced PLAs have a wide range of properties depending on the exact recipe used, but in general, PLA is classified as a thermoplastic.

    Thermoplasticity is obviously important for 3D-printing filament, but it also makes PLA a candidate for replacing petroleum-based plastics in a wide range of applications.

    Another big draw (and sometimes drawback) of PLA is its biodegradability. Given enough time and under the right conditions, PLA will decompose back into lactic acid, whereas most plastic will persist in the environment for much longer. This makes PLA an attractive plastic for manufacturing items that are intended for disposal, like food packaging.

    PLA is not only biodegradable, it’s also biocompatible. This makes the plastic a great choice for medical implants that are intended to be absorbed by the body.


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