3D printing filament can, at times, be a pretty basic business. Most of the time, you’re just dealing with standard PLA, a trusty, one-size-fits all filament. It’s available, it’s affordable, and it’s not so much of a hassle to use. Great for beginners. But as you delve deeper into the world of 3D printing, you begin to see that not everything’s about PLA. This blog post is about the stranger, more obscure filaments you may come across as you delve into the world of 3D printing, and what they can be used for.
This version of ABS is highly specialized in such a way that normal ABS is not – it’s antibacterial. How does this happen? During the manufacturing process, antimicrobial agents are added to the filament. These have been in turn scientifically proven to be up to 99.99% effective against microbes such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses. As we begin to return to normal life after the COVID-19 pandemic, antibacterial ABS could be a great help in our road to recovery. It can be used to manufacture certain types of PPE, such as visors. It can also be used to manufacture hearing aids which cannot bear bacterial or viral loads, a vital factor in preventing ear infections. Given how tough ABS is as well, it could be used for even more in future, such as hospital bed frames or curtain rails, which currently need to be disinfected and kept sterile. Antibacterial ABS would take away this task, saving time and lives.
Not actual metal, sadly, but it is currently possible to print with a strange concoction of metal powder and either PLA or ABS. This produces a material that is an almost exact replicant of metal in terms of how it looks and how it feels to the touch. It even weighs similarly to metal, due to the blend of metal powder and filament. As well as this, there’s plenty of variety available, with brass, copper, gold, silver and steel all being options for your “metal” print. And this isn’t just a fad or a quirky invention. Smelting and shaping actual metal is, to say the least, not great for the environment. It’s a heavily industrial process, which can also carry health risks to those working in steel mills. By 3D printing metal substitutes, a lot of risk, danger, and environmental damage has been removed from the manufacturing process of things which need to have similar, but not exact, properties to metal. Think how much metal is used in manufacturing toys, bed frames, watches, satellites, aerials, and jewellery every year. All of this could be saved by pivoting to artificial, 3D printed metal.
When 3D printing more complex objects – ones with moving parts, or overhangs, or anything like that – there’s an added complication: carving. These moving parts and overhangs require supports to stop the print going awry in the process of printing. Which means, inevitably, that even after the long printing process, eagerly awaiting your print to emerge, you’ve still got some work to do in terms of reworking it before its finally finished. It’s a hassle, as any veteran printer will tell you. Well, it’s now an unnecessary hassle! With vanish dissolvable filament, you can simply place your print, with supports attached, into cold water, and watch the supports dissolve away. Forget finicky carving, with vanish filament you’ll have so much more free time and less menial work to get through in the process of printing. As well as this, vanish filament is biodegradable – so when you’ve done your dissolving, the water can simply go straight down the sink without worry. Just remember to not print your whole creation in vanish filament, otherwise you’ll be watching that hard work vanish like candy floss in water.
If you’re an electrical engineer, you’ll want something conductive in your ordinary line of work. Of course, your average 3D printing filament is made of non-conductive materials: plastics and polymers typically. So, this is a problem. But with the addition of some conductive carbon particulates to PLA or ABS filament, you can create an otherwise standard filament that also happens to conduct electricity. This opens up a limitless variety of projects. With conductive filament, it’s possible to print usable electronic devices: gaming controllers, computers, TV remotes. All of these are at your fingertips with a little electrical and soldering knowledge. As well as this, gadget waste is becoming a serious environmental problem. With the advent of biodegradable, conductive filament, it could be possible to make electronic waste a thing of the past, with biodegradable phones and tablets. While we don't sell this just yet, who knows what the future might hold?