Category Archives: Prototyping

The Evolution of 3D Printing

Evolution of 3D Printing.png

From reducing costs to increasing efficiency to spurring innovation, many people are excited about the impact that 3D printing will have on the future of manufacturing. However, the truth is, it already has made a significant impact on the industry.

Take a look back at the evolution of 3D printing to see how the phenomenon started and how it has helped the manufacturing industry evolve.

The 1980s: Setting The Foundations Of 3D Printing

3D Printing was only an idea in the 1980s. In 1981, Hideo Kodama of the Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute in Japan discovered a way to print layers of material to create a 3D product. Unfortunately, Kodama was unable to get his patent for the technology approved.

Meanwhile, in France, the French General Electric Company and CILAS, a manufacturer of laser and optical technology, found a way to create 3D printed objects. However, the companies didn’t see a use for the technology, and they soon abandoned their discoveries.

Finally in 1986, an American engineer named Charles Hull created a prototype for a process called stereolithography (SLA). Hull used photopolymers, also known as acrylic-based materials, to evolve from liquid to solid using ultraviolet lights. Hull patented the SLA printer and other companies followed suit. Hull is commonly referred to as “the father” of 3D printing.

Two other key technologies were patented during this period as well – Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), which uses powder grains to form 3D printed products; and Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), which uses heat to layer 3D models. These 3D printing models set the foundation for 3D printing.

The 1990s: More Technologies And More Adoption

With the foundation of the technology already created, companies began experimenting, expanding and, ultimately, commercializing 3D printing.

Several new 3D printers came to market, including the ModelMaker from Solidscape®, which deposited wax materials using an inkjet print head, which was more common to traditional printing.

New processes, such as microcasting and sprayed materials, allowed 3D printing to be used for metals, not just plastics.

However, the technology was still cost prohibitive. As a result, adoption was limited to high-cost, low-volume product production. Thus, it became a natural fit for prototyping new products in the aerospace, automotive and medical industries.

The 2000s: 3D Printing Explodes

While there were iterative changes and innovations related to 3D printing throughout the early 2000s, 2005 marked the year that 3D printing went on the path to becoming more mainsteam. Many of the early patents began to expire, and inventors and entrepreneurs sought to take advantage.

A professor in England named Dr. Adrian Bowyer made it his mission to create a low-cost 3D printer. By 2008, his “Darwin” printer had successfully 3D printed over 18% of its own components, and the device cost less than $650.

When the FDM patent fell to the public domain in 2009, more companies were able to create a variety of 3D printers and the technology became more accessible.

3D printing began making mainstream headlines, as concepts such as 3D printed limbs and 3D printed kidneys were fascinating and potentially powerful.

The 2010s And The Maker Movement

As the cost of 3D printers continued to decline, the demand for the technology began to soar, and they became more commonplace in the home and in businesses.

On the shop floor, manufacturers began leveraging 3D printing in a variety of ways. Machine parts could be repaired quickly, and inventory shortages could be combatted with ease.

By 2014, the industry generated more than $1 billion in revenue. But along with the impressive financial impact of the technology, 3D printing also made an impact on how people work.

People were now free to make and create new products on their own, without relying on companies or technology firms. This empowering shift is fueling The Maker Revolution, which values creation and focuses on open-source hardware.

The Future Of 3D printing

The 3D printing industry keeps on growing, so what should we expect in the future? According to a recent analysis by A.T. Kearney, 3D printing will experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.37 percent to nearly $17.2 billion between now and 2020. That means 3D printers will be found in your own home as well as in the classroom.

Another recent study determined that 6.7 million 3D printers will be shipped globally by 2020 – 14 times more than in 2016. As new technologies improve the uses of 3D printers, the technology will continue to disrupt the manufacturing industry and bring it to greater heights.

By Christina O’Handley |  January 25, 2017


Engineering solutions to inventors | New product developer | Seeking inventons to take to market

Printing porous and flexible 3D objects

First published in  Dec.22, 2013

German Engineer Kai Parthy introduced his Filament Laywoo-D3 more than a year ago. “This is a year in my life which I will not soon forget.” says Kai. “It was not easy to respond to all the inquiries from all over the world and meanwhile to raise production from small to large quantities due to demand.” In the past year Kai has also developed material Bendlay and Laybrick that contains fillers. But he didn’t stop there.

Kai’s new plan is to complete a range of four pre-structured 3D printing materials:

  • FDM Filaments (new PORO-LAY line, a two-in-one filament)
  • Light curing resins
  • Sinterpowders
  • Other materials based on similar technique and Polymers

Prototypes of the first resulting material-line, which Kai is introducing today, are called PORO-LAY Filaments. In contrast to previous filled materials, 3D-objects built from PORO-LAY are filled with emptiness – namely pores. The PORO-LAY is printable with all standard home 3D printers.

But what’s the trick? How can you get foam or more fibers in 3D printed objects? According to Kai, the process works as follows:

  • First you print your object with PORO-LAY, a stiff filament. You don’t need anything extra, no second hotend, simply print your object as you always do.
  • Next you rinse out the water soluble polymer component which is hidden and homogeneously dispersed inside the filament by shaking your 3D printed object in water.
  • After drying your object will be porous. The technical term for this process is ‘extraction with solvent ‘.

This big X is a standard object for tests. Before rinsing.

Left: The 3D printed X is stiff before rinsing. Right: After rinsing in water the 3D printed X has properties like a soft-rubber (very flexible) with mirco-pores.

Kai further describes the procedure of rinsing as follows:

  • Place the 3D printed object in water and add a drop of soap in. Then keep the object in water for 1 to max. 4 days (depends on which filament of the PORO-LAY line (1, 2, 3, 4) you are using). Water is the best choice for a solvent to handle this process.
  • Shake the object in water, or stir the water / change the water from time to time because it gets milky from the soluble component after a while.
  • Handle the purging procedure accurately until no soluble component remains in the porous structure of the object.
  • Dry the object.

The photos below taken from electron microscope show structure inside the filament BEFORE printing and AFTER printing and rinsing.

Lay-Tekkks: This material has a paperlike thin fibrous surface.

Lay-Tekkks: single magnification of fibers

Lay-Tekkks: electron beam magnification: 24x


Lay-Tekkks: electron beam magnification: 200x
firmly packed longitudinal oriented fibres, some stick out

latent porous structures, already 3d-printed, but not yet rinsed, 100x

electron beam magnification: 50x
Filament rinsed in water, with clearly visible porous structures

Clearly visible porous structures, 200x

You can also check out the video below for details.

But what ingredients are homogeneously dispersed in the PORO-LAY? Kai told us that he generally uses a blend of two main components, A+B for his new filament. A is a functional component, for example an Elastomer (i.e. a rubber-like), B is a soluble component (e.g. PVA, sugar, salt, or soluble resins). “In nature you may also find similar mixtures of two or more (mineral) components in stones, e.g. in granite or marble. ” says Kai.

Then A and B are mixed (blended) together, pelletized and extruded to a filament of 3.0 mm or 1.7 mm. “I can choose from a dozen of different Polymers for the mixture of A and B.” says Kai. The resulting materials have different possible characteristics for a lot of applications which we will describe further below.

The Poro-lay line includes four different materials:

  1. Lay-Felt
  2. Lay-Tekkks
  3. Lay-Fomm
  4. Gel-Lay

In general all filaments have structure inside, some are more like a foam, with holes, others are more like a felt, with elongated, fibrous holes. The main characteristics of different PORO-LAY filaments are:

1. Lay-Felt: Lay-Felt contains stiff or soft felt-fibers, it may be used in the following applications: 3D membranes, filters, semipermeable, future cloths, and artificial paper.

2. Lay-Tekkks: Lay-Tekkks and Lay-Felt are both fibrous like felt, but Lay-Tekkks has thinner, finer fibrous structures. Lay-Tekks can be used for making oriented fibers, stacked fibers, future cloths, and tissue.

3. Lay-Fomm: Lay-Fomm is full with holes, it feels like very soft rubber. It may be used in making micro-foam, sponges, bio-cells, elastics, and bendable suits.

4. Gel-Lay: This material is highly porous and the printed objects are very unstable. Its applications could be: objects in water, marine organism flow simulation, and bio-mechanics.

Patents are pending for pre-structured 3D printing materials. Kai also welcomes partners. He plans to start selling the PORO-LAY line in first or second quarter of 2014.


Commercial 3D Printer System

How does a 3D printer work? The science and engineering behind this emerging technology

Originally posted on Gigaom:

There is a lot of excitement building around what 3D printers can and might do. But how does a 3D printer work? It’s actually not very complicated.

Here are the mechanics behind the most common consumer-level printers that extrude plastic.

3D printer owners choose between two types of plastic: acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and polylactic acid (PLA). Some printers work with just one, other printers work with both. The plastic comes as strands of filament that are usually a standard 1.75 millimeters or 3 millimeters in width.

ABS, which is used to make Legos, is chemical-based and works at slightly higher temperatures. PLA is derived from natural sources, such as corn or sugarcane. It’s more rigid and glossy than ABS. Outside of 3D printing, it can be used to make compostable packaging.

Filament, which is usually stored on a spool attached to a 3D printer, can be expensive. MakerBot charges $48 for 2.2 pounds of PLA, though PLA or ABS can be had for half the price on eBayThe company estimates one 2.2 pound spool of filament is enough to print 392 chess pieces.

The price is likely to drop as 3D printers become more common and filament is manufactured on a larger scale. One current way to drop the cost is to use a filament extruder; you feed in cheaper plastic beads or recycled plastic and out comes strings of filament.

Once you’ve obtained the filament, it is fed into the 3D printer’s print head. Generally, this is a boxy shape with a nozzle sticking out of it.

Type A Machines Series 1 Pro 3D printer

A gear pulls the piece of filament through the print head. Just before it is extruded by the pointed nozzle, the filament passes through a heated tube and liquifies. The nozzle deposits it in ultra-fine lines generally about 0.1 millimeters across. The plastic solidifies quickly, sealing together layers.

ABS generally needs to be printed on a heated surface; otherwise, the bottom layer of plastic curls up. PLA can be printed on a non-heated surface.

Most printers have one print head, which means objects are printed in one color, or the filament has to be switched out during the print job. Some printers, such as MakerBot’s newest, the Replicator 2X, have two print heads. This allows objects to be printed in two different colors. botObjects has promised to build a full-color printer that mixes filaments to produce a full spectrum of color.

Back and forth, layer by layer

3D printing is additive manufacturing. That means the plastic is built up one layer at a time.

A 3D printed dragon head. Photo by Signe Brewster

The print surface — which is called the print bed — and print head work together to print in three dimensions. On a MakerBot Replicator 2, the print head is suspended on a gantry system. Two metal bars that run across the top of the Replicator support the print head. The print head can move back and forth along them. At the edge of the printer, the two metal bars connect to another two bars. This allows them to move forward and backward, and the print head to move in four directions altogether. The print bed moves up and down to add a third dimension.


Other 3D printers like RepRaps, the open source DIY printers that started the consumer 3D printing trend, sometimes work slightly differently. The print bed may move up, down, forward and backward while the print head only moves side to side. Or there are more unusual systems, such as the DeltaMaker, where the print head moves in three dimensions.

Print jobs can take minutes, hours or days, depending on the size and density of an object. For example, artists recently ran seven Type A Machines Series 1 printers for two months straight to build a 10 x 10 x 8 foot sculpture.

3D printers don’t just print plastic

Not all 3D printers are the same. Professional 3D printers are capable of printing higher quality objects with more diverse materials. At the Shapeways factory, where huge 3D printers output many objects at once, goods aren’t limited to PLA and ABS. There’s brass, ceramic, steel and five types of plastic. Some of their machines rely on laser sintering, which uses lasers to fuse together particles of material. Some key laser sintering patents are set to expire next year, which could soon bring them to consumer printers.

FormLabs’ Form 1, a stereolithography printer, is one of the key printers to watch for non-traditional technologies’ entry into the consumer market. Metal, and even hybrid, printers could be next.

PLA for 3D Printers…what the heck is it?

3D Printer Filament

PLA Filament

Polylactic acid

Polylactic acid
The skeletal formula of PLA
CAS number 33135-50-1
Molecular formula (C3H4O2)n
Density 1.210-1.430 g·cm-3 [1]
Melting point 150-160 °C [1] 302-320 °F
Solubility in water Insoluble in Water [2]
NFPA 704

NFPA 704 four-colored diamond

Except where noted otherwise, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C (77 °F), 100 kPa)
Infobox references

Poly(lactic acid) or polylactide (PLA) is a thermoplastic aliphatic polyester derived from renewable resources, such as corn starch(in the United States), tapioca roots, chips or starch (mostly in Asia), or sugarcane (in the rest of the world). In 2010, PLA had the second highest consumption volume of any bioplastic of the world.[3]

The name “poly(lactic acid)” does not comply with IUPAC standard nomenclature, and is potentially ambiguous or confusing, because PLA is not a polyacid (polyelectrolyte), but rather a polyester.[4]


3D Printer for the Home


You’ve got a 3D Printer, or you’re looking to buy a 3D Printer and each one seems to indicate it prints in either ABS, PLA, or both. So you find yourself wanting to know, what is the difference between ABS and PLA.

Some Common Ground

There are many materials that are being explored for 3D Printing, however you will find that the two dominant plastics are ABS and PLA. Both ABS and PLA are known as thermoplastics; that is they become soft and moldable when heated and return to a solid when cooled. This process can be repeated again and again. Their ability to melt and be processed again is what has made them so prevalent in society and is why most of the plastics you interact with on a daily basis are thermoplastics.

Now while there are many thermoplastics, very few of them are currently used for 3D Printing. For a material to prove viable for 3D Printing, it has to pass three different tests; initial extrusion into Plastic Filament, second extrusion and trace-binding during the 3D Printing process, then finally end use application.

To pass all three tests, a material’s properties must lend desirably to first, it’s formation into the raw 3D Printer feedstock called Plastic Filament; second, process well during 3D Printing giving visually pleasing and physically accurate parts; and lastly, it’s properties should match the intended application, whether that be strength, durability, gloss, you name it. Often, a material will pass one test so superbly, that it becomes worth the extra effort to battle with it during its other stages. Polycarbonate, a lesser known printing material is this way. For some applications, it’s strength and temperature resistance makes it worth the battle to print accurate and fully fused parts.

The first test, that of production from base plastic resin into top-notch Plastic Filament such as what we carry is a strict and carefully monitored process. It is a battle of wits and engineering that takes the plastic from a pile of pellets to a uniformly dense, bubble free, consistently sized, round rod. Here there is little difference between ABS and PLA; most thermoplastics can pass this test, it is mainly just a question of the time and costs required to do so while still producing Plastic Filament that runs smoothly and consistently during the next stage, 3D Printing.

Here is where the two plastics divide and will help to explain why different groups prefer one over the other.


Both ABS and PLA do best if, before use or when stored long term, they are sealed off from the atmosphere to prevent the absorption of moisture from the air. This does not mean your plastic will be ruined by a week of sitting on a bench in the shop, but long term exposure to a humid environment can have detrimental effects, both to the printing process and to the quality of finished parts.

ABS – Moisture laden ABS will tend to bubble and spurt from the tip of the nozzle when printing; reducing the visual quality of the part, part accuracy, strength and introducing the risk of a stripping or clogging in the nozzle. ABS can be easily dried using a source of hot (preferably dry) air such as a food dehydrator.

PLA – PLA responds somewhat differently to moisture, in addition to bubbles or spurting at the nozzle, you may see discoloration and a reduction in 3D printed part properties as PLA can react with water at high temperatures and undergo de-polymerization. While PLA can also be dried using something as simple as a food dehydrator, it is important to note that this can alter the crystallinity ratio in the PLA and will possibly lead to changes in extrusion temperature and other extrusion characteristics. For many 3D Printers, this need not be of much concern.


ABS –  While printing ABS, there is often a notable smell of hot plastic. While some complain of the smell, there are many who either do not notice it or do not find it to be particularly unbearable. Ensuring proper ventilation in small rooms, that the ABS used is pure and free of contaminants and heated to the proper temperature in a reliable extruder can go a long way in reducing the smell.

PLA – PLA on the other hand, being derived from sugar gives off a smell similar to a semi-sweet cooking oil. While it certainly won’t bring back fond memories of home-cooked meals, it is considered by many an improvement over hot plastic.

Part Accuracy

Both ABS and PLA are capable of creating dimensionally accurate parts. However, there are a few points worthy of mention regarding the two in this regard.

ABS – For most, the single greatest hurdle for accurate parts in ABS will be a curling upwards of the surface in direct contact with the 3D Printer’s print bed. A combination of heating the print surface and ensuring it is smooth, flat and clean goes a long way in eliminating this issue. Additionally, some find various solutions can be useful when applied beforehand to the print surface. For example, a mixture of ABS/Acetone, or a shot of hairspray.

For fine features on parts involving sharp corners, such as gears, there will often be a slight rounding of the corner. A fan to provide a small amount of active cooling around the nozzle can improve corners but one does also run the risk of introducing too much cooling and reducing adhesion between layers, eventually leading to cracks in the finished part.

PLA – Compared to ABS, PLA demonstrates much less part warping. For this reason it is possible to successfully print without a heated bed and use more commonly available “Blue” painters tape as a print surface. Ironically, totally removing the heated bed can still allow the plastic to curl up slightly on large parts, though not always.

PLA undergoes more of a phase-change when heated and becomes much more liquid. If actively cooled, much sharper details can be seen on printed corners without the risk of cracking or warp. The increased flow can also lead to stronger binding between layers, improving the strength of the printed part.

ABS and PLA General Material Properties

In addition to a part being accurately made, it must also perform in its intended purpose.

ABS – ABS as a polymer can take many forms and can be engineered to have many properties. In general, it is a strong plastic with mild flexibility (compared to PLA). Natural ABS before colorants have been added is a soft milky biege. The flexibility of ABS makes creating interlocking pieces or pin connected pieces easier to work with. It is easily sanded and machined. Notably, ABS is soluble in Acetone allowing one to weld parts together with a drop or two, or smooth and create high gloss by brushing or dipping full pieces in Acetone. Compared to PLA, it is much easier to recycle ABS.

It’s strength, flexibility, machinability, and higher temperature resistance make it often a preferred plastic by engineers and those with mechanical uses in mind.

PLA –  Created from processing any number of plant products including corn, potatoes or sugar-beets, PLA is considered a more ‘earth friendly’ plastic compared to petroleum based ABS. Used primarily in food packaging and containers, PLA can be composted at comercial compost facilities. It won’t bio-degrade in your backyard or home compost pile however. It is natural transparent and can be colored to various degrees of translucency and opacity. Also strong, and more rigid than ABS, it is occasionally more difficult to work with in complicated interlocking assemblies and pin-joints. Printed objects will generally have a glossier look and feel than ABS. With a little more work, PLA can also be sanded and machined. The lower melting temperature of PLA makes it unsuitable for many applications as even parts spending the day in a hot car can droop and deform.

In Summary

Simplifying the myriad factors that influence the use of one material over the other, broad strokes draw this comparison.

ABS – It’s strength, flexibility, machinability, and higher temperature resistance make it often a preferred plastic for engineers, and professional applications. The hot plastic smell deter some as does the plastics petroleum based origin. The additional requirement of a heated print bed means there are some printers simply incapable of printing ABS with any reliability.

PLA – The wide range of available colors and translucencies and glossy feel often attract those who print for display or small household uses. Many appreciate the plant based origins and prefer the semi-sweet smell over ABS. When properly cooled, PLA seems to have higher maximum printing speeds, lower layer heights, and sharper printed corners. Combining this with low warping on parts make it a popular plastic for home printers, hobbyists, and schools.

Additionally one can find a handy chart comparing the two plastics on our Plastic Filament Buyers Guide