Currently, we are using Polylactic acid (PLA) filament in our printer. PLA is a bio-degradable polymer made from renewable resources such as corn starch, tapioca root or sugarcane. The PLA comes in many different colors and is wrapped around a spool and then fed into the printers’ extruders.
Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) filament is another kind of plastic that can be used in 3D printers. This is the type of plastic LEGO bricks are made from. UDPL has explored using ABS in our printers but have found that without heated printing beds, which none of our printers have, it is very difficult to get a successful print. For this reason, we print primarily in PLA.
When we first started printing PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic, we realized that we wanted to use a plastic that was more durable than PLA and could be sanitized more easily. We started experimenting with Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) enhanced with glycol, or PETG. PETG is typically used for printing objects that need to be sturdy, have a smooth surface, and require lower shrinkage. The filament is also food safe and easier to sanitize.