Chinese Sample Boxes

You might not know it, but that spool of filament setting on your desk, or the one hooked up to your printer has probably traveled further than you might realize.

As it stands, most of the filament used in the consumer printing market is manufactured in China, and then sold to a vast network of resellers that you purchase from, whether you’re buying from Amazon or somebody else. There are some US manufacturers, but so much of the material is being manufactured abroad.

Earlier this year, I reached out to a few suppliers, looking to see if I could save money by buying directly from the source, and was fortunate enough to come into possession of some samples of material I wanted to try.

Namely, Nylon, POM, TPE and Polycarbonate.

They had a lot of other materials (wood, glow-in-the dark PLA, ABS, etc), but really these 4 were what I wanted to experiment with, because they all have unique and valid uses.

Nylon is of interest because of it’s extraordinary strength and heat resistance.

POM is an incredibly durable material, with a low coefficient of friction (it’s more slippery than nylon) and higher degree of crystallinity which would make it a great choice for clasps and other items where constant friction is part of an item’s service life.

TPE is interesting, because it’s basically printable rubber; there are so many uses for this material as an interface material in various parts and objects.

Polycarbonate was interesting mostly because a lot of my experience in the chemicals industry is focused around acrylics. Now acrylics have a lot of great properties, and whenever I get around to writing a sort of omnibus post about materials selection, I’ll probably devote a section to them, but PC has something truly special that makes it stand out over acrylics in many application. It’s very impact resistant, and it’s got excellent optical properties.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been experimenting with these materials, but under a strange constraint. My printer doesn’t have a heated bed. Adding a heated bed is of course next on the docket, and one of the things I’m doing this January; what I’ve learned from trying to use such challenging materials without a heated bed is useful nonetheless for the insight in how these materials perform in the 3-D printing process.

Stay tuned, and I look forward to hearing from others that are out there trying to push the limits of 3-D printing.

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