PLA Poly Lactic Acid

Poly Lactic Acid 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).

The name polylactic acid or 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.

Being able to degrade into innocuous lactic acid, PLA is used as medical implants such as screws, pins, rods, and as a mesh. Depending on the exact type used, it breaks down within the body within 6 months to 2 years. This gradual degradation is desirable for a support structure, because it gradually transfers the load to the body (e.g. the hopefully healed bone).

PLA can also be used as a compostable packaging material, either cast, injection molded, or spun. Cups (for cold and room temperature applications) and bags have been made of this material. In the form of a film, it shrinks upon heating, allowing it to be used in shrink tunnels. It is useful for producing loose-fill packaging, compost bags, food packaging, and disposable tableware. In the form of fibers and non-woven textiles. PLA also has many potential uses, for example as upholstery, disposable garments, awnings, feminine hygiene products, and diapers.

Poly Lactic Acid is good first test run material to get started with when you first start 3D printing. It has a very sharp glass transition point so if you use a fan to cool it on printing it will set to solid very quickly. This has the advantage of achieving a greater range of geometries than would be possible with other polymers and it also reduces the thermal stress on the printed part so warping is much less of an issue in larger parts when you 3D print with PLA. PLA can be post-production finished by sanding and spraying with automotive spray filler. You can also paint directly onto PLA with acrylic paints.

It is harder then PTFE and melts at a lower temperature (around 180C to 220C), and a glass transition temperature between 60-65 C, so is potentially a very useful material.

Poly Lactic Acid Possible Disadvantages;

Due to PLAs relatively low glass transition temperature, Poly Lactic Acid cups cannot hold hot liquids. However, much research is devoted to developing a heat resistant PLA.

It does exhibit higher friction than PTFE however which can make it difficult to extrude and more susceptible to extruder jams.

PLA Poly Lactic Acid some available colors;

Solid: black, white, purple, yellow, blue and green, translucent: clear, red, blue and green.

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Creative Mechanisms Blog

Polylactic Acid (PLA) is different than most thermoplastic polymers in that it is derived from renewable resources like corn starch or sugar cane., by contrast, are derived from the distillation and polymerization of nonrenewable petroleum reserves. Plastics that are derived from biomass (e.g. PLA) are known as bioplastics.

Polylactic Acid is biodegradable and has characteristics similar topolypropylene (PP),polyethylene (PE), or polystyrene (PS). It can be produced from already existing manufacturing equipment (those designed and originally used for petrochemical industry plastics). This makes it relatively cost efficient to produce. Accordingly, PLA has the second largest production volume of any bioplastic (the most common typically cited as thermoplastic starch).

There are a vast array of applications for Polylactic Acid. Some of the most common uses include plastic films, bottles, and biodegradable medical devices (e.g. screws, pins, rods, and plates that are expected to biodegrade within 6-12 months). For more on medical device prototypes (both biodegradable and permanent) readhere.PLA constricts under heat and is thereby suitable for use as a shrink wrap material. Additionally, the ease with which Polylactic Acid melts allows for some interesting applications in 3D printing (namelylost PLA casting – read morebelow). On the other hand, its low glass transition temperature makes many types of PLA (for example, plastic cups) unsuitable to hold hot liquid.

Here is a look at some different PLA products on the market:

PLAprinting filament, photo courtesy

PLA medical screws, photo courtesy of mWhat Are The Different Types of Polylactic Acid and Why is it Used so Often?

There are several different types of Polylactic Acid to include Racemic PLLA (Poly-L-lactic Acid), Regular PLLA (Poly-L-lactic Acid), PDLA (Poly-D-lactic Acid), and PDLLA (Poly-DL-lactic Acid). They each have slightly different characteristics but are similar in that they are produced from a renewable resource (lactic acid:C3H6O3) as opposed to traditional plastics which are derived from nonrenewable petroleum.

PLA production is a popular idea as it represents the fulfillment of the dream of cost-efficient, non-petroleum plastic production.The huge benefit of PLA as a bioplastic is its versatility and the fact that it naturally degrades when exposed to the environment.For example, a PLA bottle left in the ocean would typically degrade in six to 24 months. Compared to conventional plastics (which in the same environment can take several hundred to a thousand years to degrade) this is truly phenomenal. Accordingly, there is a high potential for PLA to be very useful in short lifespan applications where biodegradability is highly beneficial (e.g. as a plastic water bottle or as a container for fruit and vegetables).Of note,despite its ability to degrade when exposed to the elements over a long time, PLA is extremely robust in any normal application (e.g. as a plastic electronics part).

PLA is one of two common plastics used on FDM machines (3D printing) andis commonly available as a 3D printable filament; the other common 3D printer plastic isABS.PLA filament for 3D printing is typically available in a myriad of colors. Polylactic Acid could be CNC machined but it is typically not available in sheet stock or rod form. It is, however, typically available as a thin film for thermoforming or in the form of plastic pellets for injection molding. To adjust material properties, plastic injection mold pellets are typically produced and/or blended together.

One of the interesting things you can do with PLA on a 3D printer is calledlost PLA casting.This is a process where PLA is printed in the shape of an interior cavity and then encased with plaster-like materials. The PLA is later burned out as it has a lower melting temperature than the surrounding material. The end result is a void that can be filled (often with molten metal).

Polylactic Acid is principally made through two different processes: condensation and polymerization. The most common polymerization technique is known as ring-opening polymerization. This is a process that utilizes metal catalysts in combination with lactide to create the larger PLA molecules. The condensation process is similar with the principal difference being the temperature during the procedure and the by-products (condensates) that are released as a consequence of the reaction.

Now that we know what it is used for, lets examine some of the key properties of Polylactic Acid. PLA is classified as a thermoplastic polyester (as opposed to thermoset), and the name has to do with the way the plastic responds to heat. Thermoplastic materials become liquid at their melting point(150-160 degrees Celsius in the case of PLA). A major useful attribute aboutthermoplastics is that theycan be heated to their melting point, cooled, and reheated again without significant degradation. Instead of burning, thermoplastics like Polylactic Acid liquefy, which allows them to be easilyinjection moldedand then subsequently recycled. By contrast, thermoset plastics can only be heated once (typically during the injection molding process). The firstheating causes thermoset materials to set (similar to a 2-part epoxy) resulting in a chemical change that cannot be reversed. If you tried to heat a thermoset plastic to a high temperature a second time it would simply burn. This characteristic makes thermoset materials poor candidates for recycling.PLA falls under the SPI resin identification code of 7 (others).

In solid form, no. In fact, Polylactic Acid (PLA) is biodegradable. It is often used in food handling and medical implants that biodegrade within the body over time. Like most plastics, it has the potential to be toxic if inhaled and/or absorbed into the skin or eyes as a vapor or liquid (i.e. during manufacturing processes). Be careful and closely follow handling instructions for molten polymer in particular.

Recently researchers from the Illinois Institute of Technology published a paper on Ultrafine Particle (UFP) emissions from commercially available 3D printers using ABS and PLA feedstock. You can read about the resultshere.

PLA has a relatively low glass transition temperature (typically between 111 and 145 F). This makes it fairly unsuitable for high temperature applications. Even things like a hot car in the summer could cause parts to soften and deform.

PolylacticAcid is a little bit more brittle than ABS for 3D prototyping but it has some advantages as well. For a full comparison of the two plastics as they relate to 3D printing readhere.

PLLA: 157 – 170 C (315 – 338 F) **

Typical Injection Molding Temperature

PLLA: 178 – 240 C (353 – 464 F) **

49 – 52 C (121 – 126 F) at 0.46 MPa (66 PSI) ****

PLLA: 61 – 66 MPa (8840 – 9500 PSI) ***

PLLA: 48 – 110 MPa (6,950 – 16,000 PSI) ***

PLLA: 0.37 – 0.41% (0.0037 – 0.0041 in/in)******

***Source data(Using ASTM D638 Test Method at 73F)

****Source data(Using ASTM D648 Test Method at 73F)

*****Source data(Using ASTM D792 Test Method at 73F)

******Source data(Using ASTM D955 Test Method at 73F)

Companies that work well with Creative Mechanisms typically are developing mechanical products on a regular schedule. These organizations may have some engineering expertise in-house, however, their primary focus is on project management and working with outside vendors to developnew product. Our clients put a high value on good communication, collaboration and transparency throughout the entire design, engineering and prototyping process.

Prospects come to us needing a greater level of innovative solutions, faster development times or better collaboration and communication than they are getting from their current sources. They will tell you that our culture of creativity, our experience and our mechanical expertise helped take them to the next level.

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