In August I had the privilege to have a booth at the Tiny Home Jamboree in Colorado Springs, CO. At the booth I presented how 3D printing can be used to match the unique needs of the tiny home community. In a future blog I plan to collect all my thoughts about the Jamboree and 3D printing.
Among the many questions about 3D printing, a common one was “How does the plastic stand up to the elements? “
That was a question I did not have a ready answer to. 3D printing has been showcased as a way to be environmentally friendly through the use of recycled plastics and biodegradable filaments like PLA. I have have not seen any long-term research about the long term properties of 3D printed materials that are exposed to the elements.
As the question came up more and more at the Tinny Home Jamboree, I wanted to develop an experiment to see how a wide range of filaments would withstand the harsh sun and chilling weather of Colorado.
As I reviewed the Nanodax Glass Wool Polypropylene filament, I realized that the sample chip I printed for that review would work well for test pieces.
I went to work for 2 weeks to print sample chips for all the filaments that I had in the office.
The Experimental Setup
Each set of two sample chips were printed at the factory recommended temperatures. Print settings were 0.3 mm (300 micron) layer height, 100% infill. This took about 35 min for two samples.
Two (2) chips of each material were printed, with 1 chip being the control that is stored indoors.
The other sample chip was secured by a deck screw to a 2” x 4” piece of pine lumber. On September 25th I put this board with samples chips out against the east side of my house. This side of the house gets approximately 6 hours of direct sunlight a day.
The weather conditions and UV index for Denver, CO can be found at NOAA.gov.
The following filaments were secured to the testing board. Many of these filaments I have previously reviewed.
Transparent Green PLA, clear XT, Leaf Green PLA/PHA, red nGen, GlowFill PLA/PHA, polished and unpolished BronzeFill and CopperFill PLA, Carbon Fiber, WoodFill, and CorkFill.
Buzzed (beer based PLA), WoundUp (coffee based PLA), and GlassFill (Fiberglass based PLA)
When I reviewed Wenton filaments, they also sent a sample of PVA. however I did not store it correctly and when I printed it after months of open air exposure, the PVA bubbled and popped like crazy. Given that PVA is soluble in warm water, I predict that this will have the most drastic change of all the filaments. I predict others will see fading and warping from the exposure.
October 16th, 2016
The weather in CO has been cool and sunny, with warm fall weather. I was hopping there would be more rain at this point, but Colorado is still in a drought.
After a month in the sun, I am starting to see that some filaments stand up to the elements better than others.
What has been interesting is that the coffee based PLA filaments from Proto Pasta and 3Dom USA have faded considerably by about the same shades of brown.
Wenton PVA is still on the board, but it has curled significantly. Prototype Supply PLA has faded the worst of all the samples, with 3DDPlus losing some of its light green hue.
MeltInk Silver PLA has warped and un warped depending on the temperature. All other samples have faded slightly.
ColorFabb WoodFill and CorkFill have lightened, and there texture has become more rough.
I moved the sample board to the east fence of my property. There it receives approximately eight (8) hours of sun exposure. I hope that with more exposure to the elements, I can start to see more dramatic results.
November 26th, 2016
The long drought in CO was bailey sated with two recent days of light snowfall, flowed quickly by warm weather. The result is that the filaments quickly were dampened and dried.
The WoodFill and CorkFill continue to get fuzzier and rougher. The color fading for the other filaments was consistent with the previous entry.
The PVA finally got wet enough to start degrading. It appears that even in freezing cold temperatures, PVA will dissolve. While the sample chip did not disappear, the thinnest part of the print did leave a hole in the print.
Others like the coffee based filaments continue to lighten, with light sections starting to appear around the edges. The Magnetic Iron PLA is just now starting to rust, while the copperfill is loosing its shine.
INprinting Hemp-based HIPS is also showing some wear, as the hemp fibers appear to be drying and splintering out of the HIPS matrix.
Disclosure: Some of the filaments tested were provided as samples from the factories for review, while other filaments purchased at my own expense. Please see the links for each individual brand details.
If you have a filament you would like 3D-PT to test, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @3dfidgets, or through this site.