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Is polycarbonate suitable for 3D printing? How much does it cost?

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In any production process, material selection is key not only to making a suitable and durable product, but also to ensuring successful manufacturing. Additionally, material costs have the greatest impact on the final cost of a product. It’s no secret that 3D printing is versatile, thanks to the variety of materials and technologies available. However, this availability comes at a price, and it can be quite costly.
Polycarbonate (PC) is a high-strength material suitable for harsh environments and engineering applications. It has extremely high heat and impact resistance. Polycarbonate also has a glass transition temperature of up to 150°C. This means it will maintain its structural integrity up to that temperature, making it suitable for use in high temperature applications. It can also bend without breaking and is often used in applications that require some flexibility. In this article, let’s explore whether polycarbonate is suitable for 3D printing? How much does polycarbonate cost for 3D printing?

Is polycarbonate suitable for 3D printing?

Polycarbonate (PC) is suitable for 3D printing. Polycarbonate is a high-performance engineering plastic with excellent mechanical properties, thermal stability and impact resistance. These properties make polycarbonate an ideal material for 3D printing, especially in applications that require high strength, high heat resistance and high transparency.
3D printing with polycarbonate can produce parts or models with excellent durability and aesthetics. However, it is important to note that polycarbonate has a higher melting point, so it requires specific 3D printers and printing conditions for successful printing. In addition, the price of polycarbonate may be slightly higher relative to other 3D printing materials, but considering its superior properties, it is usually a reasonable investment.

What Is Polycarbonate 3D Printing?

Polycarbonate 3D printing is a manufacturing process that utilizes polycarbonate (PC) material to create three-dimensional objects through additive manufacturing technology (layer-by-layer). The main 3D printing technology used to create objects made of this material is called fused deposition modeling (FDM). It uses polycarbonate filament as the raw material to build up the desired shape.

Polycarbonate (PC) boasts remarkable attributes—it’s robust, with an ultimate tensile strength of 70 MPa and yield strength of about 63 MPa, and can withstand both high heat and impacts, maintaining structural integrity even at temperatures up to 150 °C (its glass transition temperature). Owing to these properties, PC has found extensive utility in a myriad of industries such as: aerospace, automotive, electronics, medical devices, and consumer goods.

3D PC polycarbonate material

What are the advantages of polycarbonate 3D printing?

Polycarbonate 3D printing offers a range of advantages that make it a sought-after choice for various applications:

  1. 3D-printed PC parts have good mechanical properties.
  2. It can withstand elevated temperatures, retaining structural integrity at temperatures as high as 150 °C.
  3. It demonstrates resistance to various chemicals, oils, and solvents. 
  4. Polycarbonate’s optical clarity makes it an excellent choice for applications requiring transparency. 
  5. Good impact resistance makes PC suitable for components that may experience sudden forces or collisions.
  6. It is valuable as an electrical insulator.
  7. Despite its strength, PC filament’s lightweight nature is advantageous for applications where weight reduction is desired.
  8. It is recyclable.

What are the limitations of polycarbonate 3D printing?

  1. Polycarbonate filament is relatively more expensive compared to other 3D printing materials, which might affect the overall cost-effectiveness of projects.
  2. Polycarbonate filament is hygroscopic, meaning that it tends to absorb moisture from the surrounding air. It is essential to store polycarbonate in an airtight and moisture-free setting once its packaging is opened.
  3. It demands a considerably high-temperature hot end, ideally ranging between 290 °C and 300 °C. Slower printing speeds or the utilization of composite polycarbonate filaments might allow for slightly lower temperatures. Inadequate temperatures or excessively fast printing speeds could result in filament jamming within the printer’s nozzle.
  4. Inadequate temperature control can lead to poor layer adhesion on the print bed and potential separation or cracking as the material cools and warps. Ideally, the bed temperature should fall within the range of 135-150 °C. 
  5. Airflow in the print chamber during printing can lead to poor outcomes such as brittle prints. This occurs because rapid cooling can affect layer bonding and structural integrity.
  6. Susceptible to oozing during printing, where the printer’s nozzle releases small amounts of filament even when not actively printing. This can cause unwanted strings or blobs on the printed object, impacting its appearance. Manual adjustments are often needed when printers lack PC presets. Limiting retraction distances to under 10 mm can prevent jams.
  7. When heated, polycarbonate can release BPA into the surrounding environment in the form of fumes (e.g. BPA), which can be harmful if inhaled. This makes proper ventilation and operating in well-ventilated areas essential.
Polycarbonate 3D printed model presentation

Stiffness Properties Of Polycarbonate (PC)

The stiffness characteristics of polycarbonate (PC) can be mainly described from the following aspects:

  1. Tensile modulus: Tensile modulus is a key measure of material stiffness. The tensile modulus of polycarbonate usually falls in the range of 2000-2500MPa, which is significantly higher than that of general polymer materials (its tensile modulus is lower than 1000MPa) and aluminum alloy materials (its tensile modulus is 70 -80GPa). Despite the numerical differences, polycarbonate still exhibits excellent stiffness properties among plastic materials.
  2. Elastic modulus:The elastic modulus of polycarbonate can exceed 2200MPa, which also reflects its remarkable stiffness properties. In addition, because polycarbonate itself has good heat resistance and solvent resistance, it can be used to replace metal materials in some special occasions. When a material is affected by external forces, its elastic modulus is high, which means it has excellent elastic deformation properties, that is, its stiffness is very high.
  3. Impact resistance: Polycarbonate exhibits excellent impact resistance properties, which are closely linked to its excellent stiffness properties. At present, polycarbonate has been widely used in construction, automobile and other industries, but it is still in its infancy in the aviation field. Taking polycarbonate sheets as an example, its impact strength is 250 times that of ordinary glass, which allows it to demonstrate excellent performance in multiple application scenarios that require high impact resistance.
  4. Dimensional stability of formed products:Polycarbonate exhibits excellent mechanical properties and the dimensional stability of molded parts is excellent, which is where its stiffness properties come into play. At present, polycarbonate is mainly used to manufacture structural parts in the fields of automobiles and construction, but further research is needed in some other application fields. Polycarbonate can not only be used as a building material, but also as other engineering plastics. It can maintain excellent dimensional stability to meet various complex application requirements.

Polycarbonate (PC) has excellent stiffness properties, which are mainly reflected in its high tensile modulus, elastic modulus, impact resistance and dimensional stability of formed products. These properties make polycarbonate excellent in a variety of applications that require high stiffness materials, such as automotive, construction, medicine and other industries.

Polycarbonate 3D printing wire

How does polycarbonate compare to other materials?

When we compare PC to other plastics used in 3D printing, the unique properties and superior performance of this material become even more apparent.

  • PLA (polylactic acid): PLA is a commonly used material in 3D printing, known for its ease of printing and environmentally friendly properties, as it is derived from renewable resources such as cornstarch or sugar cane. However, when it comes to mechanical and thermal properties, polycarbonate dominates. While PLA has excellent printability, it falls short in the areas of impact resistance and thermal deformation, where polycarbonate excels. Additionally, PC outperforms PLA in terms of overall mechanical properties, making it a more suitable choice for parts that require some degree of bending without breaking.
  • ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene): ABS is another widely used 3D printing material that offers good impact resistance and durability. However, PC’s strength, heat resistance, and toughness exceed ABS. Polycarbonate has an excellent heat deflection temperature, which means it can handle high-temperature applications where ABS may deform.
  • Nylon (Polyamide): Nylon is widely recognized for its strength and flexibility comparable to PC. However, polycarbonate is superior in making printed parts rigid and isotropic. Nylon readily absorbs moisture from the air, which affects its strength and dimensional stability. In comparison, PC is less hygroscopic and has better dimensional stability.
  • PETG (polyethylene terephthalate): PETG combines the ease of printing of PLA with the strength of ABS. However, overall PC performance outperforms it. While PETG offers decent durability, heat resistance, and flexibility, polycarbonate excels in these properties. PC has higher impact resistance and heat deflection temperature, making it a stronger material for demanding applications.

In summary, while each plastic material has its advantages and applicable uses, PC’s superior durability, toughness, and rigidity make it suitable for 3D printing.

What are the applications of polycarbonate?

Polycarbonate’s exceptional durability, toughness and stiffness make it a versatile choice for a wide range of applications in different industries. It performs well in challenging conditions and enables high-value use in a wide range of areas.

  1. Mechanical components: High impact resistance and strength make it an excellent choice for producing strong mechanical components. These components may include gears, fasteners, and other moving parts within machinery where durability under repeated stress is critical.
  2. Automotive Applications: In the automotive industry, it can be used to produce parts that require high heat resistance and impact strength. These parts may include light covers, fenders, bumpers and other parts that need to withstand the heat and stress common in vehicle operation.
  3. Protective Gear: PC’s toughness and flexibility make it an excellent choice for protective gear such as helmets, goggles, or shields.
  4. Electronic Enclosures: Due to its good electrical insulation properties, durability and heat resistance, it is ideally suited for use in electronic enclosures. It protects delicate internal components while withstanding the heat generated by these electronic devices.
  5. Medical Devices: In the medical field, it is used to make durable components such as surgical instruments, drug delivery devices, and diagnostic equipment. Its ability to sterilize without losing its performance makes it valuable in this industry.
  6. Building and construction applications: It can be used to build structural components such as windows, skylights or partitions. Its strength makes it ideal for these applications.
What are the applications of polycarbonate?

How Much Does Polycarbonate 3D Printing Cost?

The cost of 3D printing polycarbonate is affected by a variety of factors, which causes its cost to fluctuate widely. Production costs can be controlled by changing raw materials and processes in cost analysis. The printed filament forms a critical part of the total cost. Polycarbonate wire offers excellent performance and unique structure. Compared with other 3D printing materials, polycarbonate filaments are more expensive. Due to its high cost, the application of polycarbonate is limited. The estimated cost of each roll of PC cable is between $30-60. The cost mainly consists of three parts: production cost, labor and consumables. Labor costs cover many aspects such as printer configuration, post-processing, and fault diagnosis. These tasks need to be completed on the production line. Other costs come from software, design tools, and delicate processes like sanding, spraying, or painting.

Given all of these considerations, determining the exact cost of polycarbonate 3D printing is a challenging task in the absence of specific project details. If the technology can be accurately costed, a reasonable price can be set for it. When conducting a comprehensive cost assessment, we must consider printer maintenance, energy consumption, manual operations, and other ancillary processes.

What factors affect the cost of polycarbonate 3D printing?

  • Material costs:As a high-performance engineering plastic, polycarbonate (PC) has a relatively high manufacturing cost. As people’s awareness of environmental protection continues to increase and energy conservation and emission reduction policies are introduced, their prices have gradually dropped. This phenomenon is mainly attributed to its excellent physical and chemical properties, such as high transparency, excellent strength, resistance to high temperatures and resistance to corrosion. Material waste is also an important factor affecting costs. If these advantages can be used to reduce material consumption, significant cost savings will be achieved. When 3D printing, there may be some unnecessary support structures or unused materials, which will increase the overall cost.
  • Equipment cost:The selling price of 3D printers will vary depending on their model, size and features. Some high-end 3D printing tools have higher standards for transparent materials such as polycarbonate, which also results in their relatively high selling prices. In addition, different types of equipment require different types of consumables. The cost of polycarbonate 3D printing is indirectly affected by equipment installation and set-up time, operating expenses, regular maintenance, post-processing and maintenance, and machine downtime.
  • Labor costs:When it comes to styling, the cost of this part can be very high, especially for those with no styling experience, and additional technical support may be required. To operate a 3D printer and perform subsequent processing and maintenance does require a lot of human resources.
  • Design cost:When personalized design or advanced model production is required, it may involve the participation of expert designers or related agencies, which will undoubtedly increase the total cost of the design.
  • Post-processing costs:For a 3D printed model, it may have to go through steps of polishing, painting and assembly, leading to an increase in the overall cost.

What are some ways to reduce the cost of polycarbonate 3D printing?

Optimized design:We make full use of the versatility of 3D printing to design lighter and more stable components, such as choosing honeycomb or more complex lattice designs, while significantly reducing unnecessary porous structures to reduce material waste. In the early stages of design, the part’s performance for manufacturing (DFM) is studied in depth to ensure economical and efficient production levels throughout the part’s manufacturing process.

Optimize printing settings:When printing in slicing software, enter the optimal settings for the polycarbonate model of your choice and confirm the optimal parameter settings through a series of repeated experiments. This will not only ensure a higher standard of quality, but also significantly improve the quality. Reduce the likelihood of print failures and material waste.

Hollowed 3D model:Unless there are special needs, it is not necessary to print a completely solid model. You can reduce the amount of material used by designing a hollow model, thereby reducing costs. However, care must be taken to maintain sufficient wall thickness to maintain structural integrity.

Avoid supporting structures:There is no need to print completely separate models unless you have a special preference. Through carefully designed hollow design models, we can not only reduce dependence on materials, but also effectively reduce overall costs. However, we need to ensure that there is sufficient wall thickness to ensure the overall structural stability.

Reasonable selection of tolerances:Avoid excessive pursuit of tolerance requirements, as this may increase the number of print layers and build time, resulting in higher costs. On the premise of meeting the requirements, select a reasonable tolerance range.

Mix printed and non-printed parts:In some cases, overall costs can be reduced by combining 3D printing technology with connectable parts. These connectable parts may be off-the-shelf, less expensive components that can be combined with 3D printed parts to reduce overall costs.

Consider alternatives to mass production:For parts that require mass production, 3D printing should be considered as a means of prototyping or small-scale production, while turning to more cost-effective manufacturing methods such as injection molding, machining, etc. for mass production.

Maintain and maintain equipment:Perform regular maintenance and upkeep on your 3D printer to ensure its normal operation and extend its service life. This reduces downtime and repair costs due to equipment failure.

Mechanical and thermal properties of the 3D-printed polycarbonate

How much does it cost to 3D print polycarbonate per hour?

How to calculate the cost of one hour of polycarbonate 3D printing? You need to consider factors such as electricity, materials, labor, maintenance, and additional costs such as support materials or equipment.
By evaluating these factors, you can get a comprehensive estimate of the total cost of one hour of polycarbonate 3D printing. Here is a simplified formula for calculating this cost:
Total cost per hour = Electricity* + Materials* + Wear + Labor + Amortized Printer Cost + Overhead
Electricity cost = (Printer power consumption, unit: kilowatt) x (number of printing hours) x (electricity cost per kilowatt hour)
Material cost = (material price per unit) x (material consumption per hour)

Comparison of common 3D printing consumables

FilamentStrong PointsUsesDifficulty to usePrint TemperatureBed TemperatureShrinkage / WarpingFood Safe
1. PLAEasy to printBiodegradableVariety of colors
available
Decorative and non-durable itemLow180°C – 230°C20°C – 60°C (optional)MinimalNo
2. ABSDurableResistant to
high temperaturesImpact-resistant
Items requiring strength, durability, and resistance to heatMedium210°C – 250°C80°C – 110°CHighNo
3. PETGDurableEasy to printFlexibleResistant to
high temperature
and impact
Functional objectsLow220°C – 250°C50°C – 75°CMinimalYes, as long as there are no harmful additives
4. TPERubber-likeStretchable and softDurableHigh-wear objects or items that need to be bent, stretched, or compressedMedium210°C – 230°C30°C – 60°C (optional)MinimalNo
5. NylonDurableFlexibleHigh impact resistanceHeat resistantFunctional prototypes, gears, mechanical parts, and aesthetic objectsMedium240°C – 260°C70°C – 100°CHighSee manufacturer guidelines
6. PCDurableHeat and impact resistantHigh-wear items such as automotive, electrical, and mechanical partsMedium270°C – 310°C90°C – 110°CHighNo
7. ASAHeat and UV resistantHigh impact and
wear resistanceNo yellowing or
discoloration vs ABS
Outdoor objects, sports equipment, electrical installationsHigh220°C – 245°C90°C – 110°CHighYes, depending on the grade of the material

conclusion

Polycarbonate is suitable for 3D printing and is a material choice worth considering if you need to create 3D printed parts or models with high strength, high heat resistance, or high transparency. Although polycarbonate is more expensive than other materials, polycarbonate has superior properties and will be a sound investment for you.

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Whether you need a single prototype or a large production run, we can help.Longsheng commitment to quality and customer satisfaction ensures that you receive the best possible service and results.If you have any questions or would like to learn more about our 3D printing capabilities, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We are always happy to help and look forward to working with you.

FAQs

Is polycarbonate 3D printing expensive compared to die casting?

Subject to availability. For low-volume production, prototypes, and complex designs, polycarbonate 3D printing is more cost-effective. Its strengths lie in its design flexibility and rapid prototyping capabilities. Die casting, on the other hand, is more suitable for high-volume production because the cost of bulk materials is lower and batch processing is efficient.

What is the lifespan of polycarbonate 3D printed products?

Polycarbonate has an expected average service life of 15 years, depending on storage and use. For example, it is expected to last much longer than PLA (polylactic acid) 3D printed products. PC exhibits excellent resistance to absorbing ambient moisture. This property helps maintain the stability and performance of PC 3D printed products over a longer period of time. PC also has excellent UV resistance. As a result, the life expectancy of PC 3D printed products will be significantly extended, making them a more reliable option for applications that require durability and resistance to environmental factors.

How to choose polycarbonate 3D printing services?

Choosing polycarbonate 3D printing services requires comprehensive consideration of many aspects, including material characteristics, service provider capabilities, service quality and effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, service scope and application areas, delivery time and response speed, customer reviews and case studies As well as follow-up support and after-sales service, etc. By taking these factors into consideration, you can ensure that you select the service provider that best suits your project needs.

What precautions are needed for polycarbonate 3D printing?

When choosing polycarbonate for 3D printing, you need to note that polycarbonate is a high-performance thermoplastic with excellent heat resistance, impact resistance, and transparency. Make sure the 3D printer can handle high-temperature materials, as PC has a higher melting temperature. Set the printing parameters reasonably according to the material characteristics of the PC and the performance of the printer. After printing is completed, the parts need to be handled carefully to avoid damage to the parts during the operation. Conduct quality inspections on printed parts, including dimensional accuracy, surface quality, structural strength, etc. Carry out regular maintenance and upkeep on 3D printers to ensure normal operation of the equipment and print quality.

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