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Everything you need to know about Nylon 3D Printing

Before you get started with Nylon 3D Printing, we’ve compiled some of the basic information you’ll need to know. Read on to learn the advantages, disadvantages, history and applications of Nylon 3D printing

Nylon Filament and 3D Printed Gear
Nylon Filament and 3D Printed Gear

When it comes to 3D printing materials, Nylon has to be mentioned as one of the most popular materials for professional users. This can be attributed in large part to its popularity outside of 3D printing. Nylon has a wide range of applications thanks to its unique properties and the benefits of 3D printing mean that parts can be made on the fly easily and inexpensively.

That said, desktop Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) 3D printing technology, which is one of the most widely-used types of 3D printing, can sometimes involve a lot of trial and error. Some materials are easy to print with while others have a comparatively bigger learning curve.

Through this article, we will share everything you should know about Nylon 3D printing. Nylon can be 3D printed using three different technologies, namely FDM, Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), and MultiJet Fusion (MJF). However, the scope of this article is focused around FDM 3D printing.

UNDERSTANDING NYLON AS A MATERIAL

Chemical Composition

Nylon was first synthesized by DuPont, the American chemical company, in 1935. It developed the material for commercial usage and since then Nylon has become a common feature in numerous industries.

Nylon refers to a group of plastics known as polyamides. They are mostly semi-crystalline and generally very tough materials. It is found in many variants but the most common ones are Nylon 6, Nylon 6-6, and Nylon 12. It is a thermoplastic material, i.e., it becomes soft on heating or liquid when heated beyond its melting point and hardens on cooling. This process of heating and cooling can be carried out multiple times without significantly affecting its inherent chemical or mechanical properties.

Nylons can be easily blended with numerous other plastics to form composites, enhancing their performance parameters. This is widely done in automotive industries and some common composites in 3D printing are glass-filled nylon and carbon-fiber-filled nylon. Nylon is a versatile material and is suitable for almost all types of manufacturing operations like injection molding, extrusion, and additive manufacturing (in FDM, SLS & MJF).

Professional Applications

Nylon is a popular material in traditional and additive manufacturing industries. The first-ever application for nylon was a toothbrush, but its use rapidly spread to other sectors due to its unique material properties.

3D printed nylon skateboard wheels Source: MatterHackers

3D printed nylon skateboard wheels Source: MatterHackers

Some of the most popular applications of nylon material are:

➜ In the textiles industry, nylon is used in the manufacturing of fishing lines, and food packaging.
➜ In the fashion industry, nylon is used as a fabric to manufacture products like hosiery, lingerie, raincoats, windbreakers, and athletic wear used in sports.
➜ In the electronics industry, nylon is used as insulators and switch housings.
➜ In the automotive industry, nylon is used in the production of parts such as intake manifolds, door handles, and radiator grills.
In consumer products, nylon is used in sporting goods such as ski bindings and skateboard wheels.
➜ In manufacturing machinery for moving parts such as gears and rollers.

NYLON in 3D PRINTING

In the same way that nylon has become a go-to material in traditional manufacturing, nylon has become a popular material to use with 3D printers.  3D printing provides the added benefits of unlimited geometries, iteration and customization, and low-volume affordability.

Nylon’s flexibility and durability help in 3D printing parts with thin walls. Its low coefficient of friction with a high melting point makes it especially resistant to abrasion and enables it to be used in printing for parts such as functional interlocking gears.

Nylon exhibits mechanical properties comparable to ABS (another widely used material in traditional & additive manufacturing). ABS is defined by its strength but Nylon’s resistance to wear and fatigue makes it superior for applications requiring such properties.

Apart from the advantages, nylon has one major drawback that can often hamper its printing performance – hygroscopicity, i.e., its moisture absorption property. This property is detrimental in delivering predictable performance. But this same property helps nylon in easy post-processing with fabric dyes and spray paints thereby making it suitable for use in the printing of aesthetic (display) models.

There have been successful cases of a patient receiving a titanium pelvis implant, another getting a new titanium lower jaw. A motorcyclist patient whose face had been seriously injured in a road accident had it rebuilt with 3D printed parts.

Bioprinting allows for the 3D printing of artificial organs, helping solve organ failure issues in patients faster, important to both the patient and his/her family and to healthcare systems.

3D printed tissues have been developed for pharmaceutical testing as a cost-effective and ethical means of helping identify the side effects of drugs and validating safe dosages.

Pills can be produced, using the 3D printing process of Binder Jetting. The process allows the pills produced to be very porous, therefore enabling high dosages in a single pill that can be dissolved quickly and easily digested, useful for treating conditions such as epilepsy.

FUSED DEPOSITION MODELING (FDM) NYLON 3D PRINTING

As mentioned earlier, nylon 3D printing in FDM is a bit difficult but with the right tools it can be used to produce consistent results. We will start with some of the common challenges with nylon 3D Printing.

Common Challenges with Nylon 3D Printing

One challenge in nylon 3D printing is that nylon is highly hygroscopic. Even short-term exposure to high humidity can result in “wet” filament which, when printed, can lead to inconsistency in dimensional accuracy and part strength. Due to this property, it is critical to store the nylon filament in a dry place. Professional FDM 3D printers are enclosed so moisture can be safely avoided but for new users working with DIY or cheaper desktop printers, the material is exposed to air while printing. This makes it prone to moisture. The moisture absorbed by nylon gets heated up when it passes through the heater and the moisture forms bubbles only to burst during the heating process. This bursting leaves visible gaps in the 3D printed parts, leading to poor output.

Additionally, nylon is prone to warping issues. Warping occurs when there is uneven cooling of the print and the print curls from the build plate, distorting the printed part. This can be avoided by efficient gluing of the print bed and using a heated bed to keep the bottom layer of the print mildly heated so that it sticks to the bed for the duration of the print. As an extra precaution, the cooling fans can be switched off (all slicers have options to switch off fans during printing) while printing with nylon.

It is also recommended that printing nylon is conducted in a well-ventilated area due to its chemical composition.

Solutions to Nylon 3D Printing

Luckily, there are professional 3D printers such as the MakerBot METHOD that are both affordable for businesses, and have features that enable easy and consistent 3D printing with nylon. One example of these advanced professional features is an enclosed heated build chamber, which minimizes warping and inconsistent cooling during the print, and can also be used before printing to dry the filament on the spool. Another such feature is sealed material bays, which prevents the material from contact with the surrounding environment. These two additions almost entirely solves the problems associated with nylon 3D printing and might be worth considering during purchase if nylon is a preferred 3D printing material.

FDM NYLON MATERIAL PROPERTIES

PARAMETER Imperial Metric
Heat Deflection (ASTM 648, 66 psi) 196°F 91°C
Flexural Modulus (ASTM D790, 15 mm/min) 250,000 psi 1,700 MPa
Flexural Strength (ASTM D790, 15 mm/min) 14,000 psi 97 MPa
Tensile Strength at yield (ASTM D638, 50 mm/min) 9500 psi 66 MPa
Tensile Modulus (ASTM D638, 50 mm/min) >320,000 psi >2,200 MPa
Strain at Yield - Elongation (%) >10% >10%
Notched Impact Strength (ASTM D256) >3.5 ft-lb/in >187 J/m

(Specifications for MakerBot Nylon)

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ADVANTAGES

Mechanical Properties

➀ High impact resistance - Durable in situations where parts are constantly banging together or being dropped.
➁ Abrasion resistant - Nylon’s low coefficient of friction allows nylon to be used in applications with moving parts that would otherwise wear on each other
➂ Flexible - In thinner geometries nylon can be flexed repeatedly without fracturing

Post-Processing: Nylon is hygroscopic and this property helps it to be easily post-processed by absorbing fabric dyes and spray paints.

DISADVANTAGES

➜ Hygroscopic: Nylon is hygroscopic, i.e., it absorbs moisture from the air which can affect its print quality and ultimately the part performance.

➜ Pre-Drying: Nylon should be pre-dried to remove any moisture it has absorbed. This requires extra effort, extra equipment, and extra time. And if the drying is insufficient, then the print shows

➜ Warping: Nylon is prone to warping and thus can distort the part.

WHERE TO BUY?

Nylon material can either be bought from filament manufacturers or 3D printer manufacturers.For the MakerBot 3D METHOD, we recommend use of MakerBot Nylon as it is optimized to deliver great results. 

Looking for a professional 3D printing platform that works with a variety of manufacturing-grade materials? Learn more at makerbot.com/method.