An Experiment in Heat Treating 3D Printed PLA

Ever since I’ve started 3D printing solutions for mechanical integration of payloads into unmanned aerial vehicles, I’ve wanted to experiment with heat guns and soldering irons to see how I could affect PLA parts, which is one reason I decided to not stay around such things for extended periods of time. But someone recently mentioned to me soaking parts in boiling water as a method of strengthening them, and I thought that sounded like something not as dangerous that I could do and not go overboard on. And so I bought an old pot at a second hand store, some wire from a hardware store, and a thermometer from Walmart, then confiscated a hot plate from my university.

I wrapped the wire around the part and set it up in the pot so that the piece was not touching the bottom nor any of the edges. It wouldn’t do to have it melt, now would it? With the part in place, I filled the pot with room temperature water until the part was fully submerged with about an inch of water above it, and then I turned on the hot plate and waited. This is the closest thing to cooking that I’ve done in a long time, I thought with a small grin.

And waited.


. . . and waited. . .

Finally, I decided to check on the part outside of the pot and to possibly flip it, even though the water hadn’t reached boiling yet.


. . . Oops. . . So, to anyone experimenting with 3D printed parts in this manner, here are some things I would change in my method: 1) Make a better harness that holds the part evenly and not at an angle with respect to the heat source. 2) Add the part to already boiling water for a shorter duration (20-40 minutes, shorter on the side of caution). My part was in there for well over an hour before my impatience won over; it takes a long time to make that much water reach boiling.


It changed color, as well, though that did not surprise me. I might try something like this again, although I’m leaning more toward baking it instead. In the end, the layers were not noticeably any more merged than before and all that really happened was the obvious, undesirable warping and color change.

This PLA was extruded at 230 deg C on a build platform held at 100 deg C, so the fact that it warped so much at temps below 80 deg C was a little surprising to me. But I suppose it should not have been, seeing as water’s heat capacity is so high. Welp, lessons learned, I guess.


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So you want to know about me? If so, I'm surprised and humbled. There are so many people you could bump into on the vast expanse of the internet, yet here you are reading MY words. I am one who was fooled by the system into getting a college education only to find out I would have been happier without it. And after realizing this, I returned to it like a dog to its vomit. Thus, I find myself pining after my childhood dream of being a writer while sitting on a Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering and attending to a Master's degree. You know how the saying goes: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Joking aside, I like what I do, but I still want to write and eventually publish my work. I see no reason why I cannot do both.

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