Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) is an opaque thermoplastic & amorphous polymer. “Thermoplastic“ (as opposed to “thermoset”) refers to how the material reacts to heat.
Thermoplastics become liquid (i.e. have a “glass transition”) at a certain temperature (221 degrees F in the case of ABS plastic). They can be heated to melting point, cooled & reheated without significant degradation.
Instead of burning, thermoplastics like ABS liquefy so they can be easily injection molded & then recycled.
In contrast, thermoset plastics can only be heated once (usually during the injection molding process). When first heated, thermosets materials to-set (similar to a two-part epoxy), resulting in a chemical change that cannot be reversed. If you tried to heat a thermoset-plastic to a high temperature a 2nd time, it would simply burn. This property makes thermoset materials poor candidates for recycling. ABS is also an amorphous material, meaning it doesn’t exhibit the ordered properties of crystalline solids.
Why ABS used so often?
ABS has a high resistance to corrosive chemicals and/or physical impacts. It is very easy to machine and has low melting temperature, making it particularly easy to use in injection molding or 3D printing manufacturing processes on an FDM machine. ABS is also relatively inexpensive (currently around $1.50 per pound, are typically between those of polypropylene (“PP”) & polycarbonate (“PC”). ABS plastic is not typically used in high temperature situations due to its low melting point. These properties mean that ABS is used in a wide range of applications in a wide variety of industries.
What is ABS used for?
There are countless applications for ABS. Some of the most well-known include are keys on a computer keyboard, Power tool housings, plastic face shields on wall sockets (often a PC/ABS mix) and LEGO toys.
ABS for 3 dimensional printing and prototyping development:
Creative Mechanisms uses Fused Deposition Modeling 3D printing process over other “printing” technologies (such as SLA, SLS, SLM) due to the readily available ABS parts. Our FDM machine uses ABS plastic, In this way we can be sure that there will be no major hold ups due-to material when transition from prototype to production. It’s often chosen because it’s a good middle ground option for a variety of applications.
ABS is easy to machine, sanded, glued & painted. This makes it an excellent material for prototyping, especially when it comes to CR packaging. You can also achieve good cosmetic finishes with ABS: In addition, unlike other plastics, it can be colored relatively easily. For this reason, it is often used for enclosures (housings), which can have different textures or glossy surfaces.
Is ABS toxic?
ABS is relatively harmless as it contains no known carcinogens and there are no known adverse health effects associated with exposure to ABS. However, ABS is generally not suitable for medical implants. Learn more about 3D printing & prototyping development for medical devices here.