What Is ABS Plastic? | What You Need to Know About This Incredible Material
On this page
A Plastic You Have Used Many Times Before
Initially, the term “ABS plastic” might make you think, “Oh, this must be a material they use for car brakes.” Although they sound similar, ABS brakes and ABS plastics are two completely different things. Anti-lock brakes keep you safe in the event of a sudden stop while ABS plastic is a manufacturing material.
ABS stands for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, and it is a thermoplastic polymer, meaning that it responds to heat in a particular way. A thermoplastic will liquefy as it heats up instead of burning. They can also be melted, cooled, and heated again without the material breaking down. This allows them to be reshaped as many times as necessary and easily recycled.
Thermoplastics like ABS plastic are in direct contrast to thermoset, which can only be heated a single time. The chemical change that results from heating cannot be reversed, so you cannot continue to make adjustments without fresh materials. If you were to heat thermoset plastic a second time, it would burn, making it a bad choice for anyone looking for recyclable materials.
What Is ABS Plastic Used For?
ABS is an exceptionally durable material, so it has virtually countless applications in many industries. It is often used to create protective housings and packaging due to its high-level impact resistance. Some other common applications include computer keycaps, wall socket guards, and even LEGOs.
However, there is another use for ABS that is on the rise: 3D printing. 3D printing is a modern marvel in terms of how easily plastic parts can be produced. If you have ever used a 3D printer or plan on acquiring one, you will likely be using ABS plastic for your creations.
ABS offers superior moldability in comparison to other materials, making it ideal for creating complex shapes. The fact that it is re-moldable and recyclable also reinforces its usefulness. As mentioned, you can reheat this material as many times as necessary. This means you can redesign your parts over and over again.
ABS in 3D printing is particularly popular for the development of prototypes. Prototyping is an inherently trial-and-error process. ABS gives engineers and designers infinite attempts to perfect their products without using large amounts of materials and creating unnecessary waste.
ABS plastic molding is becoming increasingly popular. These are just a few examples of what you can do with this material, and its application will likely continue to expand in number.
Stability & Durability: ABS plastic offers both dimensional stability and a variety of resistances. It has a high tensile strength to handle intense physical impacts and can resist corrosive chemicals, making it a good choice for applications in extreme environments.
Low Melting Point for Molding: Having a low melting point makes the ABS injection molding process much more efficient. It is also lightweight, so it is easier to work with even for large-scale projects.
Cost-Effectiveness & Recyclability: ABS plastic is a relatively affordable material, only costing a little more than a dollar per pound. Considering the fact that you can continuously remold and recycle this material, it is one of the most cost-effective materials on the market.
Heat & Electrical Conductivity: ABS’s conductivity for heat and electricity is extremely low. This makes it the perfect option for electrical insulation products and household electrical covers.
Customizability: ABS plastic manufacturers can apply a wide range of colors and textures to this material. So, you can fully customize part designs for the best possible performance in your application.
ABS plastic has many things to offer for many different industries. However, no polymer is without its disadvantages.
Disadvantages of ABS
The first disadvantage of ABS is actually one of its best features. The low melting point may be good for moldability, but it prevents it from use in high-temperature environments. For example, medical implants are exposed to consistent heat, so they cannot be produced with ABS.
This plastic also has low resistance to solvents, fatigue, UV exposure, and weathering. If you were to use this material in an environment with these factors, you would need an external form of protection.
Although ABS is recyclable, it is not entirely eco-friendly in every situation. If this material does burn, it puts off large amounts of smoke, which is a major concern for air pollution. It is not likely that ABS plastic will burn with proper use, but it is a disadvantage nonetheless.