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Exploring ABS Material: Properties and Applications

Table of Contents

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) is a thermoplastic polymer that has widely become one of the most popular materials used in various industries and manufacturing processes. Much of the popularity is due to the versatility of the material. Being a thermoplastic material, it has a unique ability to become moldable at high temperatures and solidify at cooler temperatures without significant degradation from the thermal cycling. As a result, ABS can be molded and shaped into various forms, making it suitable for a wide range of applications, products, and prototyping. 

The purpose of this article will be to provide a comprehensive overview of ABS and illustrate its various applications and uses.

What is ABS Plastic? Properties and Characteristics

ABS is a thermoplastic polymer that is obtained through a process called polymerization, which involves combining three monomers: acrylonitrile, butadiene, and styrene. Some of its most useful properties are its chemical, thermal, and physical properties. 

  1. Chemical Properties:
    • Chemical Resistance: ABS is resistant to a wide range of chemicals, including acids, alkalis, and various solvents. It can withstand exposure to many common household and industrial chemicals without significant degradation or loss of properties. However, ABS may be susceptible to degradation or swelling when exposed to certain harsh chemicals or solvents.
    • Hydrophobicity: ABS exhibits hydrophobic properties, meaning it repels or resists water absorption. This property makes ABS suitable for applications where moisture resistance is important. 
    • Flammability: ABS is considered a combustible material and can burn when exposed to a flame or high heat. However, ABS can be modified with flame retardant additives to reduce its flammability. 
    • UV Resistance: ABS may experience degradation when exposed to prolonged sunlight or ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Over time, UV exposure can cause color fading, surface degradation, and a decrease in mechanical properties. ABS can be formulated with additives or coatings that provide better UV protection.
    • Biocompatibility: ABS is generally considered biocompatible, meaning it is suitable for contact with human tissues and fluids. It has been used in medical and healthcare applications. However, specific ABS grades and formulations should be chosen carefully to ensure compliance with the required biocompatibility standards for each specific application.
    • Recycling: ABS is a recyclable material. It can be melted, reprocessed, and used in the production of new ABS products or blended with other plastics to create composite materials. 
  1. Thermal Properties:
    • Melting Point: ABS has a relatively low melting point compared to other engineering thermoplastics. It typically melts in the range of 200 to 240 degrees Celsius (392 to 464 degrees Fahrenheit). This low melting point makes ABS easily processable through many molding techniques, such as injection molding and 3D printing. 
    • Heat Resistance: ABS exhibits decent heat resistance, allowing it to withstand moderate, common-use temperatures without significant deformation or softening. It can typically withstand temperatures between 70 to 80 degrees Celsius (158 to 176 degrees Fahrenheit) without undergoing notable changes in its mechanical properties.
    • Thermal Conductivity: ABS has a relatively low thermal conductivity, meaning it is a poor conductor of heat. This property makes ABS useful in applications where thermal insulation is desired. 
    • Coefficient of Thermal Expansion (CTE): ABS has a moderate coefficient of thermal expansion, which means it expands and contracts with changes in temperature. This property is important in applications where dimensional stability is crucial. Designers and engineers need to consider the CTE of ABS when accounting for thermal expansion or contraction in their designs to prevent warping or distortion.
    • Thermal Stability: ABS demonstrates good thermal stability during processing and use. For example, it can be heated repeatedly without significant degradation. This allows for multiple thermal cycles that do not compromise the material properties. However, it should be noted that prolonged exposure to high temperatures or extended UV radiation can lead to degradation or color fading.
  1. Physical Properties:
    • Density: ABS has a relatively low density. This property makes ABS lightweight compared to many other engineering thermoplastics, resulting in reduced material weight.
    • Hardness: ABS is known for its good hardness, providing a solid and rigid structure. The hardness of ABS can vary depending on the specific grade and formulation.
    • Impact Strength: ABS offers excellent impact resistance, making it highly durable and capable of withstanding sudden impacts and shock loads. It absorbs and disperses energy effectively, preventing fractures or breakages.
    • Tensile Strength: ABS demonstrates good tensile strength, which is the ability to withstand pulling or stretching forces without breaking. The tensile strength of ABS typically ranges from 35 to 50 megapascals (MPa). The specific grade and formulation can affect the tensile strength of ABS.
    • Flexibility: ABS exhibits a balance of rigidity and flexibility. It possesses a certain degree of flexibility, allowing it to withstand moderate deformation or bending without cracking or breaking. This property makes ABS suitable for applications where some degree of flexibility is required, such as snap-fit assemblies or hinges.
    • Electrical Insulation: ABS is an excellent electrical insulator, meaning it does not conduct electricity. It offers good electrical insulation properties, making it suitable for electrical and electronic applications where electrical components need to be protected and isolated.
    • Surface Finish: ABS can achieve a smooth and glossy surface finish when properly processed. It can be easily sanded, polished, or textured to achieve desired surface characteristics. ABS surfaces are often suitable for painting, plating, or adhesive bonding.
    • Color and Appearance: ABS is available in a wide range of colors. It offers good color stability and retains its appearance over time, unless exposed to prolonged UV radiation, friction, or weathering. 

6 Different Types of ABS Material Grades

ABS is available in various grades that are tailored to specific applications and requirements. SendCutSend is continuously working to provide more materials, you can find the current list here

General-Purpose ABS

This is the standard ABS grade used in a wide range of applications. This offers a balance of mechanical strength, impact resistance, and processability. General-purpose ABS is suitable for products like consumer goods, electronic enclosures, automotive interior parts, and toys.

Flame-Retardant ABS 

These ABS grades are modified with flame-retardant additives to improve their fire resistance. Flame-retardant ABS materials are commonly used in applications where fire safety is critical, such as electrical and electronic equipment, automotive components, and building materials.

High-Impact ABS

High-impact ABS grades are formulated to provide enhanced impact resistance while maintaining good rigidity. They are used in applications that require exceptional toughness and resistance to impact loads, such as protective gear, tool handles, and automotive exterior parts.

Heat-Resistant ABS

Heat-resistant ABS grades are designed to withstand elevated temperatures without significant deformation or loss of properties. They are used in applications exposed to higher operating temperatures, such as automotive components, appliance parts, and electrical enclosures.

UV-Resistant ABS 

These ABS grades incorporate additives to enhance resistance to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV-resistant ABS materials are used in outdoor applications or environments where prolonged exposure to sunlight may cause degradation or color fading, such as automotive exterior trims, signage, and outdoor equipment.

FDA-Compliant ABS 

ABS grades that meet the requirements of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations for food contact applications are available. FDA-compliant ABS is used in food processing equipment, food packaging, and other applications involving direct contact with food.

ABS Material Applications and Uses

Although some common uses were highlighted above, the possibilities are endless for the different types of uses found for ABS. ABS is found in virtually every industry including aerospace, medical, automotive, oil and gas, and food handling, amongst others.

Common uses for SendCutSend customers have included locks, hinges, gears, bearings, valves, and more. Due to its combination of mechanical, thermal, chemical, and electrical properties, along with its manufacturability and aesthetic appeal, ABS has great versatility allowing for a broad range of product designs.

CNC Routing and Machining for ABS Plastic

SendCutSend uses CNC routing to offer custom-cut ABS plastic parts that are heat resistant, durable, and BPA free. This makes it possible to obtain custom, multi-purpose ABS for dozens of applications ranging from the food industry to aerospace engineering. CNC routing is used in order to avoid material degradation that could come from using a laser cutter. 

It is important to know that after cutting, the finishes on the front and back of ABS plastic differ. The top side is textured and the back will be glossy. SendCutSend will cut your file texture side up and the orientation of your part as shown in the part preview will be considered the top side.

In addition, all parts machined using the CNC router will have small fixturing tabs leftover on the edges. These tabs are used to ensure your parts remain in place and secure during the manufacturing process. The tabs are small and can be easily sanded down. 

SendCutSend offers ABS sheets in thicknesses of 0.125”, 0.187”, and 0.234”. Customization and add-on services include countersinking and tapping of holes. 

Advantages of Using ABS Material

Using ABS material offers several advantages in various applications. From its properties and characteristics discussed earlier, the advantages of ABS can be identified as:

  1. Impact resistant
  2. Good material stiffness
  3. Chemically resistant to many household chemicals
  4. Resistant to high and low temperatures
  5. Easy to paint
  6. Strong electrical insulation properties
  7. Recyclable
  8. Widely Available
  9. Cost-effective
  10. Can be heated and cooled repeatedly with minimal or no degradation

Disadvantages of Using ABS Material

There are some disadvantages that come with ABS. However, they are not always a limiting factor for this material to be used, and neither do they affect the quality of the products applied. Some disadvantages are:

  1. Not very resistant to prolonged weathering (UV/sunlight)
  2. Not resistant to very harsh chemicals and solvents
  3. Hazardous when burned
  4. Limited application in food industry
  5. More expensive compared to polystyrene or polyethylene

Relying on SendCutSend can give you peace of mind, knowing that the cutting processes and ABS material used is of high quality. Awesome quality parts are guaranteed. If you’re not 100% happy, SendCutSend will give you a refund or remake on the spot – no questions, no hassle.

Durable Custom Cut ABS Plastic Parts Delivered to Your Doorstep

ABS is a popular thermoplastic choice for a broad range of applications, including automotive parts, consumer goods, electronics, appliances, construction materials, and more. The material offers a reliable combination of strength, versatility, and cost-effectiveness. When choosing to work with ABS, consider the application needs, and whether the advantages of ABS can benefit the application. Consider taking advantage of SendCutSend’s ABS cutting capabilities to bring your ABS ideas to life. Whether it’s a quantity of one or several, SendCutSend can help create your custom ABS part with fast turnaround times, amazing customer service, high quality material, and convenient online parts visualization and quoting.

FAQs Around ABS Material

Can ABS be recycled?

ABS can be recycled by grinding or shredding the ABS waste into small pieces, melting them, and then reforming the melted plastic into new ABS products. Recycling ABS helps reduce waste, conserve resources, and contribute to sustainability.

Is ABS plastic safe?

ABS is generally considered safe for use in various applications. It is widely used in consumer products, automotive parts, and electronics. ABS is known for its low toxicity and is not classified as a hazardous material. However, like any plastic, there can be potential health risks associated with the release of chemical additives during production or degradation processes.

Can ABS be bent?

Generally, ABS cannot be bent in the same way that sheet metal can be bent. ABS exhibits a balance of rigidity and flexibility, allowing it to undergo some bending or deformation without cracking or breaking, however, ABS is a thermoplastic that retains its shape after cooling and is generally more brittle than common metals used in sheet metal bending. Excessive force or bending beyond the material’s limits can cause damage especially if the plastic is thin or under stress. Therefore, it’s important to consider the specific properties and limitations of ABS when attempting to bend or shape it.

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