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FDM 3D Printing Materials Part 3: ABS


Several rows of ABS filament spools
(Image: Adobestock)

In the third of our series on FDM printing materials, we're going to take a look at a commonly used but slightly different type of filament; ABS.


What is ABS?


Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene or ABS is, alongside PLA, one of the most commonly used filament materials in the world of FDM 3D printing.


To reinforce what we said about ABS in our previous post, "FDM 3D Printing Materials: A Comparison", let's just remind ourselves of the main points that we discussed then.


ABS is a material which is great for printing tough and durable parts that can also withstand high temperatures. The typical GTT (Glass Transition Temperature) of ABS is 230-260ºC which means that it becomes workable and usable as a 3D printing material within that range. If you compare that to PLA for example, which has a GTT of 190-215ºC, you can immediately see that the working parameters for ABS are much higher than for PLA.


The use of ABS is fairly widespread throughout manufacturing industries and very widely used in toy production. In fact probably the most famous name in toys, Lego, uses ABS for all of its bricks and imagine how many billions of those there are in the world. ABS can also be used for machine parts and electrical housings as well as in everyday items such as office printers, vacuum cleaners, kitchen utensils and even musical instruments. We'll take a look at some of the uses for ABS 3D printed objects a little later on.


So where did it come from?


Well, copolymers such as Styrene Acrylonitrile have been around since the 1940s and it's superior strength and resilience over styrene made it suitable for many applications. It did still though have its limitations and therefore the introduction of a third monomer in the form of Butadiene rubber was needed to give the material more flexibility. This then meant that the resultant material, which we now know as ABS, was created and has been available since the 1950s. The variability of these copolymers and ease with which they can be processed has made ABS the popular material that it is today.


Pros and Cons

As always, we need to look at both the good and less good aspects of using ABS as a 3D printing material.

Pros

Cons

Good impact and wear resistance

Heavy warping can occur

Less oozing and stringing gives models a smoother finish

​Needs heated bed or heated chamber

Can be used outside

Produces a pungent odour while printing

Good heat and chemical resistance


Everyday Uses


An array of different coloured Lego bricks
(Image: Adobestock)


As we've already mentioned, ABS is commonly used for making children's toys and most particularly, Lego. This isn't all that ABS is used for of course and as with most plastic materials, it has many applications in the manufacturing and engineering worlds. Let's then have a look at a few of them.


Electrical casings


ABS is an ideal material for making things like the front faces of electrical power sockets as well as the switches and rear wiring covers. It can also be found as the casing for electrical power tools along with the power adaptors for those as well. You'll also find ABS used for switch and circuit housings for large machinery.


Automotive


The use of ABS in the automotive industry is quite prolific with things such as car interiors (dashboard, door pockets, handle covers etc.) as well as the rear part of light housings.


Computer Keyboards


The very keyboard that typed this article has keys made from ABS and other computer peripherals such as the mouse, webcam and microphone will have cases and exteriors made from ABS. Other audio/visual items such as headphones can also have an ABS element to their construction as well games console casings and their controllers.


These are just a few of the things that ABS can be used to make but let's now look at where you might use it for 3D printing.


3D Printing Uses


An RC vehicle in motion over sand
(Image: Adobestock)

If you take a look at the list of everyday items above, you may be forgiven for thinking that the majority of those could also be 3D printed. Given the versatility of 3D printing, you would of course be correct but there are a few other areas where you might decide to use ABS as your 3D printing filament over the more familiar PLA.


Prototyping


Of course, we couldn't leave out the use of ABS as a valuable material in the world of prototyping. As we've established, ABS has a strength and durability which would lend itself perfectly to 3D printing small gear and machine parts that you might find in a prototype. It's also ideal for creating other moving components where the movement may cause wear to PLA for example.


RC Vehicles


Remote Control or RC vehicles are a very popular thing for 3D printing enthusiasts to make as the parts can be expensive to buy. Parts can also be custom designed to fit exact needs and bring a certain unique quality to the vehicle. The outdoor durability of ABS also makes it suitable for use on RC vehicles which may be exposed to heat, impact or water; sometimes all at once!


Small Outdoor Fixtures


Things like garden ornaments, small gardening tools, guttering fixings and similar items are all things that can be easily 3D printed using ABS. Again, the durability and resistance to weather make ABS the cheaper option than buying replacement parts and make repairs or replacements much quicker and easier.


Conclusion


ABS is a very versatile 3D printing material which has good impact and weather resistance. This makes it ideal for use in situations where the printed item needs to be outside for extended periods. It's also great for making toys which need to be both durable and have some degree of flexibility. Heat resistance also makes it a good choice for electrical casings and covers for other machine parts.


The working temperature of ABS is also still fairly low which makes it easy to use with most FDM 3D printers. Last but not least, ABS is perfect for prototyping as it can withstand wear and can be used to 3D print small gears and moving parts.


All in all then, ABS is a perfect material for use in FDM 3D printing.


Thanks for reading and remember to check back next week for part four in our regular series.




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