Brief Discussion on ABS Plastic

What is ABS Plastic?

ABS Plastic: Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) is an opaque thermoplastic and amorphous polymer. “Thermoplastic” (as opposed to “thermoset”) has to do with the way the material responds to heat. Thermoplastics become liquid (i.e. have a “glass transition”) at a certain temperature (221 degrees Fahrenheit in the case of ABS plastic). They can be heated to their melting point, cooled, and re-heated again without significant degradation. Instead of burning, thermoplastics like ABS liquefy which allows them to be easily injection molded and then subsequently recycled. By contrast, thermoset plastics can only be heated once (typically during the injection molding process). The first heating causes thermoset materials to set (similar to a 2-part epoxy), resulting in a chemical change that cannot be reversed.

How is ABS made?

ABS is most commonly polymerized through the process of emulsion (the mixture of multiple products that don’t typically combine into a single product). A well known example of an emulsified product is milk. ABS is also created, albeit less commonly, by a patented process known as continuous mass polymerization. Globally, the most common methodology to create ABS is the emulsion process.It is important to note that because ABS is a thermoplastic material, it can be easily recycled as mentioned above. This means that a common way of producing ABS plastic is from other ABS plastic.

Why is ABS used so often?

ABS has a strong resistance to corrosive chemicals and/or physical impacts. It is very easy to machine and has a low melting temperature making it particularly simple to use in injection molding manufacturing processes or 3D printing on an FDM machine. ABS is also relatively inexpensive (prices, currently around $1.50 per pound, typically fall somewhere between those of Polypropylene  (“PP”) and Polycarbonate (“PC”). ABS plastic is not typically used in high heat situations due to its low melting point.  All of these characteristics lead to ABS being used in a large number of applications across a wide range of industries.

What is ABS used for?

There are countless applications for ABS. Among the most widely identifiable are keys on a computer keyboard, power-tool housing, the plastic face-guard on wall sockets (oftentimes a PC/ABS blend), and LEGO toys.

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