ABS Filament 101

In this article, we will be exploring the ABS material. ABS popular engineering polymer material used in a wide range of traditional industries and that makes it all the more important in 3D printing. We will explore the material in more depth through this article.

WHAT IS ABS MATERIAL?

abs felfil

Courtesy: Felfil

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) is a thermoplastic copolymer made by polymerizing acrylonitrile and styrene in the presence of polybutadiene. The butadiene, which is a rubbery substance, imparts resilience even at low temperatures while the styrene gives the plastic a shiny, water-tight surface. A variety of modifications can be made to improve impact resistance, toughness, and heat resistance.

As a thermoplastic polymer, ABS can be melted to form liquid, cooled to form solid and reheated. This can be carried many times over without any significant degradation in its properties. It has a chemical formula of (C8H8·C4H6·C3H3N)n.

ABS is known for its low production cost and ease of machining. This makes it a perfect mass production material. Additionally, it exhibits a good amount of impact resistance structural strength and stiffness, chemical resistance, excellent high and low-temperature performance, and great electrical insulation properties.

Moreover, it is easy to post-process and can be easily painted and glued.

Besides the notable benefits, the material also has some limitations and they are low solvent resistance gives out toxic fumes when burned, limited use in the food industry, it is affected by UV rays, etc.

Some Generic Properties of ABS Material

HDT @0.46 Mpa (67 psi): 68-100°C

HDT @1.8 Mpa (264 psi): 88-100°C

Coefficient of Linear Thermal Expansion: 7-1510-5 /°C

Flexibility (Flexural Modulus): 1.6-2.4GPa

Hardness Shore D: 100

Stiffness (Flexural Modulus): 1.6-2.4GPa

Strength at Yield (Tensile): 29.6-48MPa

How long does ABS last?

ABS is incredibly long-lasting, opposed to some other filament types (such as PLA), that’s part of the reason it’s so popular. It does have its downsides though, because it takes so long to break down it can have long-lasting effects on the environment. ABS is actually so strong and so resistant that it can essentially last forever.

By carefully working around these limitations, the material can be used for many useful applications like automotive components like the bumper, protective equipment like headgear, kitchen appliances, casings and covers, keyboard keycaps, toys, and musical instruments.

UNDERSTANDING ABS FILAMENT

As explained earlier that ABS is a popular engineering grade polymer. Its usefulness and popularity in traditional manufacturing processes make it desirable in 3D printing as well.

ABS is a strong, tough, and durable material. With tensile strength comparable to PLA, ABS offers greater ductility and thus more impact resistance. It is easy to post-process and also deliver great results if printed properly. And therein lies the problem.

ABS is quite a difficult material to 3D print with. A lot of users face warping, cracking, and dimensional inaccuracy issues when printing ABS.

But such issues can be avoided and with ideal settings and proper precautions ABS can be successfully printed, each time. It has a big learning curve but we will help you shorten it.

General Printing Settings for ABS Filament

  • Extruder Temperature: 210oC to 240oC
  • Bed Temperature: 90oC to 110oC
  • Printing Speed: 20-30mm/sec
  • Heated Bed: Necessary
  • Enclosure: Recommended

TIPS TO PRINT WITH ABS FILAMENT?

We will look at how to take the necessary precautions and experience a successful ABS print every time.

Print within Temperature Range

    • Always operate the ABS filament within the temperature range as prescribed by the filament manufacturer. Depending on the composition of the material, the temperature range may vary for different manufacturers and so it is important to follow those ideal settings.

Ventilation

    • ABS gives off toxic fumes while printing and so it is important that printing is always carried out in a well-ventilated room. Users should also wear masks so that they do not inhale the toxic fumes.

Overcoming Bed Adhesion Problem

    • The number one reason for the failure of ABS prints is bed adhesion. It means that the first layer of the print does not stick to the print bed of the machine. It is a serious issue and the solution dependent on multiple factors as discussed below:

Tape, Glue, or ABS Slurry:

  • One of the most common ways to improve the first layer bed adhesion is to use a Kapton tape on the print bed and apply glue to it. The glue helps in improving the adhesion between the bed and the first layer. Besides glue, ABS slurry can also be used as a replacement for glue. There is no consensus on which method is better and so it depends on the user to use anyone.

(ABS Slurry: ABS slurry is a mixture of ABS filament pieces mixed with acetone. This forms a thick slurry that acts as a glue. Take adequate precautions while creating this slurry as acetone is hazardous.)

  • Heated Bed: Another popular method for bed adhesion is to use a heated bed. This adds cost to the overall system but can ensure a first layer bed adhesion. The heated bed keeps the first layer of the print hot and in a semi-melted state. This helps in the stickiness of the plastic and ultimately provides a better bed adhesion.
  • Enclosure: Another accessory is to use an enclosure so that the ambient temperature does not affect the print and the temperature within the enclosure remains constant. This can be further enhanced by using an advanced 3D printer that has a heated enclosure. The enclosure also helps in preventing cracking between layers.
  • Bed Adhesion Tools: In addition to the above-mentioned accessories to enhance the bed adhesion, the slicer software can also be used to add an extra layer of protection to ensure a successful print. It is recommended that users use bed adhesion tools like Brim and raft to improve the bed adhesion surface area to prevent the layer adhesion issue.
  • Switch-Off Fan: Users can also switch-off the extruder fan for the initial layers so that they do not cool down and start to warp.

Keep the Filament Dry

All thermoplastic materials absorb moisture and considering the difficulty of printing with ABS it is all the more important that the ABS filament is stored in a dry place. Users can also oven dry the filament before each printing.

COMMON ABS FILAMENT APPLICATIONS

Prototyping

ABS is the go-to material for manufacturing prototypes with good mechanical properties. A 3D printed ABS has 80-90% of the properties compared to an injection moulded ABS. ABS can be successfully used to 3D print fully functional applications including snap-fits and prototypes for form, fit and function testing.

Consumer Durables

Consumer durables like mixers, refrigerators, oven, washing machines and more all require housing/casings and ABS is a popular choice for the same. ABS is lightweight, durable, rigid and scratch resistant. These properties make it perfect for household applications.

Automotive Components

ABS is a durable and a lightweight material. Additionally it has a good scratch resistance and such features are highly sought after in the automotive industry. ABS can be effectively used in automotive applications and is often used in dashboards, wheel covers, bumper, and other body parts.

Piping

ABS is an ideal material to replace PVA for pipes and fittings. Compared to PVA, ABS exhibits greater durability. With its additional advantages like strength, lighter in weight, and resistance to impacts and breaks, ABS is the preferred choice for such applications.

BENEFITS OF ABS FILAMENT

  • Mechanical properties: ABS filament offers great mechanical properties like strength, ductility, impact, and wear resistance.
  • Easy to post-process: With the help of acetone vaporing the ABS surface can be smoothened, it can be easily glued or painted using acrylic paints.
  • Wide applications: It has wide applications in prototyping and end-use parts.

DRAWBACKS OF ABS FILAMENT

  • Warping, Curling & Cracking: ABS is highly prone to warping, curling & cracking. Appropriate safety measures have to be taken to ensure a successful print.
  • Toxic Fumes: ABS releases toxic fumes when printing and hence users have to adhere to proper safety precautions.
  • Dependence on Accessories: ABS printing demands the use of a heated bed & an enclosure (heated one for even better results). Both these accessories impact the pricing of the 3D printer. The users also need to cover his nose and mouth while printing and so that comprises an additional piece of equipment.
  • Ventilation: 3D printing of ABS should be carried out in a properly ventilated room.
  • UV Rays:ABS is susceptible to strong UV rays and so it should not be used for outdoor applications where it comes in direct contact with sunlight.

What you should absolutely not use ABS filament for:

ABS can be used to make a ton of great stuff, but there are somethings it should absolutely not be used for. I’ve already mentioned that it can be damaged by sunlight, however I’m talking about what could make it outright dangerous if used.

ABS contains toxins that are released when heated. Just because your print has cooled down doesn’t mean those toxins have up and left. Even though you can touch it, ABS filament should never be printed into something to be used with food. If your prints come into contact with food, which is then eaten, you could end up making others or even yourself very ill.

If you do want to print something to be used with food consumption, like a cooking utensil or a bowl for example. You’re better off using PLA. PLA is believed to be completely safe, though they aren’t 100% sure so you could still be at risk.

Where can I buy ABS filament?

ABS is so common that you should be able to get some anyplace that sells 3D printing equipment. If that’s not convenient enough for you, amazon sells spools in varying color and quality for you to have delivered whenever you need.

How much does ABS filament cost?

ABS filament is widely available across the globe and the price is pretty much the same. It generally costs anywhere from $15 to $70 per kilogram. The more you pay the better the quality will obviously be, but you should pick a price that suits your need. If you’re just messing around and not printing something that needs to be very structurally sound. Say, like part of a tool. You can get away with the lower cost filament.

Is ABS worth the cost then?

It can be. Because ABS is available so readily and cheaply it makes each print more cost effective. But there is a counter argument to this, depending on what your printing setup is like and the which printer you actually have.

Because ABS can be so temperamental to print, having the correct setup is needed to make sure you get the right print every time. Your best bet is to have a nice 3D printer that prints into a decent sized enclosure.

You also need to keep in mind the room you’ll be printing in. Is it climate controlled? Are you outside in a shed or inside the house? Where you are printing must be closely temperature controlled or you may end up wasting the spool on a print that doesn’t set.

Verdict

ABS is a predominantly a professional engineering-grade filament. It has numerous applications in industries and it can serve those purposes really well. The mechanical properties clubbed with the capabilities of 3D printing technology to produce complex products, are a perfect fit for its wide industrial usage.

It is rarely used by beginners due to obvious printing issues and requirement of specific accessories like heated bed, enclosure, a well-ventilated room and more.

Not sure if ABS is the right filaments for your project? Read more about different types of filaments.

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