ABS Plastic: A Detailed Guide to Know Its Uses

ABS plastic

ABS plastic is a popular part manufacturing and prototyping material with wide industrial applications due to its unique mechanical properties. The thermoplastic is applicable in manufacturing products regardless of the designs using processes such as CNC machining, 3D printing, and injection molding. This article talks about ABS material and its compatible manufacturing processes.

What is ABS Plastic Material?

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) is an opaque thermoplastic known for its rigidity and strength. The polymer is amorphous and consists of three monomers: acrylonitrile, butadiene, and styrene:

  • Acrylonitrile is responsible for the material’s chemical stability and heat resistance.
  • Butadiene gives the polymer its toughness and impact strength.
  • Styrene is responsible for its rigidity and processability in creating various forms.

Properties of ABS Plastic

ABS plastic material has wide applications in several industries and compatibility with several manufacturing processes due to its properties. Below are some ABS material properties and why ABS rapid prototyping and manufacturing are common.

properties of ABS plastic

Impact Resistance

Impact resistance is the ability of a material to resist intense and sudden force. ABS plastic material has a high impact resistance at low temperatures. As a result, it is an important part of the automotive industry in making parts such as bumpers.

Excellent Insulator

Like any plastic, ABS is an excellent insulator and low conductor of heat. As a result, it is popular in prototyping and manufacturing products that require insulation protection.

Abrasion Resistance

The polymer has high abrasion resistance. As a result, it is applicable in making products that should have a smooth surface irrespective of their choice of use. As a result, ABS is common in the automotive industry in making parts such as dashboards.

Surface Brightness

The plastic polymer has a quality, well-polished, and shiny surface. As a result, its aesthetic appeal ranks it as a top plastic polymer in the automotive industry.

Chemical Resistance

ABS is highly chemical resistant as it is usable in environments containing alcohols, hydrocarbons, and other chemicals.

Different Types of ABS Grades

There are different grades of ABS materials used in part prototyping and manufacturing. Each grade has its properties well explained below:

ABS Extrusion Grade

The extrusion grade is named because they come from the plastic extrusion process and are common in industries requiring their ABS prototype with heightened strength and elasticity. A common example is an ABS569 plastic and ABS-PA749SK.

ABS Flame-retardant Grade

The flame-retardant grade of ABS is a heat-resistant ABS plastic material applicable in making products and parts that need strong heat resistance. An example is the Prime ABS 860 FR, which is moldable/extrudable and joinable with other materials such as polycarbonate and polyvinyl chloride.

ABS Injection Molding Grade

This ABS material grade is suitable for making products using injection molding. They have high impact resistance and are applicable in plastic prototyping.

Other Grades of ABS Plastic

These include ABS grades combined with different materials to boost their mechanical properties. Examples include ABS plastics combined with materials such as glass fiber, graphite fiber, and stainless-steel fiber.

Types of Processes for Manufacturing ABS Plastics

There are different types of manufacturing processes suitable for working with ABS. Below are the common manufacturing processes used in plastic prototyping and manufacturing.

applications of ABS material

1. 3D Printing for ABS

3D printing is an additive manufacturing process that uses a 3D printer to manufacture a 3D part aided by Computer-Aided Design (CAD) models. The printer constructs the part layer by layer till it creates a full physical part.

There are several 3D printing techniques. However, Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology is the most popular for ABS plastics. After printing, you can also subject the part to post-processing options to improve its function and aesthetics.

Using 3D printing with ABS plastic comes with several defects. Below are a few to consider:

Warping: This is the most common 3D printing defect in which the lower part of the printed ABS parts curls up. It occurs due to irregular temperature that causes uneven shrinkage. Several solutions include reducing the printing speed, using adhesives, and printing with a heated bed.

Cracking (delamination): It occurs when the printed ABS layers separate because they don’t bond due to temperature differences. You can prevent cracking by printing with an enclosure to control the operating temperature.

Z-wobble: This occurs due to a skewed printer movement which causes the incoherent movement to move incorrectly. You can avoid Z-wobble by tuning all z-axis components.

Stringing: This is when tiny ABS thermoplastic remains on a 3D-printed model due to the extruder moving to a random spot and leaking plastic. A common preventive measure is reducing print speed and unclogging the nozzle.

prototype of abs plastic

2. CNC Machining for ABS

CNC machining is a set of subtractive manufacturing that involves removing part of a workpiece using a machine controlled by a computer. Several techniques are suitable for ABS, such as drilling, boring, and turning.

Plastic machining is the appropriate process for ABS plastic prototyping and manufacturing requiring tight tolerances and complex geometries. Furthermore, unlike 3D printing, CNC machining permits access to certain geometries, like curved internal paths.

Considerations in ABS Machining

Below are a few things to consider when machining ABS plastic:

-A major consideration when machining ABS is heat generation during the process. CNC machines generate high heat, which can melt the part or cause defects such as warping. As a result, you should be able to machine the polymer at a speed that does not alter its properties.

-Coolant will help you reduce the operating temperature and its effect on the ABS plastic material. This is very important in every CNC machining technique, especially drilling.

-Ensure you choose the right tool for machining ABS plastic. Machining ABS requires you to have a tool with a positive or neutral shape. Using the wrong tool can lead to the tool digging into the material and producing a pull-out effect.

-Firmly fix the ABS plastic part to reduce vibration between the CNC part and the tool. Vibration can lead to the tool digging into the surface or reducing contact between the workpiece surface and the tool.

abs injection molded parts

3. Injection Molding for ABS

Injection molding is a common manufacturing process suitable for working with ABS material. It involves melting and injecting the material into an already prepared injection mold. The molten plastic cools and solidifies, taking the shape of the injection mold.

ABS injection molding is suitable for making complex solid ABS parts with tight tolerances. Molds are generally from CNC machined aluminum and steel molds. However, the mold can also come from 3D printing. This depends on the number and complexity of the parts.

Furthermore, injection molding has a high initial setup cost. However, it is the most suitable for mass-producing ABS parts because it can produce a large number of parts quickly.

Common ABS Injection Molding Defects

Using injection molding for ABS material can lead to several defects. Below are the common ones and how to avoid them;

Weld lines occur when two or more flow fronts don’t weld completely on coming together during ABS plastic injection molding. Incomplete welding results from low temperature and pressure that causes premature solidification. One common way of avoiding the problem is by ensuring a high and uniform pressure and temperature.

Jetting in ABS molding occurs due to uneven solidification when the first flow of molten ABS thermoplastic enters the mold cavity and solidifies. You can reduce jetting by decreasing the injection pressure and increasing the operating temperature.

Cracking occurs on the entire weld area surface due to stress and deformation brought on by the external environment. Furthermore, it can occur due to cold mold surfaces and low injection rates. Common solutions to the defect include increasing the injection speed and optimizing the mold/operational temperature.

Flash injection mold occurs when a thin film of plastic flows out of the mold cavity during the injection due to a high injection rate and pressure. You can reduce the injection rate and increase the clamping pressure to avoid flash in injection molding.

Pros and Cons of Using ABS Materials in Rapid Prototyping

ABS material comes with its advantages and disadvantages. This section will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using ABS materials in rapid prototyping.

anodized abs material

Pros of Using ABS in Rapid Prototyping

ABS materials are popular in rapid prototyping due to the following reasons:

-They have a reasonable production cost with an aesthetically pleasing structure.

-ABS materials offer good finishes after machining, polishing, painting, filling, etc.

-They have properties like high wear resistance, good stability, and strength

Cons of Using ABS in Rapid Prototyping

Although ABS polymer has various advantages, it also has disadvantages depending on the product. Below are some cons of the material in rapid prototyping.

-ABS can curl, crack, or warp during manufacturing, especially under high temperature

-Working with the material should be handled by highly specialized engineers, increasing labor costs.

-It gives variable results in most prototyping processes especially 3D printing.

Applications of ABS Plastic

Due to its excellent properties, such as stability, strength, and heat resistance, ABS polymer has wide industrial applications. Below are typical applications of ABS plastics.

electroplated abs part

Automotive Industry

ABS is suitable for making automotive parts such as seat backs, dashboards, and pillar trim. Here, alongside other engineering plastics, it is an important material due to weight reduction and reduced power use, especially in electric car part manufacturing.

Electrical Industry

ABS material’s insulative properties make it the perfect material for coating electric parts. For example, it can replace polyvinyl chloride in manufacturing electronic enclosures.

Office Equipment

ABS polymer is applicable in making high-quality parts such as keyboard caps, telephone covers, and memorizers. Aside from its mechanical properties, it allows you to incorporate designs and colors to add comfort to the office

Home Appliances and Consumer Goods

ABS material’s strength and rigidities make it appropriate for manufacturing parts such as control panels, casings for vacuum cleaners, and refrigerator liners.


ABS plastic is an important prototyping plastic used in different industrial sectors in manufacturing different products. This article extensively explained the material’s properties, grades, advantages and disadvantages, and suitable applications.

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What type of material is ABS?

ABS, or Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, is an amorphous and thermoplastic polymer. As a thermoplastic, it is moldable by applying and removing heat. Furthermore, being amorphous means that it is not crystalline.

Is ABS plastic toxic?

ABS is fairly harmless to humans due to the absence of carcinogens. Also, there’s been no record of adverse health problems relating to exposure to ABS. However, they are unsuitable or recommended for medical implants.

For prototype manufacturing, which is better, ABS plastics or normal plastics?

Choosing the right plastic depends on the desired mechanical properties. For example, ABS is stronger and more durable than polyvinyl chloride. However. It would be best if you talked to experts on the right material for your project.

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