It’s a bit like the early personal computer era. Back then, everyone quickly learned that you could do useful number crunching things with a spreadsheet. You could also store, manipulate, and print words blazingly faster than a battery of typewriters. But it was the advent of so called “WYSIWYG” (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) graphical interfaces, first from Apple and little later with the release of Microsoft Windows that really got people excited about computers.Suddenly, the PC attained a fidelity to the real world it had previously lacked. Expanded business apps and “desktop publishing” emerged in short order followed by the explosion of multimedia functions that have since made personal computers practically indispensable.
It may be that a similar dynamic is now at work in the world of 3-D printing and rapid-prototyping devices.Not long ago, the miracle of being able to output something – anything -- in three dimensions was enough. But now, people want more. They want something that’s durable, dimensionally stable and, in fact, compatible with the real world.And that increasingly means ABS plastic.
Thanks to its properties such as heat resistance, surface hardness, chemical resistance, the way it can be formed through a number of kinds of processes, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or ABS, has become one of the most common thermoplastics on the market. It is frequently used in production applications in electronic and electrical equipment, instruments and gauges, automobiles, construction materials and other products such as pipes, sporting goods, and some toys.Depending on the relative proportions of its constituent components, its specific characteristics can be further tailored to fit specific needs and it can be produced in a variety of colors, molded in many thicknesses, and readily machined to relatively tight tolerances.
While the over all application of ABS for manufactured products is not on as steep a growth curve as other plastics, it is growing. For instance in the still, expanding Chinese market, local producers make more than a million tons of ABS each year.
Value to Design Engineers
ABS is already used extensively by the injection molding industry so in those fields prototyping with ABS can produce a near match with the finished products. But for other industries, ABS prototyping means parts can be assessed for form, fit, and function with a considerable degree of accuracy, too.
Best of all, ABS components can often be put into service and tested as essentially equivalent to a final product.Characteristics of ABS which are of particular importance to design engineers include:
§High gloss finish
§Good low temperature ductility
§Excellent thermal properties
§Very good processing performance
§Good chemical resistance
§Low shrinkage, low warping
§High dimensional stability
§Good electrical properties
§Good paintability and platability
ABS Role for Prototyping in Specific Industries
For specific kinds of manufacturing ABS prototyping is particularly appealing in part because ABS is a good choice over all but also because the characteristics of ABS in a prototyping or small production environment are ideal for the requirements of that industry.For instance:
Healthcare: ABS has proven helpful for designers in the healthcare field, who need to meet the rigorous requirements for surgical instruments, fluid and drug delivery components, oxygen and respiratory devices, and drainage and suction tools.FDA and ISO 10993-compliant ABS resins are available for healthcare applications. Healthcare specialty grades of ABS offer resistance to chemicals and lipids, reduced in-mold stress cracking and durable performance after repeated use.In addition, some base resins are approved in Europe for food contact.
Electroplating: Although ABS is not alone in its ability to undergo electroplating, ABS resins continue to lead the pack in this role.ABS resins achieve this advantage when they are comprised of high-purity, ABS substrates which offer excellent surface quality, dimensional stability and temperature cycling performance. For electroplaters, these qualities mean it is possible to deliver excellent adhesion, lightweight durability, and over all reliability.
High-Heat: There are several high-heat ABS resins which are designed to provide cost-effective means for delivering durability in color and appearance along with excellent mechanical performance. These properties, along with heat resistances, are valued in applications for telecommunication components and electrical enclosures as well as in automotive interiors, where they provide superb materials solutions for dashboards, door trim, pillars and other interior elements.
Flame-Retardant Specialty Grades: Some ABS resin grades also provide a balance of impact and flame resistance to help designers meet increasingly stringent regulatory and safety standards.
Given all the ways in which it can be manipulated and deployed, it seems that ABS will continue to gain favor as the most desirable prototyping/ small batch material on the market.