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Why do we still want to print in ABS?

Published on 18/05/2018

You won’t imagine how many times have we heard companies say they want a professional 3D printer that can print with ABS. ABS? Why ABS? They never find an answer. At best, they will say that ABS is a highly used polymer in industry. In plastic injection to be precise. And that it has some very good properties. And they are right. It is a hard and rigid material. Besides, it barely absorbs any water and is resistant to high temperatures. It is used to manufacture toys, automotive pieces, pipes, carcasses for electronics and an infinity of other different things. It is indeed one of the most used and know materials.

However, in this case we are not referring to plastic injection. We are talking about 3D printing. Focus on this idea: 3D printing and plastic injection are different manufacturing processes. The properties of the materials are inevitably different if they are processed in one method or another.

The majority of the database and materials datasheets offer us the characteristics and properties of the injected plastics, so we cannot use this information when working on 3D printing. The consequences of using one technology or the other one are several and affect on a different way to every material. 

The Optimatter webpage offers technical details and comparations of printed pieces. They are currently missing some data but they are slowly creating databases of the samples made with 3D printer.

For instance, 3D printing prints layer by layer and the adherence between layers is very different from the homogeneity of the injected pieces. The adherence between layers we manage to get with PLA is much higher than the one we get with ABS. This means that ABS will be more susceptible to split between layers than a piece printed in PLA, even if an injected ABS plastic piece is more resistant.

Another point to take into consideration is the capacity of contraction and thermal expansion of each plastic. The ABS is more altered with temperature and the stresses that are generated inside the printed object could cause cracks between layers (Cracking) or the deformation of the piece after taking it off the table (Warping).

Needless to say, this doesn’t mean that it is not possible to print with ABS. There are specific guidelines and processes that allow printing some particular volumes and geometries, but indeed, it is much easier, faster and more effective to print with other materials like PLA (polylactic acid), PETG (polyethylene terephthalate) or HIPS (high impact polystyrene).

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