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5 Reasons Why ABS Needs To Go Away

ABS

ABS was great while it lasted, but we really need to move on, says Miles Scott. There are other materials less poisonous, easier to print, and more environmentally friendly.

This post was contributed by Miles Scott, UK-based 3D printing expert and co-moderator of the biggest 3D printing community on Facebook

Before you pick up your 100-micron layer ABS pitchforks and start hollering, let me start by stating that I don’t think that ABS is bad per se. But as the 3D printing market has evolved, lots of companies have invested heavily in R&D. So we just have more options for high-strength materials that we didn’t have in the early days of the RepRap project. That has gifted us with much easier-to-print stronger and more versatile filaments.

So, where does that leave ABS?

Reason #1: ABS is Definitely Poisoning You

Okay, this may seem a bit overdone... but better safe than sorry, right? (image: Shutterstock)
Okay, this may seem a bit overdone… but better safe than sorry, right? (image: Shutterstock)

ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is a petroleum-based, non-biodegradable plastic. And it’s inherently more toxic plastic than PLA. The smell of ABS hits you and instantly sets of the internal alarms: this stuff can’t be good for me. It is very common for people to build enclosures to employ some kind of ventilation tube to get the fumes out of the room.

The long-term effects of ABS plastic fumes have not been conclusively studied. However, a 2015 study published on 3Dsaftey.org found that “both the gaseous molecules and the nanoparticles are inhaled by humans through the olfactory system. The ultrafine particulate is deposited mainly in the cells of the respiratory organs and through the olfactory nerves of the nasal mucosa, it reaches the brain. The single exposure through the skin allows a partial absorption.”

The Solidoodle Wiki wrote an article entitled “ABS Safety.” It states that “none of the components present in this material are listed as a carcinogen. Under normal processing conditions, this product contains no toxic chemicals.” However, you also read that, “fumes produced during the melting processing, may cause eye, skin, and respiratory tract irritation, and if overexposed, could cause nausea and headache.”

Is it going to kill you in an instant? Probably not. Is it good for you? Definitely not. But did you really need a study to tell you that? I am gonna trust in the evolutionary instinct to get my nose away from this thing. Unless you, unwillingly, want to be the subject of this long-term clinical study “Is inhaling melted plastic bad for me?”

I spoke to a friend of mine who is in medical school right now as I was writing this article. I immediately received a 15-minute lecture as to why this is terrible for my health and why I should definitely not do it. It’s nice to know she cares.

Reason #2: There are Stronger and Easier-to-Print Materials

Billions of water bottles can’t be wrong: PETG is a great, strong and versatile material. Still, it needs to be recycled.

When the first days of consumer 3D printing were in full swing, there was no multi-million dollar worldwide market for filament. So the community had to tap into the markets that were available at the time. In terms of thermoplastics, that meant ABS.

ABS is used in massive quantities in the manufacturing world. So there was a steady supply of material and affordable prices. Now, we have real research and development being put into 3D printer filament and specific polymers being developed for 3D printing. Which greater strength less or no warping issues that are easier to print on almost any machine. PET and PETG are far easier to print and have similar properties to ABS just pick up a roll next time you’re about to hit buy on some ABS. You will thank be thanking me way before you get to the end of the roll.

Reason #3: Warping, Warping, Warping!

3D Printing Troubleshooting

If you needed more evidence that ABS was never intentionally designed for this application, look no further than how fussy it gets with temperature.

ABS is used mostly for injection molding techniques, where it’s heat has nowhere to move as it rapidly cools. This is the complete opposite case when it comes to 3D printing. Small drops in temperature will have your ABS parts lifting straight off the bed and will leave your prints ruined. This is why those who use ABS extensively use enclosures, because as the heat escapes from your print bed so do your chances of having a successful print.

If you don’t want your prints to warp, you need to get an enclosure. Just seal that heat in any way you possibly can. I have seen people use everything from laundry hampers to just throwing a blanket over the printer; which I still think is really dangerous to say the least. If you’re going to do that, please make sure that its fire retardant material or you could burn your house down. If you don’t have a heated bed, don’t even bother printing ABS, it’s more likely to fly away than stick to the bed.

Reason #4: There are Environmental Concerns

Spot the Benchy: There are serious environmental issues with ABS

ABS is not biodegradable. Your 3DBenchy will still be here in 1000 years, long after we’re all gone. That is not the way that the world is turning. Not only in its production from nonrenewable resources, but also in its disposal. Just imagine how much in brims rafts support materials and failed prints add up over time. Where is that going to end up? As a species, we are facing massive environmental problems going forward. Even if you think that climate change is a conspiracy made up by the Chinese, the price of fossil fuels will directly impact of pricing of ABS, so you may see your filament prices changing if oil prices go up.

Reason #5: Post-Processing Uses Dangerous Chemicals

You can post-process ABS with Acetone – that not an easy chemical to use. (image: sinkhacks.com)

Acetone is used to smooth ABS prints and the effect is pretty great. I’ve never quite understood why people do this.

First, long-term exposure to Acetone fumes can seriously damage your respiratory system, not to mention it’s extremely flammable and can be dangerous to store.

And: the main redeeming quality of ABS is its strength and heat resistance. So why would you use this material for decorative prints when you have PLA? If you want to smooth your prints on a regular basis investing in the Polymaker Polysher.

You are probably thinking: Miles, why are you hating ABS so much it does have legitimate uses and is despite its shortcomings a good material… and you are right. I am hoping that from reading this article, you will understand that you don’t have to use it to get strong parts or the desired finish. With the mature materials market we have now, you can look elsewhere to get the best out of your printer (while maintaining your health and overall wellbeing).