Pieces of Lego

ABS – An All-round Performer but Tread Carefully

One of the most versatile thermoplastics to be found at any vacuum forming company is ABS. ABS is a terpolymer made up of polyacrylonitrile, polybutadiene and polystyrene.

There is no single formula for ABS as each of the component polymers can be varied in their quantity for example polyacrylonitrile 15 to 35%, polybutadiene 5 to 30%, and polystyrene 40 to 60%. This allows ABS manufacturers to create a variation of grades to best suit the application.

ABS is affordable, tough, and lightweight (1.06 g / cm3). ABS is tough even at lower temperatures giving a working temperature range of -20OC to 80OC.

ABS was first patented in 1948 and first commercially produced in 1954 by the Borg Waner Corporation. ABS can trace its roots to the development of styrene butadiene rubber (SBR) during World War 2.

Borg Warner wanted to build on the properties of styrene, to increase the materials resilience to impact, and at the same time improve the hardness and rigidity.

The resilience came from polybutadiene and the hardness from polyacrylonitrile. ABS was an immediate hit, an easy material to injection mould, and to vacuum form.

In 1963 Lego changed the material for its opaque, coloured, moulded toy bricks from cellulose acetate to ABS. The new ABS material was tougher, had less warp and resisted colour fade. The only disadvantage was, and still is, how painful they are to accidentally stand on.

ABS can also be blended to create ABS-ESD (electrostatic discharge) anti-static material, ABS-FR fire resistant grades, as well as PMMA-ABS (acrylic capped ABS) a coextruded ABS grade with UV protection, as well as high heat stabilised ABS grades.

A wide range of thicknesses, sheet sizes, colours, surface finishes, and performance grades enables a huge variety of vacuum formed products to be made from this all-round versatile material.

Interested in more information on ABS and vacuum forming? Read our Complete Guide to Vacuum Forming.

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