ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) is a commonly used plastic filament for 3D printing. It is durable, impact-resistant, and can be easily smoothed and finished to a high-quality surface. However, many 3D printing users wonder – how long will an ABS print actually last before degrading or becoming unusable? The expected lifespan depends on factors like environmental conditions, UV exposure, and mechanical stresses. With proper storage, ABS prints can remain intact for years or even decades.
What is ABS Filament?
ABS filament is made from Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene polymers mixed with various additives and coloring pigments. The long chains of the ABS polymer provide strength and rigidity, while the butadiene components add toughness and impact resistance. This makes ABS an ideal material for functional 3D printed parts, prototypes, tooling, and end-use products.
Compared to other common 3D printing filaments like PLA, ABS filament has higher impact strength, tensile strength, heat resistance and versatility for post-processing. The downsides are ABS is more prone to warping during printing and produces fumes that necessitate proper ventilation. Overall, ABS is valued for its blend of mechanical properties and ability to mimic production plastics.
Typical Lifespan of ABS Prints
Under normal indoor conditions, a properly printed ABS part can last indefinitely without substantial degradation. The plastic itself does not have a true expiration date. Well-made ABS products have been known to endure over 50 years with negligible deterioration.
However, there are several environmental factors that can accelerate the aging and weathering of ABS plastic over time:
UV Light Exposure
ABS, like most plastics, is susceptible to UV damage from sunlight and other sources. The ultraviolet radiation can cause surface oxidation, fading of colors, and gradual loss of mechanical integrity as the material breaks down. ABS products used outdoors will show UV damage much faster than those used indoors.
Parts can be protected with UV-resistant paints or coatings. Uncoated ABS prints used regularly outside may start degrading noticeably after 1-2 years. The degradation accelerates past this point.
Humidity and Moisture
While ABS has good moisture resistance, exposure to water and humidity can still slowly hydrolyze the polymer chains over time. This causes both physical and chemical changes to the plastic that reduce ductility, strength, and surface quality.
ABS prints used in very humid environments may absorb enough moisture to become brittle and degrade in 1-5 years. Proper storage and use in average indoor conditions significantly extends the lifespan.
The lifetime of any ABS print is heavily dependent on mechanical factors like loading stresses, impacts, abrasion, and flexing cycles. Parts used for static display may last indefinitely, while functional parts subject to wear will deteriorate faster. The quality and geometry of the print also matters – a well-designed piece printed with 100% infill will outlast the same piece printed with sparse 15% infill.
For light-duty parts, several years of usable life is common. More durable ABS items can provide 10+ years of service before needing replacement. Anything requiring frequent impact or loading may need replacement every 1-3 years.
ABS plastic is generally resistant to dilute acids, alkalis, oils, and other chemicals at room temperature. However, exposure to some strong solvents like acetone can cause swelling, warpage, and dissolution over time. This limits the chemical compatibility of ABS prints.
ABS should also not come into contact with acidic gases like chlorine and sulfur dioxide, which accelerate degradation. With chemical exposures, the lifespan of printed ABS depends entirely on the exact substance and conditions.
Maximizing the Lifespan of ABS Prints
Here are some tips to extend the usable lifespan of your ABS 3D printed parts:
Store in Cool, Dry Conditions
Keep ABS prints away from heat, humidity, and direct sunlight whenever possible. A climate-controlled indoor space is ideal. Avoid moisture which can be absorbed into the plastic.
Use Proper Printing Settings
Print parts with 100% infill whenever practical for maximum strength. Optimize extrusion settings to eliminate weak gaps and improve layer adhesion. ABS can also be annealed after printing for enhanced longevity.
Minimize Mechanical Stresses
Reinforce high-wear areas with additional geometry or infill. Avoid designs that concentrate stresses in one spot. Use the part within intended load limits to prevent early cracking or excessive flexing.
Apply Protective Coatings
Paint, sealants, or UV inhibitors can be applied to prevent weathering and chemical damage. Renew protective coatings whenever they show signs of wear.
Repair Damage Promptly
Check prints periodically for any cracks or degradation. Repair problems early before they can spread. Damaged sections can often be glued, bonded, or re-printed for a permanent fix.
Replace Expendable Parts
For printed objects that experience repetitive wear, design components to be easily replaceable. Swap out degraded components to restore full functionality and extend overall product lifespan.
Effects of Degradation on ABS Properties
As ABS plastic degrades from environmental factors, parts progressively lose their original characteristics and performance. Common effects include:
– Color fading, yellowing, or darkening from UV exposure
– Loss of gloss, developing a chalky faded appearance
– Surface cracking, crazing, and flaking
– Reduced impact strength and ductility
– Increased brittleness and reduced tensile strength
– Warping, shrinking, or deforming from moisture absorption
– Loss of original dimensions and ability to assemble parts
– Increased surface roughness, from pitting and erosion
– Eventual crumbling from severe cracking
These changes will worsen steadily with ongoing use and exposure. Heavily degraded ABS can resemble wood in its appearance and brittle mechanical properties.
How Degradation Can Be Detected
It’s important to notice early signs of wear on printed ABS parts before catastrophic failure occurs. Some indicators to watch for:
Changes in Appearance and Color
Fading, yellowing, and increased opacity all indicate surface deterioration. This is usually first noticeable on areas exposed to sunlight or chemical contact. The rate of fading provides hints about the degradation rate.
As ABS ages, micro-fractures develop internally from stresses. Parts may begin to make cracking or popping noises during use as these fractures propagate. This signals a loss of ductility.
Reduced Impact Resistance
A degraded part will start to crack or shatter more easily when dropped. Brittleness from UV or moisture exposure reduces toughness. If an ABS print can no longer handle normal impacts, it may be near the end of its service life.
Since degradation causes shrinkage and warping, old ABS prints will be harder to assemble with other components. Parts may not fit together as tightly due to dimensional changes.
Increased Flaking and Surface Pitting
Advanced weathering attacks the surface layers and causes flaking small pieces from the top. Increased roughness, pitting, erosion and opacity signify this surface deterioration. The part is approaching end of life.
Restoring and Repairing Degraded ABS
While degraded ABS cannot be restored to original strength, there are ways to repair damage and extend part lifetime:
Sanding and Polishing
Light abrasion can remove oxidized surface layers to restore appearance and remove cracks. This is temporary as damage will continue occurring underneath.
Gluing Cracked Areas
ABS-compatible adhesives can penetrate and mend cracks to improve strength. This prevents further cracking by dissipating stresses.
Filling Pitted Areas
Applying ABS/acetone slurry or epoxy filler conceals pits for an improved surface finish. Can be sanded smooth.
Painting or Plating
Coatings like paint, nickel, chrome, or lacquer hide defects while providing protection from UV and chemical exposure.
Heavily stressed sections can be reinforced with additional ABS parts or filament. This prevents further failure in weak spots.
Re-Printing Damaged Sections
Severely damaged components can sometimes be modeled and re-printed to replace the degraded originals. Yieldslike-new results.
Discarding Degraded ABS Prints
Once ABS prints reach the point where they are too structurally compromised for repair and restoration, disposal is the best option. Some guidelines:
Recycle If Possible
ABS plastic is recyclable, typically through industrial recycling programs. Contact local recyclers to find options. Recycling reclaims the raw ABS material.
Regular Waste Disposal
If recycling is unavailable, degraded ABS can be disposed as normal municipal solid waste. ABS decomposes very slowly in landfill conditions.
ABS contains only carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen so it can be safely incinerated. This releases mainly water and carbon dioxide without toxic residues. However, some local laws may restrict plastic burning.
Take Care with Fumes
If melting or grinding ABS, provide ample ventilation and respiratory protection from potentially toxic fumes. Work safely while disposing of degraded prints.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does higher infill percentage increase ABS lifespan?
Yes, printing with 100% infill optimizes mechanical properties and longevity vs sparse 15% infill. The improved strength resists cracking from impacts and stresses.
Do enclosure and filament drying help?
Proper filament storage and a heated enclosure prevent moisture-induced issues during printing. This gives more consistently bonded layers with better long-term durability.
How long do indoor ABS prints last?
Indoors, away from sunlight and weather, well-printed ABS should last indefinitely without noticeable deterioration. Typical household items often endure 20+ years before replacement.
Does annealing improve ABS lifespan?
Annealing can increase interlayer bonding strength, but UV resistance is unchanged. So annealing helps for mechanical strength but not outdoor weathering resistance.
How long until outdoor ABS prints become brittle?
In direct sun, degradation happens rapidly. Noticeable surface cracks in 6-12 months. Through-and-through brittleness taking 1-2 years in hot, sunny climates.
The lifespan of ABS prints depends heavily on user conditions. With optimal storage and light use, decades of service are possible. Outdoor use accelerates degradation while high stresses shorten mechanical life. Checking for early signs of wear allows repairs and restoration to prolong part lifetime. However, all ABS prints will eventually require replacement once deterioration progresses too far.