What do Legos, Airplanes, and 3D Printing all have in common??

In this week's blog post, we are going to discuss some of the concepts and applications behind ABS plastic and we are also going to discuss our 3D Printed ABS prototype results.

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene ((C8H8·C4H6·C3H3N)n), or more commonly known in the plastics industry as ABS, is the same type of plastic used to make the Legos you probably built race cars and spaceships with when you were little.  I bet you didn’t think I was going to talk about Legos, spaceships, and race cars on a dirt bike site, but we can’t always talk about dirt bikes all the time….wait…we CAN talk about dirt bikes all the time because that’s our job!

But…I do want to talk to you in detail about this so-called ABS material we have been experimenting with here at Moto 3Designs.  ABS is a grouping of monomers that when mixed together and melted into certain shapes, forms many of the items we use today and can be found across a multitude of industries such as the aerospace, automotive, medical, material handling, and food handling industries.  The following is a more in depth look at the different ways ABS is used in each industry.

(Please visit Plastics International and Creative Mechanisms for a more in depth look at ABS and its uses)

Aerospace Industry

  • Aerospace applications of ABS are found throughout the commercial aircraft business.  ABS resin is used to reduce weight, reduce the overall aircraft cost, and allow for improved production times.  The resin can be found in many of the interior, structural, computer, propulsion, and satellite navigation components.  Historically, ABS resins in the aerospace industry have been formed by way of extrusion, machining, and injection moulding.  We will go into further detail regarding the traditional forming processes of ABS resin in a later post;-) (ABS in Aerospace information courtesy of San Diego Plastics Inc.)

Automotive Industry

  • Used in the automotive industry for its ability to resist deforming under heat, its impact resistance, and impervious surface finish that has a natural shine to it, ABS can be found in both aesthetic and structural components in cars and trucks. The dashboard, bumpers, wheels covers, along with a multitude of other parts on the car sitting in your driveway are most likely comprised of ABS of one form or another.  (ABS in Automotives information courtesy of Craftech Industries)

Hospitals and Physician’s Offices

  • Not only is Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene used in medical devices, but it is also being used to make the braces we wear when recovering from an injury. Because ABS is strong, yet formable, it is a great lightweight choice when high strength and stiffness are needed to prevent reinjury.  (ABS in Healthcare information courtesy of ThyssenKrupp Materials)

Material Handling Industry

  • When we think of material handling, a big heavy industrial forklift would not necessarily be the first thing to come to mind when think about what plastics are used for, but we shouldn’t be so naïve. While we couldn’t find any forklifts where the actual lifting components (forks, mast, lift cylinder, carriage) were made from ABS resin (Plastics are strong, but not that strong!  It’s a forklift for goodness sake!), there are several instances where ABS is used to make up the operators cab of the forklift such as the steering column and the controls.  (ABS in Material Handling information courtesy of Southwest Quality Molding)

Food Handling Industry

  • Would you consider a child’s high chair a part of the food handling industry? Well, we do when it is used to catch those peas your little one drops because they don’t taste like Macaroni and Cheese.  ABS resin is perfect for the food handling industry due to its durability, stability, and non-leaching properties.  Flame retardants are also often added to ABS resins, making them a perfect choice for your kitchen appliances to replace stainless steel and aluminum components.  (ABS in Food Handling information courtesy of The Soft Landing)

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene is not just a fancy name scientists came up with to confuse of normal folk, well actually, we have a sneaking suspicion that’s what they were going for. Acrylonitrile, Butadiene, and Styrene are all compounds strategically chosen for their specific chemical properties in order to form the super resin we know as ABS.

Acrylonitrile – Chosen for its ageing resistance, heat resistance, and chemical resistance

Butadiene – Chosen for its impact strength, low temperature, and property retention

Styrene – Chosen for its lustre, mouldability, and rigidity

(ABS Naming definitions provided by Eurapipe)

Recently, Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene is being widely used in the 3D printing process.  ABS is mainly formed by way of a Fused Deposition Modeling printer.  Fused Deposition Modeling printers, or FDM printers work by heating the resin being used to its printing temperature (for ABS the printing temperature is ~460°F) and then depositing it along a path prechosen by the modeling software used.  As the resin is deposited, it is fused to the previously deposited material, thereby giving the printer the name of Fused Deposition Modeler. (ABS and FDM Printing Information courtesy of ALL3DP)

Knowing way too little about ABS resin, we felt it would be the perfect choice for our 3D Printed dirtbike, motocross, and enduro bike components.  So we did some test prints and want to show you what we learned!

We were so excited with every test product we received.  All of our tests were printed on 3D printers that were used solely to create prototypes (we have a little bit of a budget to work with, but couldn’t go crazy!) and they dimensionally looked great.  No warp, they were nice and shiny, and they even had that distinct 3D printed look to them.  We think the 3D printed look, with each and every single layer visible, actually looks really neat from time to time.  The Selective Laser Sintering method we use for all of the products we sell creates such a smooth surface finish, that it’s nice to see some layers once in a while. 

Here’s a shot of one of our favorite prints.  It turned out perfect!  With a little refinement in the printing process, and some more R&D to find out which type of production 3D printer would give us the best results, we would be well on our way to switching over our entire product line to this new ABS resin!  Until we put some stress on one of the mounting points……

3D Print Dirtbike ABS Trial Experiment

What occurred next was the same disheartening thing that happened with every ABS print that came before it.  Apply a little stress and that stress finds the weakest layers and then SNAP!!  Our hopes and dreams go down the toilet….

Truth be told, our hopes and dreams don’t go down the toilet, they get run over with the biggest truck in the lot and crushed to smithereens until they are so small that not even the ant crawling around knows the difference between our dreams and the tiny sand pebble they are carrying back to the hill.  Heck, for all we know, our ABS prints are making some old Grandpa and Grandma ant a nice home to retire in.

Dirt bike 3D Print ABS Trial Broken Cracked Stress

As you know, 3D printing is all about trial and error.  Luckily for us, this trial is getting put to rest.  ABS just does not work for our type of application.  Maybe it will in the future, but for now, we are going to move on in our studies and begin testing another application. 


Back to the drawing board!!


3D Print Layers ABS Dirt bike Trial Prototype Close up


(No references made in the above article are affiliate links)(Moto3Designs has no affiliation with the above mentioned companies or technologies)

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