ABS Plastic Vs Polycarbonate Plastic – A Complete Comparison

ABS and Polycarbonate plastics have a lot of similarities in their properties. They both have outstanding properties which makes them two of the most popular plastics in the manufacturing world.

ABS is recognized for its extreme ease of fabrication, versatility, toughness, and high-impact strength.

Polycarbonate is mostly sought after for its optical clarity, durability, high impact, and heat resistance.

What is ABS Plastic?

ABS plastic in full stands for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene. This plastic is a polymer that comprises these three elements. It is these elements that are responsible for its exceptional properties.

For example, Acrylonitrile is the element that is responsible for the heat and chemical properties found in ABS plastic. Butadiene on the other hand contributes to the polymer’s high-impact strength and toughness. Lastly, Styrene is the element responsible for the rigid nature of ABS together with fabricability.

ABS Plastic
ABS Plastic

What is Polycarbonate Plastic?

Polycarbonate can simply be described as a polymer that is made up of carbonate structure as part of its chemical composition. Polycarbonate is usually a manufacturer’s first choice because of its ease in fabrication and moldability.

Today, you will find polycarbonate plastics in many applications such as helmets, safety shields, window panels, etc.

Polycarbonate Plastic
Polycarbonate Plastic

Just like ABS, Polycarbonate is a sustainable plastic as it is easily recyclable making it easily a suitable option in most plastic production.

Comparing ABS Plastic and Polycarbonate Plastic

Let’s compare critical variables about these two types of plastics

1. Material Composition

ABS Plastic
ABS is composed of three monomers. These are:

  • Acrylonitrile
  • Butadiene
  • Styrene

Probably, you are wondering why these monomers are critical:

Acrylonitrile is a synthetic compound that is produced from ammonia propylene. This monomer is responsible for the heat stability and chemical resistance properties of ABS.

Butadiene is the component that contributes to the impact strength and toughness of ABS. It is made as a byproduct during the production of ethylene. Styrene is produced by hydrogenating ethyl benzene, Styrene contributes to the manufacturability and rigidity of ABS.

Polycarbonate on the other hand is composed of thermoplastic polymers which are made up of carbonate groups.

2. Manufacturing ABS Vs. Polycarbonate

Manufacturing ABS

There exist various manufacturing processes in the production of ABS plastic parts. These processes are largely influenced by factors such as desired quantity, geometry, and properties.
Injection molding-This manufacturing process involves forming polycarbonate parts by the use of molds. It is best suited for the production of high quantities, complex designs, and precise measurements.
3 D printing– This is a popular manufacturing process because of its low production and startup costs. It is suitable for producing parts with complex geometric shapes and intricate designs.
CNC machining– CNC is an abbreviation that stands for Computer Numerical Controls. It is the most suitable method for manufacturing low quantities of ABS parts. It is also the best method of producing customized parts and those that require high tolerances.
Extrusion– This process is used majorly in the creation of continuous profiles such as sheets, tubes, pipes, and rods. The extruded ABS material can then be cut into desired lengths and shapes.

Blow molding- This process involves the inflation of molten ABS material in a molding cavity therefore generating the desired shape and form. This happens as it goes through the cooling and solidifying process.

The blow molding process is most suitable for the production of hollow parts such as pipes, water bottles, and automotive parts.

an overview chart for manufacturing ABS
an overview chart for manufacturing ABS

Manufacturing Polycarbonate

Injection molding– This is the most common manufacturing process for polycarbonate process. Typically, PC is highly viscous and is processed at elevated temperatures to lower it.

Injection molding involves pressing the molten PC into molds under high pressure.  During the cooling process, it becomes solid and takes the shape of the mold.

Injection molding on PC
Injection molding on PC

3-D printing-PC is a strong thermoplastic known for maintaining its temperature resistance. It does not shatter easily during processing with the 3-D method. Its printing temperature ranges between 260-300◦C.

Extrusion– This process involves passing molten Polycarbonate through a cavity which molds it into the desired shape and form.

3D printing on PC
3D printing on PC

3. Comparing Mechanical Properties of ABS Plastic and Polycarbonate Sheet

ABS is recognized for properties such as high impact resistance and tensile strength. It also demonstrates a high scratch resistance compared to PC.

Polycarbonate is casually referred to as ‘bulletproof’.  This can be attributed to its high impact resistance and toughness. These properties make it unbreakable. It can withstand high-impact forces without shattering or shattering.

4. Comparing Prices

ABS is more affordable than Polycarbonate. This can be attributed to lower production costs. The favorable price of ABS strikes a balance for applications that require cost-effectiveness while maintaining high performance.

The price of Polycarbonate, on the other hand, is on the higher side. This can be justified by its excellent mechanical properties and durability.

5. Sustainability

ABS Is recyclable which allows it to be melted and reprocessed into other uses. You can easily recycle this plastic to make other products.

It is, however, imperative to note that ABS contains petrochemicals that are not environmentally friendly.

Polycarbonate is also a recyclable material. However, its recycling procedure is not as straightforward as with ABS. PC has a higher melting point and therefore requires special recycling techniques and facilities.

It is important to note that the production of PC includes the use of BPA which raises both health and environmental concerns.

6. Optical Properties of ABS and Polycarbonate

ABS is an opaque material allowing little to no light transmission through it. Polycarbonate on the other hand is highly transparent.

7. Water Absorption in Polycarbonate and ABS

ABS is considered hygroscopic which means it absorbs moisture and water molecules. It is important to note that water does not cause degradation to ABS plastic.

Polycarbonate material is also a good water absorbent.

UV Resistance

ABS has a lower UV resistance compared to Polycarbonate. This means that it deteriorates when exposed to UV light.  It can fade, crack or have a reduced service life depending on the exposure period.

Polycarbonate on the other hand highly resistant to UV light. It absorbs UV light and does not reduce in quality when exposed to UV radiation. This property makes it a manufacturer’s first choice when producing outdoor applications.

However, you should choose polycarbonate plastics with UV coating.

8. Weldability of ABS vs Polycarbonate

Welding ABS is quite easy and straightforward. It is important to note that during the welding process, the air temperature should range between 270-310◦C.

Polycarbonate, just like ABS, welds very well without any problems. The welding temperature for it ranges between 270-310◦C.

9. Easy to Fabricate

Both ABS and PC are lightweight thermoplastics which allows them to be fabricated easily without any significant problems. They are both flexible materials that can be fabricated into a variety of everyday-use products.

The most common fabricating methods for ABS and PC are injection molding, extrusion, and 3D printing.

10. Comparing the Advantages of ABS to Polycarbonate

Advantages of ABS Plastics

Versatility– ABS plastic exists in a wide range of colors and textures. Regarding manufacturability, this plastic is easily moldable into different shapes and forms. This is achievable through processes such as injection molding, 3-D printing, and machining.

Surface finish– Parts made of ABS have a more visually appealing appearance and smooth finish. This is made possible by a component found in the plastic’s composition called Styrene.

Other than aesthetics, surface finishing improves the functionality and as well as the service life of ABS products.

Affordable ABS is 2-3 times less expensive than polycarbonate. It is readily available and is reasonably cheaper to produce.

Recyclable- ABS has a low melting point which allows it to be melted easily and molded into different shapes and forms. There are infinite advantages of recycling plastic from waste reduction, conserving our environment, and lowering CO2 emissions.
Durable– ABS has remarkable impact resistance and therefore is less prone to damage and cracks. It is also a very tough material making it ideal for the production of parts that require these properties. Another notable advantage of its long service life span.

Electrical insulation– The presence of Butadiene in ABS composition contributes to its good electrical insulation. This helps with reducing electrical conductivity between two surfaces making it perfect for applications where shock protection is important.

Advantages of Polycarbonate Plastic

Transparent– PC is a highly transparent material with excellent optical clarity. High light transmission makes PC suitable for applications such as eyewear and transparent protective shields.

Lightweight– Despite its strength and toughness, PC is lighter in weight compared to ABS. This lightweight nature makes it extremely easy to work with and mold into different forms and shapes.

Durability– It is safe to say that PC is almost indestructible. Following its high impact resistance, PC is extremely durable.

Compared to ABS it is less likely to shatter or crack over time. It is capable of withstanding harsh conditions such as extreme weather, dust, and humidity.

Electrical insulation – PC is a non-conductive material that has excellent resistance to electrical conduct. This makes it easily the first choice for electronic and electrical components to prevent electrical hazards such as short circuits and electric shocks.
UV resistance – Polycarbonate is known to be highly resistant to UV light. This means it does not deteriorate with exposure to sunshine or UV radiation.

It can be left for long hours without fading, cracking, or reducing its quality of life. This makes it perfect for outdoor applications such as roof panels and protective covers.
Sustainable – Aside from having a very long life span, PC is fully recyclable. It can be melted and repurposed into different applications.
This helps help protect our environment as less plastic ends up in landfills and oceans.

10. Comparing Limitations of Polycarbonate and ABS

Limitations of ABS Plastic


Low UV resistance
– ABS is not inherently UV resistant. This makes it susceptible to degradation when exposed to UV light for prolonged periods. There are special coatings and additives used to improve the plastic’s UV resistance.

Low thermal resistance– Typically, ABS is a low heat-resistant material. This means it conducts heat easily therefore making it highly flammable. To reverse this, special flame retardants are added.

Chemical resistance– ABS records a significantly limited chemical resistance. Exposure to such can bring about deterioration, swelling, and general surface damage.

When working with ABS in contact with chemicals it is important to conduct compatibility tests to avoid the above setbacks.

Limitations of Polycarbonate Plastic

Cost– Polycarbonate is more on the expensive side. Its price is significantly higher than that of ABS and other plastics.
This is brought by its high heat resistance and strength along with its durable nature.
Chemical sensitivity
– Just like ABS, Polycarbonate is a low chemical resistant material. This means that deterioration may occur with exposure to such. A compatibility test should be carried out to determine which chemicals are safe to use.

It is also important to use cleaning materials and agents recommended by the manufacturer.
Flammability- Polycarbonate is not an inherently flame-retardant plastic. It exhibits a relatively low heat resistance when exposed to high temperatures. However, like ABS, PC can be incorporated with additives to meet specific temperature resistance standards.
Low scratch resistance – Polycarbonate scratches easily which can reduce its optical clarity. Scratches can reduce transparency over time and overall affect its appearance.

Constant polishing and treating, however, can help mitigate this challenge.

11.  Comparing Applications

Applications of ABS Plastic

· Automotive Components

Thanks to its impact strength and toughness, ABS is used to manufacture automotive parts, both exterior and interior. These parts include mirror housings, dashboards, carriers, door panels as well as grills.

· Kids Toys and Games

ABS can be molded into intricate shapes and designs which easily makes it perfect for the manufacturing of toys and games. Other properties like durability and high impact strength give it an advantage over other plastics.

· Household Appliances

Most everyday-use appliances are made of ABS material. These include toasters, microwaves, water dispensers, vacuum cleaners, air fryers, rice cookers, TVs, and home theaters.
ABS is flexible and easy to mold, and its high strength makes it the best material for these applications.

· Electronics

One of the most popular applications of ABS is electronic and electrical components. These include ear pods, remote control, mouse, keyboard, chargers, phone cases and gaming pads.

· Athletic and Sports Equipment

ABS has a high impact resistance and can withstand harsh climatic conditions making it perfect for sporty and recreational equipment. These include protective helmets, skateboards, bats, racquets, and roller blades.

Applications of Polycarbonate Plastic

· Optical Lenses

One of the outstanding properties of PC plastic is its high optical clarity which makes it the best choice in the production of camera and eyeglass lenses.

· Aerospace Industry

Polycarbonate is extremely durable and lightweight. These properties make it best suited for manufacturing aerospace components and parts.

· Automotive industry

This is because of its excellent UV resistance, PC is used to produce exterior automotive components such as headlights, sunroofs, and windows.

· Advertising Industries

PC has a high UV resistance which makes it suitable for the production of display screens and outdoor signages.

Conclusion

It is clear that the two thermoplastics have a set of both unique and similar properties. These properties make them suitable for different applications. When deciding between the two materials, it is imperative to consider major factors such as budget, impact strength, optical clarity, and temperature resistance.

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