The addition of butadiene rubber as a third monomer to styrene-acrylonitrile resulted in development of a new range of widely used thermoplastics called ABS. Marbon (later Borg-Warner Chemicals and then GE Plastics), Monsanto, and Union Carbide were key developers of the technology in the 1950s but Marbon emerged as the leading supplier. In 1954, Marbon launched Cycolac ABS resin and in 1958 a $12-million plant was commissioned in Washington, W.Va. By 1962, Marbon was selling about $1 million worth of ABS a month.
Because the three-monomer system could be tailored to yield different balances of properties, ABS grew to become the largest-volume engineering thermoplastic. ABS served as a bridge between commodity plastics such as PE and PS and higher performance materials such as polycarbonate and nylon.
Initially, the big-volume breakthrough applications were the RCA portable radio and Western Union telephone handset. By 1961, ABS had launched a major assault on phenolics and cellulosics in phone handsets. Other successes included appliances, computer and office-equipment housings, lawn-mower housings, safety helmets, luggage shells, pipe, and fittings.
World consumption of ABS amounted to approximately 12.1 billion lb in 2004, with Asia accounting for almost 70%. Major markets include appliances and electrical/electronic parts, with lesser use in autos and recreational vehicles, pipe and fittings, and miscellaneous consumer products. The top ten ABS producers in the world—Chi Mei of Taiwan, LG Chemicals of Korea, GE Plastics, BASF, Lanxess, Cheil in Korea, Formosa Plastics in Taiwan, Dow, Grand Pacific in Taiwan, and Techno Polymer in Japan—accounted for 74% of world capacity, according to SRI.
Very few readers of this issue can remember, or even imagine, what it was like when an injection mol...