Laser cutting ABS is possible, however, it is not really safe to breathe and the cuts are not too clean. The following is all based off using an Epilog Helix 40 watt laser with air assist and a fume extractor. Air assist and a fume extractor are essential for ABS.
First, some background on ABS. It’s full name is Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. It has a relatively low melting point, flexibility, and strength which makes it great for 3D printing, vaccuum forming, injection molding. These same properties make it a pain on the laser as it results in yellow/rough edges and warping which moves the work piece out of focus. The other problem is when melted, ABS outgasses HYDROGEN CYANIDE which is not good to breathe so make sure you have your fume extractor set up and turned on.
To counter this I have found the following tips and tricks to minimize problems.
- Test cut a piece of your material to calibrate your settings. On white ABS for vector cuts I use 100% power, 8% speed, and 5000hz frequency.
- Use blue tape on both sides, this prevents most of the melting fro. Ruining the edges and the smoke from damaging the color
- If your work piece is large enough, use hard drives or other objects to weigh down your sheet to counter warping
- Use air assist and if possible, use a nitrogen air assist to prevent flame-ups.
- Wash your parts with soap and water after cutting to remove some of the smell
It is a tricky material and will require some fine tuning but this will definitely get you started.