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Plastic Machining

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What is Plastic Machining?

Machining is a manufacturing process in which material, often plastic, is cut to a desired final shape and size by a controlled removal process. Material removal processes like machining are often referred to as subtractive manufacturing — in contrast to additive manufacturing (3D printing), which uses controlled addition of material.

Machining is a part of the manufacture of many plastic and metal products, but it can also be used on other materials such as wood, ceramic, and composites. Modern machining is carried out by numerical control (CNC), in which computers guide the movement and operation of mills, lathes, and other cutting machines.

How Does Plastic Machining Work?

The three principal machining processes are milling, turning, and drilling:

  • Milling operations use a rotating cutting tool to bring cutting edges to bear against the work material. Milling machines, or simply mills, are the principal machine tool used in milling operations.

  • Turning operations rotate the work material as the primary method of moving plastic against the cutting tool. Lathes are the principal machine tool used in turning.

  • Drilling operations produce or refine holes by bringing a rotating cutter with cutting edges at the lower extremity into contact with the work material. Drilling operations are mostly performed in drill presses, but also on lathes and mills.

  • Other miscellaneous operations include shaping, planing, boring, broaching, and sawing.

Unfinished work material requiring machining needs material removed to create a finished product. A finished product would be a workpiece that meets the specifications set out for that workpiece by engineering drawings or blueprints. Examples of more advanced shaping techniques include:

  • Computer numerical control (CNC) machining

  • Electrical discharge machining (EDM)

  • Electro-chemical machining (ECM)

  • Laser cutting

  • Waterjet cutting

Natural Cosmetics Oil

Advantages of Plastic Machining

As a process for manufacturing plastic parts, machining offers several advantages:

  • Dimensional accuracy

  • Part-to-part repeatability

  • Design freedom

  • "Lights out" process reliability

  • Low labor requirements

  • Smooth surface finish

  • High-efficiency production

  • Diverse material selection

Plastic Machining Materials

Machining is used to manufacture a wide range of plastics, including:

  • Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS)

  • Polycarbonate (PC)

  • Polypropylene (PP)

  • Polyethylene (PE) / High-density Polyethylene (HDPE) / Low-density Polyethylene (LDPE)

  • Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)

  • Nylon

  • Lexan

  • Acetal / Delrin

  • Radel / Polyphenylsulfone (PPSU)

  • Ryton / Polyphenylene Sulfide

  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) / Chlorinated PVC

  • Acrylic

  • Teflon

  • Torlon

  • Ultem

  • PEEK

Plastic Machining Applications

Plastic Machining is used in a wide range of industries and products. Some examples include:

  • Aerospace: Airframe and aircraft interiors, satellite components, turbine housings, turbine blades, radomes, battery housings, circuit boxes, flame resistant housings, pilot and navigation controls, missile precision optical components

  • Construction: Fasteners, hand tools, accessories, window and door hardware, pipe and electrical fittings

  • Consumer: Containers, packaging, dog toys, electronic devices, household items, electronic device cases, appliances, furniture, toothbrushes, toys, sporting goods

  • Defense: Sight scope, EMI/RFI shielded devices, security equipment, firearms components, optical components for weaponry, combat gear and devices

  • Energy: Chemical sensor device, metering equipment, smart grid components, fluid handling equipment

  • Industrial: Food processing equipment components, beverage filter components, food storage, containers, irrigation systems, agricultural equipment, gears, mechanical parts, lawn care, fluid handling systems, urban/organic farming

  • Medical: Drug delivery devices, respiratory equipment and disposables, diagnostic test kits, device packaging, prosthetics, implants, diagnostic laboratory equipment enclosures, surgical arms and robotics, surgical prep products, imaging components, dental equipment, biotech devices, medical furniture and beds

  • Technology: Telecom adapters, router housings, cable connectors, electronic device housings, computer components

  • Transportation: Automotive parts, RV components and accessories, ATV controls and parts, train seats, baggage containers, watercraft parts, snowmobile controls and accessories, fluid handling systems

Plastic Machining Manufacturers

Prototek Plastics

Industry Association

Plastic Machining Resources

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