With the increasing number of different polymers, resins, and plastics on the market today, there is an increased need for highly precise components and parts in all types of industries. The demand for CNC plastic machining for these parts has led some traditional metal service companies to offer plastic machining, which provides additional opportunities for low-cost fabrication in a wide range of components and products.
There are some important considerations for CNC plastic machining that vary from machining of metals. Any company that simply incorporates the same techniques from metal machining to plastic is not going to provide the best quality part or component.
Choice of Polymers
One of the biggest factors in the relatively new technology of CNC plastic machining is for the machining company to have experience with the polymer they are using. As metal lathing, drilling and fabricating has been around in one form or another for centuries, the processes are well understood. In fact, lathing has been recorded as early as 1300 BC in Egypt, and the basis for the technique is not all that different today.
While there will be some slight adjustments for different metals and alloys, there are more similarities than variations with metals. With plastics and all the new polymers, there can be a very steep learning curve when completing CNC plastic machining.
A complication in the use of some polymers is the flexibility, softness or elasticity of the polymer. Unlike metal that is rigid and hard, the flexible nature of the polymer can make machining a challenge to create highly precise shapes that are repeatable across orders.
Finding a company with a good understanding of working with the specific polymer you wish to use, or choosing a company with experience to assist in the design based on the polymer, is going to a challenge.
Issues with Machining Plastic
Aside from the choice of the polymer, the machinist and engineers have to be very careful in other aspects of developing and manufacturing the prototype and the subsequent parts.
They will need to consider the specific cutting tools used, the holding method for the component in the machine, as well as the coolant that will be used during the machining process. By selecting the wrong application or process, the final product may not meet standards or may have a high failure rate once in use.
Companies that specialize in CNC plastic machining have the necessary equipment and technology to create parts to the tolerances required. Their experience in working with plastics through the machining process can be invaluable in prototype development and production.