Plastic Parts Manufacturing: A Beginner's Guide

Author: Ingrid

Mar. 07, 2024


What are the advantages of plastics?

Plastics have numerous advantages in manufacturing, including their versatility, durability, and cost-effectiveness. Plastics can be molded into various shapes and sizes, are resistant to corrosion and chemicals, and often require less energy to produce compared to other materials.

Introduction to Plastic Parts Manufacturing: A Comprehensive Overview

Plastic parts manufacturing is a nuanced methodology that merges artistry with intricate mechanical engineering. This multifaceted industry extends from the manufacturing plants all the way to your local stores, providing countless objects we use daily. It refers to the production process involved in transforming plastic materials into a wide range of plastic parts, including different types of plastics.

The transformation happens in various ways, each tailored to produce high-quality goods with distinct characteristics and applications. Processes like injection molding, extrusion manufacturing process, fabrication, and CNC machining are some of the core techniques in plastic parts manufacturing. The production process involved in manufacturing complex parts made of thermosetting plastics is a careful blend of technology, material science, and craftsmanship.

A critical factor in the manufacturing process is the type of plastic material used. Thermoplastics such as polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene are commonly used in the industry. Nylon is another thermoplastic that is widely used due to its high strength, durability, and resistance to abrasion. Additionally, polymers called thermosets are another type of plastic material that are used in manufacturing due to their ability to withstand high temperatures and resist deformation. Each plastic processing method also directly relates to the produced part’s complexity, mechanical properties, and cost-effective large quantities manufacturing.

Exploring the Concept of Plastic Component Manufacturing

Diving deeper into plastic component manufacturing reveals a multi-step process. This involves plastic selection, mold design, production, and finishing processes. After deciding on a product design, manufacturers select the right manufacturing process, which offers a unique balance between manufacturing speed, product detail, plastic type, and cost.

Details in every step of the plastic component manufacturing process are incredibly important. The selection of materials (plastic) for manufacturing depends on the products’ final application. For example, sturdy plastics used in manufacturing deposits thin layers of plastic to produce a finished product. The design process for plastic component manufacturing also finds its applications in various industries such as automotive, healthcare, aerospace, and consumer goods, with the use of dfm techniques to ensure high-quality and efficient production.

Mastering the Art of Plastic Part Fabrication: Techniques and Tools

The next layer of plastic parts manufacturing lies in the distinct skills required for plastic part fabrication, including the plastic manufacturing process. The sophistication of the part dictates the manufacturing method, with some techniques tailored for simple shapes and others aimed at creating complex ones, paying attention to even the smallest details.

Companies like custom plastic part manufacturing specialize in making intricate designs that suit their client’s specifications. For example, plastic injection parts factories are adept at producing large quantities of a product quickly and cheaply, adhering to the tight tolerance requirements. In the manufacturing process, the mechanical properties of a plastic part are directly impacted by the method of fabrication, such as plastic injection molding.

Various industries use machinery and many plastic part fabrication methods, including the use of acrylic, to achieve different goals, including creating prototypes, manufacturing deposits, thin layers of plastic to produce finished products, and even massive-scale manufacturing.

Highlighting Different Methods in Plastic Part Fabrication

There are numerous methods used in plastic part fabrication, each with its unique advantages, each offering unique benefits depending on the type of plastic part being produced.

Injection Molding: This is one of the most common methods used in plastic part fabrication. It involves melting plastic pellets and injecting the molten plastic into a mold under high pressure. The plastic then cools and hardens into the shape of the mold. This method is ideal for mass production due to its high speed and precision. It can produce complex shapes with excellent surface finish.

Extrusion: This process involves heating a plastic material and pushing it through a die, a specially shaped orifice. The plastic that emerges from the die takes on its shape, forming a long continuous product, such as pipes, rods, or sheets. The extruded plastic is then cooled. This method is commonly used for creating plastic parts with a consistent cross-section.

Blow Molding: This method is used to create hollow plastic parts. It starts with a molten plastic tube, known as a parison, which is placed between two mold halves. The mold then closes, and air is blown into the parison, inflating it into the shape of the hollow part. Once cooled and hardened, the mold opens to eject the part. This method is commonly used for making bottles, containers, and other hollow items.

Rotational Molding: Also known as rotomolding, this process is used to create large, hollow plastic products. A measured quantity of plastic powder is placed in a mold, which is then heated and slowly rotated on two axes. The plastic melts and coats the interior of the mold, creating a hollow part. Once cooled, the part can be removed from the mold. This method is ideal for creating large, hollow objects like tanks and bins.

Thermoforming: This involves heating a plastic sheet until it becomes pliable, then forming it into a specific shape using a mold. The plastic is held against the mold by applying a vacuum between the mold surface and the plastic sheet. Once cooled, the plastic retains the molded shape. This process is commonly used for packaging, automotive parts, and other plastic products.

Vacuum Forming: This is a type of thermoforming where a plastic sheet is heated to a forming temperature, stretched onto a mold, and forced against the mold by a vacuum. This process is used for making product packaging, speaker casings, and car dashboards, among other items.

Harnessing 3D Printing Technology in Plastic Parts Manufacturing

With technology continually advancing, plastic parts manufacturing has also seen a radical shift. The rise of 3D printing has introduced a new era in plastic parts manufacturing. This application has made the process of making large quantities of a product quicker, cheaper, and more efficient.

3D printing brings forth the concept of additive manufacturing, where layers of material are progressively added to form the desired final product. This technology has not only amplified the speed of production but also the scale and the ability to handle part complexity. It provides an economical approach for both mass and custom production. Another option for custom production is urethane casting, which offers a cost-effective and efficient way to produce small to medium-sized batches of parts with high-quality finishes. Polyurethane is a common material used in urethane casting, providing durability and flexibility to the final product. Another option for custom production is using a silicone mold, which can create intricate shapes and designs with high precision.

Injection Molding: A Mainstay in Plastic Parts Manufacturing

Injection molding is arguably the most common method in plastic parts manufacturing. It’s a versatile process that can produce a range of products with complex geometries. The process involves injecting molten plastic into a mold, where it cools and solidifies into the desired shape.

The advantages of injection molding include high production rates, repeatable high tolerances, the ability to use a wide range of materials, low labor costs, minimal scrap losses, and little need for finishing parts after molding. However, the initial setup cost and lead time can be high due to the design, testing, and tooling requirements, especially when using specialized materials such as polycarbonate.

Types of Injection Molding

INSERT MOLDINGOVERMOLDINGFunction●Increase the weight of the part
●Achieve threads on a plastic part
●Add cosmetic or functional value
●Improve the IP rating of the part●Strengthen the structure of the original part
●Add flexibility to rigid areas
●Add functional features like grip
●Blend colors
●Encase one plastic part in another without using adhesives or connectorsAdvantage●cost-effective
●faster than separate assembly●easy to combine different materials
●faster, more convenient, and effective
●seamless connectivityDisadvantageIt increases cycle times
An insert slightly increases the odds of defective outcomesIt increases cycle times
Multiple colors may not always blend with consistencyApplication●Medicine ●Bucket ●Warehouse & Storage ●Furniture ●Baby Product ●Automobile Home Appliance

In-depth Exploration of Insert Molding in Plastic Part Fabrication

Insert molding is another vital process in plastic part fabrication. The procedure involves injecting plastic around an insert piece, often made from another material like metal, which becomes an integrated part of the finished piece. This method is particularly beneficial when parts made of different materials need to be joined, as it bypasses the need for assembly.

Insert molding is a highly efficient process, contributing to lower assembly and labor costs, improved component reliability, and increased design flexibility. It also offers improved component strength and can be used with a wide range of materials.

CNC Machines: Their Integral Role in Plastic Component Manufacturing

Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines have revolutionized plastic component manufacturing in the United States. These machines provide precision, speed, and versatility, making them an integral part of the manufacturing process. CNC machining is a subtractive process where a block of material is shaped into a finished part through a controlled material-removal process using high temperature lathes.

CNC machines can handle a variety of tasks, including milling, turning, and drilling. They are capable of producing complex geometries and three-dimensional parts with tight tolerances. CNC machining, including extrusion molding and the use of aluminum molds, is particularly useful for creating prototypes and small to medium-sized production runs at low cost.

The Procedure and Importance of Mold Making in Plastic Production

Mold making is a crucial step in plastic production. The quality of the mold directly impacts the quality of the finished plastic part. Molds are typically made from metals like steel or aluminum and are precision-machined to form the features of the desired part.

Mold making involves several steps, including designing the mold, creating a master pattern, casting the mold, and finishing the mold to the required specifications. The process requires a high level of skill and precision to ensure the mold is correctly made.

Future Developments and Trends in Plastic Parts and Component Manufacturing

As the world advances, so does the plastic parts and component manufacturing industry. From biodegradable plastics to predictive maintenance using Internet of Things (IoT) technology, the future holds numerous developments.

One trend in plastic parts manufacturing is the increased adoption of automation and digital technologies. These include advanced robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and machine learning. These technologies are leading to more efficient production processes, which can adapt and adjust without human intervention.

3D printing is another advancing area in plastic part manufacturing that is poised to revolutionize the industry. The rapid prototyping capabilities of 3D printing allow for the creation of complex geometries that would be difficult or impossible to achieve with traditional manufacturing processes.

In the future, we can anticipate a more efficient, environmentally friendly, and advanced plastic parts and component manufacturing industry. Advancements in plastics and manufacturing technology will continue to drive the evolution of this vital industry.


The domain of plastic parts manufacturing extends far beyond a simple process or a one-dimensional operation. It’s a nuanced field that combines science, engineering, and art. As the industry continues to innovate and evolve, the future of plastics looks bright, offering new possibilities for creating plastic products that improve our daily lives.

But although they’re found everywhere, not everyone knows just how they came to be. In fact, in the world of manufacturing there are eight different plastic forming methods.

Each is used for a special reason, although they can sometimes be used in combination to make more complex finished parts. Today, we will take a closer look at the top eight plastic processing methods and the applications they’re best suited for.

1. Plastic Injection Molding

What is plastic injection molding?

Plastic injection molding is a high-volume manufacturing method, where a liquid plastic resin is injected into the empty cavity of a forming die, taking on the shape of the interior surface. When this resin is cooled and solidified, the forming die opens, the finished part is ejected, and the process is repeated. 

Plastic injection molding has proven itself to be a stable and reliable high-volume production method, accounting for more than 80% of the common plastic items we encounter every day. 

What are the pros and cons?

The advantage of PIM is that millions of identical parts can be made quickly, with an excellent surface finish, and at a low cost. Molds however can be expensive and complex, depending on the part geometry. Careful engineering design of the mold is required to prevent defects and optimize part quality and processing speed.

2. Rotational (Roto) Molding

What is rotational molding?

Rotational molding also uses a mold tool, consisting of a core side and a cavity side. However, the manufacturing process is quite different from injection molding.

The plastic powder is first poured into the cavity of the mold, and then the mold is placed in an oven. While being heated, the mold is slowly rotated on two axes. Gravity is used to stick the plastic to the tool walls and build up the correct thickness.

Finally, the mold is removed from the oven and slowly cooled to prevent warpage. Full cooling can take several minutes, after which the tool is opened and the part removed for the next cycle.

What are the pros and cons?

Rotational molding is ideal for making large, hollow, or concave shapes, often for outdoor use like canoes, tubs, or water storage tanks.

The finished parts are stress-free and have no seams so they’re strong, and the tools are relatively simple and inexpensive to make. The downside is that tools don’t last more than a few thousand cycles before they need to be replaced, and the part finish quality is average at best so it’s not suited for precision forming.

3. Extrusion Blow Molding

What is extrusion blow molding?

Molten plastic in the form of a large droplet, called a parison, is placed into a two-piece clamshell mold.

After the mold closes, the parison is inflated like a balloon until it fills the empty cavity. Because the walls of the mold are water-cooled, the plastic quickly solidifies and the part can be ejected.

What are the pros and cons?

This is the most common way to make thin-walled, inexpensive containers like disposable drinking cups or bottles. It’s fast and the tools are easy to make, but the parts cannot be very complex or made with high precision.

4. Injection Blow Molding

What is injection blow molding?

During injection blow molding, gas pressure is used to force the molten resin into a mold cavity.

What are the pros and cons?

The process is easily controlled and repeatable and is commonly used for transparent plastic drinking bottles. It makes for excellent surface quality but it’s not ideal for thin walls.

PET (polyethylene terephthalate) or PEEK (polyether-ether-ketone) are the typical resin choices for drinking bottles, due to their clarity and durability, and because they’re rated as safe for consumables. They’re also easily recycled.

5. Reaction Injection Molding (RIM)

What is reaction injection molding?

RIM is most often used in the automotive industry because it produces lightweight parts that have a rigid skin. This skin is easily painted to make body panels, dashboards, and other car parts. However, thermoforming plastics won’t work in this process. Instead, this process requires thermosetting plastic.

Thermosetting plastics undergo an irreversible chemical reaction inside the mold. This usually causes them to expand like foam, filling a mold cavity. When the chemical reaction is done the plastic sets into its final form.

What are the pros and cons?

Tooling costs for prototypes are relatively low, while production tooling is moderately expensive. The main cost is in the material, bearing in mind that the resulting part must always be finished, usually with a urethane-based gel coat or by painting. Therefore, the process is more labor intensive which increases the piece price.

6. Vacuum casting

What is vacuum casting?

Vacuum casting is a great choice for making a small number of high-quality rapid prototypes without a big investment in tools or material.

A master model of any rigid solid (often this is a 3D printed master pattern) is placed into a sealed box, which is then filled with a flexible urethane or silicone. When the master is removed, a cavity is formed inside the mold that can now be filled with plastic resin to form a copy of the original. Vacuum pressure is used to pull air out of the mold so that it fills completely with no air bubbles.

In this process, the surface finish quality and detail are excellent and pourable resins can imitate many engineering grades of plastic. Notice also that the pourable liquid resins aren’t quite the same as their counterparts used in plastic injection molding. In the former case, resins are solidified by a chemical reaction with a hardening agent, not by cooling down.

What are the pros and cons?

Polyurethane vacuum casting is fast because a silicone mold tool can be made in just a few days. It requires a much smaller initial investment, and the fidelity of the copies is excellent – even capturing fine grain texture.

The drawback is that the tools are fragile, and they react with the chemicals in the resin and must be replaced after about 20 copies or so.

7. Thermoforming

What is thermoforming?

This is a type of vacuum forming, where a thin or thick gauge plastic sheet is placed over a die, heated to a temperature that allows the material to become pliable, then stretched over the surface of the die while vacuum pressure pulls the sheet down and into its final shape.

This process can also be done with simple dies and very basic equipment. It’s often employed with samples and prototypes of thin-walled, hollow-bodied parts.

In industry, it’s used for plastic cups, lids, boxes, and plastic clamshell packaging, as well as for auto body parts in thicker gauge material. Only thermoforming plastics are suitable for this process, not thermosets, because the material needs to soften under heat and then become rigid again when it cools.

What are the pros and cons?

Thermoforming is very cost-effective and can be done with simple equipment. In fact, even home shops and DIY people use thermoforming to make models and prototypes. The process is also safe because there are no bad chemicals or high temperatures involved.

However, it’s only suitable for making simple shapes, and once the material cools it will shrink quite a bit so it’s not a high-precision application. Also, the relatively thin plastic stock is needed, although many sheets can be laminated together after forming to make a more rigid final product.

8. Compression Molding

What is compression molding?

The raw material, usually some type of elastomer or polyurethane, is pre-heated and placed inside the open cavity of a die. A cap or plug is used to close the die and apply heat and pressure, causing the plastic to cure. This process is great for rubber keypad switches, gaskets, O-rings, and other soft, pliable thin-walled parts.

What are the pros and cons?

It’s relatively inexpensive and wastes little material, although controlling the consistency of the finished piece can be difficult and much care needs to be taken in the preparation of the initial mold design. Making a compression molding die is much easier and less expensive than a plastic injection mold tool, and relatively simple equipment can be used for this plastic manufacturing process.

What Materials Are Used In Plastic Manufacturing?

There are over 10,000 different types of plastic resins commercially available, each of them specially formulated to achieve very specific chemical and mechanical properties.

Although we can’t possibly list them all, there are ten major groups that account for the vast majority of industrial and consumer products. They are: Polyamide, Acrylic, Polycarbonate, POM, Polystyrene, ABS, Polypropylene, Polyethylene, Polyurethane, and Thermoplastic Rubber.

Plastic manufacturers can also add glass or carbon fibers to increase strength and stiffness, or mix two or more resins together to combine their properties. These plastic types provide a full range of benefits including strength, impact resistance, flexibility, chemical resistance, light weight, toughness, and optical clarity. 

Ready to start your project? Contact an expert about your project.

If you liked reading this article, we recommend the following content:

Plastic Parts Manufacturing: A Beginner's Guide

The Top 8 Methods for Plastic Manufacturing




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