Manufacturing Method: Making Your Products Out Of Plastic
When you look around at the products that are closest to you, it’s likely that at least some of them are made from plastic. This incredibly versatile material has gained a lot of popularity over the last century, offering a hardy substance that doesn’t react to its environment and provides the ability to use a range of different manufacturing methods.
For those starting manufacturing businesses, it makes a lot of sense to develop an understanding of the different methods that are used to make things out of plastic. To help you out with this, this article will be exploring some of these different techniques, giving you an idea of what they are good for along the way.
3D printing has slowly been getting more and more advanced in recent years, with many companies around the world starting to use this method for their own production. While it takes a long time to manufacture an item like this, it is also very cheap to get started with, as you don’t have to use specific tooling for each of the products you want to make.
A variety of different thermoplastics can be used for 3D printing, including ABS, PETG, and nylon, offering engineers a huge amount of flexibility with their designs. Of course, though, this sort of option won’t work very well for mass production. In fact, most large companies that are using 3D printing are focusing on prototypes for the time being.
Vacuum forming is one of the most popular plastic manufacturing methods available on the modern market. A sheet of plastic is heated up and sucked onto a mold that leaves an imprint of its shape in the plastic. This is very commonly used for making the plastic trays that are used for packaging, though many companies also use vacuum forming to create much larger products.
Like 3D printing, thermoplastics have to be used when companies want to use vacuum forming. There are some strict limitations that come with this method, as the items being made have to have thin walls and can only be molded in one direction. Alongside this, though, it only takes a few seconds to create items that would take a long time using other methods.
Injection molding is possibly the most common form of plastic manufacturing in the modern world. By injecting molten thermoplastics into molds, solid products with complex shapes can be made very quickly. This is how many of the products you use each day will have been made, and this process is getting more complex all the time.
Of course, though, like 3D printing and vacuum forming, you need thermoplastics for this to work. This method is also one of the most expensive on this list, as you need to have very specific tools made before products can be churned out. For this reason, companies will usually only turn to injection molding when they have large production runs to get through.
Unlike the other methods already covered on this list, polymer casting doesn’t require any heat. Instead, a silicon mold is used to shape liquid resin that cures and hardens slowly over time. Molds have to be made for this, but they can often be a lot cheaper than the tools required for options like injection molding.
Polymer casting offers manufacturers a high degree of freedom when they are making their products, though the curing time of some of the plastics used for this process can be quite long. This, coupled with the fact that molds have a limited lifespan, means that casting like this is usually best for limited production runs.
Blow molding is another common manufacturing method found in the modern world. This is the process that is used to make plastic drink bottles, and it is found in manufacturing facilities across the world. The process involves inflating a tube of thermoplastic in a mold, with heat and air so that it expands to take up space inside.
Much like vacuum forming, this type of molding is limited in what it can accomplish. You can’t use blow molding to create thick-shelled pieces, and you will always have to have a solid mold in place to be able to use this technique. Of course, though, methods like this benefit from being extremely fast compared to many of the other manufacturing methods available on the market.
Extrusion is a less commonly known plastic manufacturing method, but the concept is very similar to 3D printing. A hot thermoplastic is pushed through a dye that is shaped like the object that is being made, and the result is a long strip of plastic that can be cut into pieces at the right sizes.
This method is good for rapid production, but it is also limited by the way that it works. You can only alter the shape of four of the six sides of the plastic being extruded, and this means that extra work will need to be done to finish pieces that need more detail. Despite this, this sort of method has become a popular choice for large companies looking to mass-produce objects.
Machining has long been one of the most common manufacturing methods used around the world. This technique involves starting with a solid block of material, using tools to slowly cut away and shape the block into something unique.
While this approach is very accurate and enables you to work with extremely hard materials, it also costs a lot in both money and time. This means that CNC machining is usually saved for materials like metal and prototyping.
As you can see, there are countless methods available for those who want to start manufacturing with plastics. This is only scratching the surface of what modern technology has to offer, but it will still give you the chance to dip your toes into the world of manufacturing. Of course, though, you will still have loads to learn before you can start making products.
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