Considerations for Choosing the Right Plastic Material for CNC Machining
CNC machining is a cost-effective process that quickly and accurately creates plastic products. Using rotating tools or by rotating the workpiece, materials are removed to create your desired shape. CNC machining can create plastic parts that are simple in design or feature complex geometries and tight tolerances.
Choosing the right plastic material is essential in your precision CNC process. Keep these considerations in mind as you navigate your options and find your best solution.
Determining Your Material & Production Requirements
No two CNC machining productions are identical. While selecting a plastic material for your process, always consider the needed characteristics and capabilities of the final product, such as:
- Environment. What kind of environment will your product be used in? Will your component need to withstand extreme heat or cold? Will open flame be present? Will the plastic part need to tolerate UV radiation, chemicals, or other corrosive factors?
- Industry Regulations. Which industry, federal, or local regulations must be satisfied? For example, if your part is a medical device or used in food or beverage processing, you will need a biocompatible or hygienic material that meets regulations without environmental degradation.
- Electrical Requirements. Does your part need to be electrically conductive or insulating? Will it be exposed to any electrical currents?
- Mechanical Capabilities. Will your final part need to bear a heavy load? Will it be exposed to excessive wear? Do you require materials that are high strength, flexible, impact resistant, or something else?
- Cosmetic Considerations. Do you require different colors or textures? What aesthetics and functional features would you like your product to display?
- Budget. What is your budget for your planned production? Can you invest more upfront for a higher-cost plastic material that performs better? While it can be tempting to select the lowest-cost option, you may end up with a final product that does not function as intended.
Composites & Plastic Materials for Precision CNC Machining
Once you've determined your final product's necessary characteristics, you can select the best plastic material for your CNC machining process. There are two main material categories: engineering plastics and composite materials.
Engineering Plastics for CNC Processes
Engineering plastics are the most common CNC machining material for industrial or commercial productions. They create final parts with close tolerances and varying levels of complexity. Options include:
The exact specifications and capabilities of each material will vary depending on your selected plastic. While exploring your options, be sure you have access to a machinist with the experience and knowledge to work with your chosen material.
CNC Machining Composites
Composites are more challenging to work with than precision plastics but are ideal for specialized productions requiring complex final components. Heat, stresses, and other factors can all impact the machining process, but the result is precision composite parts that meet your specifications. Your best material could include:
- Machined carbon fiber composites
- Machined honeycomb composites
- Machined foam core composites
- Machined Mil-I-24768 laminates
- P50 cork machining
Composites, such as honeycomb panels, often require particular tooling and an experienced machinist to be adequately machined. If you don’t have access to these things in-house, you may want to partner with a reliable machine shop.
Upland Fab Can Identify the Best Material for Your CNC Machining Process
The best way to ensure you’ve selected a suitable material for CNC machining is by working with an experienced machine shop, such as Upland Fab. For over fifty years, we have provided unparalleled CNC knowledge and expert machining for any industry, including aerospace, defense, medical, semiconductor, and more. From initial quotes to material selection and through final delivery, we work closely with your team to deliver your complete satisfaction through on-time deliveries, quick turnarounds, and strict quality control processes.
Ready to learn more about how Upland Fab can support your next precision plastic CNC machining process? Contact us or request a quote today.