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When are Plastic Parts Better than Metal?

When are Plastic Parts Better than Metal?

For many manufacturers, there is often a deeply rooted misconception in their customers that metal is always better than plastic when creating parts. Depending on the part being created, however, this approach could be causing unnecessary costs for a product that may be just as strong if cast in plastic instead. But when are plastic parts better than metal and what industries are most likely to benefit from making the shift? The answer may be more surprising than you think.

As one of the most trusted mold component providers for injection molding nationwide, we often work with both sides of the spectrum to supply manufacturers with the products they need for a successful injection molding applications, although we have vast experience with both metal and plastic injection molding. There are numerous industries where plastic is just as good of a choice as metal. This shift has been particularly prevalent in the automotive industry, but has existed in the airline industry for many years. However, nearly any transportation-related industry can likely find advantages for metal replacement plastics including aerospace, railroad manufacturing, RVs and anything in between.

While the transportation industry is reaping many benefits from the shift to plastic, other industries like medical or military are also starting to take notice and have started their transition to plastic-based products for a variety of applications. Below, you will find a list of the many advantages that plastic parts can provide in comparison to metal if it is the right application to use the material. However, not every application will find success with a change in material. So, it is important to work closely with a knowledgeable manufacturer to decide what is possible. Some of the benefits that make plastic parts better than metal include:

  • Design Flexibility – Modern industries often require incredibly complex and detailed parts that have no room for error. Unfortunately, this means that a limited range of those parts can be created with metal quickly as more complex features often require more processing to achieve the best finished product. Plastic molds allow for the easy inclusion of complex features and can result in a faster and less expensive production runs.
  • Cost Efficiency – When comparing plastic to metal, the material costs will often be less expensive for plastic-based products at least for basic performance. In some cases, metal may experience shortages where plastic is often more available whenever it may be needed. Sometimes market fluctuations can make the cost of metal materials skyrocket and result in an expensive finished part.
  • Weight Differences – Perhaps the most common reason to invest in plastic over metal is the weight difference between the two materials. This is important for products that must be shipped because the excess material weight of metal may result in higher shipping costs. Lower weight parts can also help meet regulatory standards for transportation industries.
  • Improved Strength – Many modern plastic materials have strength levels that are comparable to metal materials. In some cases, the rigidity and strength of plastic parts may even be better than their metal counterparts. The combination of lighter weight and improved strength makes the shift to plastics a perfect fit for a variety of industries and is common in automotive “lightweighting” initiatives

Although just a small sample of the advantages that plastic parts may have over metal in the right application, it is important for businesses to determine if the switch is right for their unique needs. As more and more manufacturers invest in new plastic injection molding technology, it is only a matter of time before this material choice begins to adapt to the needs of other industries or new ways to complete parts with plastic arise as a common material choice.  For a review of some enhanced plastic composites fearturing additives, please read Jeff Kern’s article in Machine Design Magazine, “Replacing Metal with Plastic”.

For manufacturers that are ready to improve their existing systems with proven parts, PFA, Inc. is here to help.  PFA manufactures hydraulic locking cylinders and core pull cylinders for injection molds and die cast dies, as well as quick mold change systems for SMED applications with aluminum and steel molds. With KOR-LOK® Side Action Systems manufacturers can achieve zero-flash molded parts on the first shot. No matter what your needs may be, we are sure to have the perfect fit to help cut manufacturing costs and provide consistency among production runs. To get started, please contact us and our friendly and knowledgeable staff will happily assist you.

Image from Machine Design Magazine

Plastic & Injection Molding