plastic injection molding vs. plastic machining: how to decide

Plastic molding, also known as “injection molding,” and machining plastic components are very different processes. But how are they different? And which process is right for your custom plastic fasteners?
First, let’s define what they are. During the injection molding process, plastic pellets—rigid when cool but viscous at higher temperatures—are heated to their melting point and then injected into a cavity. As they cool, they harden in that cavity’s shape.
Plastic machining, however, is the process of whittling plastic down from a larger shape—like shaving slivers from a branch with a knife.
So how do they stack up?
Plastic machining can cost as much as 25 times plastic molding. Yet, sometimes it is cheaper to machine plastic parts. How can this be?
The reason is the cost of creating the initial mold in which the parts are manufactured. Its price ranges anywhere from $5,000 to $200,000, depending on the complexity. Molding plastic may be a less expensive process, but if you only need a few parts—and you spend $10,000 to make the initial mold to create them—you spend more than if you had just machined those parts.
And keep this in mind: once you create a plastic mold, you cannot easily change it. Wholesale changes cannot be made.
Typically, when you need a few hundred or fewer parts, machining is the answer. At these levels, the cost of creating the mold almost always outweighs the expense of machining. When you’re dealing with larger orders, molding is likely the answer.
There are, however, a few exceptions.
As a process, plastic machining is more precise than plastic molding. When molding, you can expect results within .005 inches of specifications. When machining, you can bank on results within .001 inches of specifications. This level of precision is necessary for some industries and projects.
Another exception arises if your parts require uniform surface smoothness. The process of transferring plastic into a mold leaves behind surface imperfections on the finished product. During injection molding, plastic flows through runners and is introduced into a cavity through a gate which meters the flow as it fills the part.
As a result, when the finished parts are removed from the mold, the gates leave a slight cosmetic imperfection. In addition, most molds use knockout pins to push the part out of the cavity after it cools. These knockout pins leave a slight depression in the place where they contact the part.
If your plastic parts must be blemish free, strongly consider plastic machining.
Also, another benefit of plastic machining is its faster turnaround time, which may be important if your project is behind schedule.
So, if you or your company is choosing between plastic molding and machining, we hope you’ll keep the following in mind:
If you require a couple hundred or fewer parts, the best choice is very likely plastic machining.
If you are considering molding, make sure to weigh the cost of creating the initial mold against the higher expense of machining.
Give machining serious thought if (1) your project requires a high degree of precision and/or (2) your parts must have uniform surfaces smoothness.
NB: Keep in mind that not all plastic materials can be injection molded!

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What is Drilling Machine

Drilling machine is a machine tool used for the process of creating holes on work piece. The drilling machines are equipped with rotating spindles on which the cutting tool called drill is mounted. The rotating drill will be fed against the work piece on which the hole need to be created.
Types of Drilling Machines

Depending up on the drilling operations performed and size the drilling machines can be mainly classified into hand drilling machines, manual drilling machines, automatic feed drilling machines, precision drilling machines and heavy duty drilling machines.

Hand Drilling Machines

Hand drilling machines are one of most commonly used hand tools for domestic as well as industrial works. Electrician to plumber, carpenters to metal fabricator everyone need had drilling machine. Hand drilling machines are normally small in size and are portable. Hand drilling machines are equipped with a drill chuck where smaller sized drills can be held. The hand drilling is mostly performed by holding the hand drilling machine normal to the plane where you are making the hole and by forcing the rotating drill into the work piece.
See that you have held the hand drilling machine straight and perpendicular to the drilling face or else you are at risk of either breakage of drill or work piece.

Manual Drilling Machines

Manual drilling machines are relatively smaller in size with a fixed bed and a column on which the drilling head is mounted. The drill is held in either a drill chuck or a taper sleeve which is mounted on the spindle of the manual drilling machine. The cutting drill is fed against the work piece by applying pressure manually with the help of feed handle in vertical axis.
Manual drilling machines are best suitable for small drilling works including drilling sensitive drilling jobs where you can feel the drill cutting and penetrating into the work piece. Below is the picture of a small manual drilling machine.


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What are CNC Machines

Computer numerical control (CNC) machines are automated milling machines that make industrial components without human assistance. This is possible because CNC machines are fed a series of instructions that are delivered to an internal computer controller. These instructions are in the form of codes that belong to the numerical control programming language.

The code used to program CNC machines is generically called G-code. However, G-code instructions are only part of the programming language. Specifically, G-codes give CNC machines the coordinates from which to hold and engage the machining tool in order to cut and shape metal to certain specifications. The entire series of codes used to operate CNC machines also include M-codes and T-Codes, which manage the CNC machine and drill tool, respectively. Tooling speed and feed controls are dictated by S-Codes and F-Codes, while X, Y, and Z-codes determine absolute position.

A standardized set of control codes for CNC machines was developed in the early 1960s in the U.S. by a trade organization known as the Electronic Industries Alliance. Roughly 20 years later, the system was revised and dubbed RS274D. Although these codes are still used across the country to assist computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), variations and additions exist among operators and manufacturers of CNC machines. In fact, operators of specific CNC machines need to be educated about the differences between manufacturer’s models to avoid a conflict in programming compatibility.

CNC machines have evolved considerably since their initial introduction into the manufacturing industry. The earliest CNC machines received code instructions through hard-wired controllers, which meant that the programming format could not be altered. However, later models were programmed via mainframe cables and floppy disks, which permitted variations in programming. At present, most CNC machines are tied into a network of computers and receive operating and tooling instructions via a software file containing the “.NC” extension. Although, the file extension varies with each machine shop, depending on its ISO certification protocols.

Today, CNC machines have graduated to encompass entire “cells” of tooling machines that can operate independently of each other. They are driven by the direct upload of CAM software files, eliminating the need for design plans to be physically drawn up. Modern CNC machines are also capable of running overnight or for several days without human supervision. In fact, CNC machines are now so sophisticated that they can dial the chief operator’s cell phone to notify him or her when a tool part breaks, and still complete other parts of the program. These features make it possible to produce thousands of parts while the machine shop is closed or while the operator is performing other tasks.

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What Are the Different Types of Cutting Tools

Cutting tools that are frequently used for metalworking include bandsaws, broaches, and drills. Other types of machining tools might include fly cutters and reamers. While some cutting tools require some type of human interaction to perform a function, others might be completely computer operated. Milling tools can be small enough to be bench or floor mounted but might also command a large space within a room. Cutting tools generally perform contouring, drilling, and desinking cuts along with possible surface planing.

While bandsaws are commonly associated with woodworking, metal shops also employ them. The machine gets its name from the circular metal blade that cuts by rotating around two or three wheels. These saws can be used in a horizontal or vertical position. The metal being cut might be placed in a vise with the saw blade descending onto the material, or the blade housing may be stationary, requiring the metal to be pushed toward the blade. Bandsaws typically make straight cuts, but materials can be rotated around the blade for angled or curved cuts.

Broaches generally use toothed bits that remove metal materials. The bits might look similar to drill bits, with cutting edges around the bit that run up and down the length of the tool. A combination of bits on one machine might each perform a cut in succession. One bit may accomplish roughing, another semi-finishing, and the last tool, the finishing cuts. Broaches operate as linear or rotary cutting tools, milling the exteriors and interiors of metal pieces.

Drill presses or radial arm drills are common pieces of machinery in a metalworking shop. Presses are typically located in a fixed position and are manufactured in a number of sizes. The drill spindle travels up and down and can be operated manually or mechanically. Drill bits are typically powered by electric motors that are equipped with variable speed transmissions. Attached to the end of a movable arm, radial drills may provide greater flexibility in the size of an established workspace.

Fly cutters get their name from metal extrusions that appear to fly around a central hub as it rotates. These cutting tools can also be used horizontally or vertically, either approaching or rotating around a stationary piece of metal. The bit might also be fixed, with a conveyor type of setup bringing the metal to the cutter. Fly cutters are usually used for internal boring or precise exterior cuts.

Reamers bore holes into metal. The spindles can rotate and travel horizontally on a lathe type of machine or they may move up and down similar to a drill press. The reamer cutting tools might include a drill type bit, which has cutting edges around and along the length of the tool. Other versions might have cutting edges located only on the distal end of the bit.

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What Is a Milling Machine

A milling machine is a tool found primarily in the metalworking industry. In general, these machines are used to shape solid products by eliminating excess material in order to form a finished product. Milling machines can be used for a variety of complicated cutting operations – from slot cutting, threading, and rabbeting to routing, planing, and drilling. They are also used in diesinking, which involves shaping a steel block so that it can be used for various functions, such as molding plastics or coining.

A milling machine is usually capable of cutting a wide variety of metals, ranging from aluminum to stainless steel. Depending on the material being cut, the machine can be set to move at a faster or slower pace. Softer materials are generally milled at higher speeds while harder materials usually require slower speeds. In addition, harder materials often require smaller amounts of material to be milled off at one time.

Generally, a milling machine operator runs the machine by feeding the material over a device called a milling cutter. As the material is fed past the cutter, the cutter’s teeth slice through the material to form the desired shape. Using gadgets like precision ground slides and leadscrews, the movement of the material as well as the cutter can be kept to less than 0.001 inches (about 0.025 millimeters) in order to make the cut exact.

In addition to a cutter, a typical mill machine contains a spindle axis, which is a device that holds the cutter in place. The cutter revolves around the spindle axis, and the axis can usually be adjust to varying speeds. Most machines also come with a worktable that can be used to support and feed the material. The worktable generally moves in two directions, and most modern worktables are power-operated. Additionally, a modern milling machine is typically equipped with a self-contained electric drive motor and a coolant system.

From micro, mini, and benchtop to floor standing, large, and gigantic, a milling machine can be found in a variety of sizes. Milling machines can have flat, angular, curved, or irregular surfaces. In addition, they can have a vertical or a horizontal orientation. A vertical milling machine has a spindle axis that faces vertically while a horizontal machine’s spindle faces horizontally.

Milling machinery can be operated manually or digitally using device called a computer numerical control or CNC milling machine. In addition to the traditional X, Y, and Z axes found in a manual machine, a milling CNC machine often contains one or two additional axes. These extra axes can allow for greater flexibility and more precision. CNC machines eliminate the need for a machine operator, which can prevent possible accidents as well as save on labor costs.

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What Is Machining

Machining is a form of manufacturing used to create objects out of metal. During this process, workers cut away materials to alter the appearance and shape of a product. Machining serves as an alternative to other forms of production processes, including molding or casting. It is one of the most effective methods of creating very fine, detailed objects, which are often not feasible through casting and molding techniques. Machining can be used to make everything from steel fasteners to metal jewelry, as well as larger objects like hand tools and automotive components.

This metalworking technique actually involves many types of processes that can be used to give metal the desired shape and finish. These techniques are often divided into four categories, and may be used together to produce a single product. Drilling is one of the most basic types of machining. During the drilling process, workers use a metal bit to cut holes in the metal. For example, drilling may be used to cut holes for fasteners in a metal kickplate used to protect a door.

Turning is another form of machining used to shape metal. During turning, metalworkers place the material on a piece of equipment known as a lathe. The lathe rotates the metal so that it can be shaped or cut using hand tools or specialty bits. This type of process can be used to create a threaded screw or similar fastener.

During milling, workers use a piece of equipment known as a milling machine. This equipment uses metal bits to cut material out of the surface or face of an object. The tool or bit is fixed in place, and the machine guides the metal around these cutting tools. This type of machining process may be used to cut a logo into a steel plate, or to form special tools.

Grinding is the final category of machining techniques. This relatively simple process involves using a stone-grinding wheel to shape or polish metal. This technique may be used to sharpen a metal hand tool or to give metal building materials a satin finish.

Machining is just a single part of a larger manufacturing process. Metal manufacturing begins with design, then proceeds through manufacturing and production. Machining may be used to shape the metal and create the object, or may serve only as a method of finishing the metal to give it the desired appearance. After machining is complete, the object must be finished and assembled before it is ready for sale.

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What is CNC Machining


Computer numerical controlled (CNC) machine tools are the best tools to use for automated machining. The machines can be as simple as a drilling machine that drills a hole repeatedly or they can be huge complex devices that can machine large cylinder blocks in multiple designs.


CNC machines can be operated either unmanned or with a few operators manning a production cell of many machines. Once the program that is used to give the machining detail and the tools to be used, etc. is given, then the machinery can run by itself. They will change the tools in the ordered sequence; turn the component around so that a fresh face is exposed, and so on. Because these machines can run by themselves for hours at a time, they save you manpower. Usually roughing operations are done on other machines to save on productivity.


Because they are computer programmed, CNC machining is more accurate, consistent and precise than human operated machining as this system doesn’t require human adjustment for its settings. There are no errors in CNC machining as the machinery operates exactly as the computer programs it to. This enables complicated machining tasks to be performed repetitively and the finished product will be the same each time.


CNC machine operation is relatively easy to learn and to set up as you just have to enter the instructions into a computer program. You can also recall the machine’s previous settings instantly. This process allows you to save time as lengthy manual changeovers are not required.


CNC machines have two tables and an automatic pallet changer. This saves valuable time as it allows components to be machined on one table while a fresh component can be loaded on another. There are various types of CNC machines available such as: turning; drilling; grinding; and machining centers that perform milling, drilling, boring, tapping, and contour operations.

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History of CNC Machining

Before CNC machining was invented, all metalworking fabrication processes were completed with NC (Numerical Controlled) machines. The concept of CNC was introduced in 1967 but the first CNC machines were introduced in 1976. Since then the popularity of CNC grew very significant and it was recognized as the industry standard in 1989. Today, almost all metalworking fabrication processes can be completed with CNC machines. Actually, there are many CNC variations for all metalworking equipment, such as grinders, turret punches, routers, milling machines, drills, lathes, EDMs, and high-powered cutting devices.

 The main advantage of CNC machining is to improve safety, productivity, efficiency, and accuracy in metalworking fabrication. With CNC, operators do not have to interact directly in the metalworking processes and it significantly reduces risks at workplace. Recently produced CNC machines can be operated continuously for 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. The machines only need to be turned off for regular maintenance. The reliability of these machines makes most companies to continue operating the machines during weekend, even without any human supervision. The machines are usually equipped with additional system that can contact off-site operator when an error occurs. When an error occurs, the process stops automatically.

Types of CNC machining

Although there are many large companies that specialize in building CNC machines for other companies, small shops or garages are actually able to build small CNC machines. It results to endless types of CNC machines. Even there are many hobbyists who continuously build small machines and promote the machines to small companies. Actually, the creation of CNC machines depends on the creativity of the maker and since there is no limit of creativity, there is no limit of the types of machines that can be built.

Advantages of CNC Machining

The first advantage is that operators can maximize the use of raw materials and minimize waste. A skilled engineer might be able to make same components but when each component is thoroughly analysed, most likely the components are different. In this way, a company can increase profit through the optimal use of raw materials.

The second advantage is that once an engineer correctly programs the machines, they can continuously produce same quality components in shorter time. CNC machines can shorten production processes, so a company can produce more components and receive more orders.

Another advantage is on safety. As mentioned above, CNC automates almost all processes so operators do not have to interact with dangerous equipment. A safer working environment will be beneficial for both company and operator.

CNC also helps a company to reduce the need of skilled engineers. One engineer is able to monitor several CNC machines. By employing fewer skilled engineers, a company can reduce expense on employee salary.

Disadvantages of CNC machining

Although CNC machines have been widely used worldwide; there are several disadvantages that all companies need to notice. The first main disadvantage of implementing CNC at workplace is the initial investment. CNC machines are very expensive compared to manually operated machines. However, these machines are beneficial for long term because it helps to minimize production costs. Another disadvantage is that when a company invests on these machines, it can leads to unemployment because the company needs fewer operators to complete all the metalworking processes.

As a conclusion, with the speed and efficiency of CNC machines to complete various metalworking tasks, investing on CNC machining is highly recommended for companies to stay competitive and profitable.

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