What Is Custom Plastic Machining?

Operating the lathe

Custom plastic machining is a highly useful service for anyone who wants to create their own plastic parts to specification. Whether you are an entrepreneur looking to sell an invention, you need a prototype piece to examine or test, or you want to create something for your own home – custom plastic machining is a highly useful category of processes. Let’s examine why it’s a good option and how you can use it to your advantage.

What is Machining?

Machining is a term used to describe a number of different processes through which solid parts can be crafted from lumps of material. This is accomplished through a controlled removal process and is also known as such as ‘subtractive manufacturing’. An example of subtractive manufacturing is 3D printing which works using lasers to cut out a shape from a solid block in accordance with a file containing precise instructions. This is distinctive from additive manufacturing which might describe processes such as attaching clay to a lump in order to manufacture something. Generally machining can be considered any operation that produces ‘swarf’ – which are the left over filings of material. Machining is often used to create custom metal parts, but can also be used for plastic, Teflon and more.


Machining has a long history going back to the ‘machine age’ which is where ‘traditional’ machining was born. During this time the machining process would be handled by hand and involved such methods as turning, boring, planning, reaming, cutting, drilling, sanding, knurling, tapping, milling broaching, sawing and shaping. This was accomplished using a variety of different tools designed to aid the process and help ensure that manufacturers could be precise and symmetrical in their actions. For instance a lathe would often be used during traditional machining, which allowed the work piece to be rotated on its axis while the workers would perform a number of operations such as sanding or shaping that were required to be applied 360 degrees around the circumference.

Since then, many new methods have been introduced such as electrical discharge machining, electrochemical machining, ultrasonic machining and more. For example, in ultrasonic machining (also known as ultrasonic impact grinding), a vibrating tool is used that oscillates at ultrasonic frequencies thus cutting away the material where necessary. While machining is still often carried out by hand, it can also be carried out automatically by machine (as with 3D printing), allowing for much more precise results and much greater scale of output.

Types of Machining

Despite the range of modern and classic machining processes, all the processes that apply to custom plastic machining can fit into one of four categories which include:

  • Turning Operations – Operations that rotate the material against a cutting tool.
  • Milling Operations – Operations in which the cutting tool itself rotates to bring the cutting edges to bear against the work piece.
  • Drilling Operations – Operations in which holes are created using a rotating cutter.
  • Miscellaneous – Of course this describes ‘the rest’ though many of these operations may not strictly be classified as machining.

Benefits and Use

There are many benefits to machining versus additive manufacturing. For one, machining will generally result in tougher finished articles owing to the fact that they are cut entirely out of one piece of material and don’t have require any adhesives to hold them together. At the same time, machining operations are also generally quicker, less expensive and less complicated as only one piece of material is required and as there is no need for anything to dry or be screwed into place. In general machining is a highly efficient way to produce materials – when you use custom plastic machining only a small amount of swarf will be left over.

Thanks to the relative simplicity of machining, a number of these operations can be carried out automatically by machine thus enabling what is known as ‘digital manufacturing’. Simply upload a file to a company and they can then use their machining tools such as laser cutters to create those items for you. This means that small start-ups and entrepreneurs can get access to the kinds of large-scale manufacturing that would normally only be possible for big business. With custom plastic machining, anyone can see their concept become a reality and perhaps even a success.

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This post was written by Malcolm Gleeson; he works for Tamshell Corporation which is well known for its Teflon machining process and its precision machined components. During his free time, he likes to share his views and opinions through blog articles.

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