In the aerospace engineering market, precision parts manufacturing is a critical discipline that significantly influences the functionality and safety of aviation technologies.

From the early 20th century’s rudimentary constructions to today’s advanced aerospace assemblies, the sector has seen a pivotal shift towards the utilization of high-performance materials and complex manufacturing techniques.

This evolution is set to propel the industry from a valuation of $910 billion in 2023 to an estimated $1.297 trillion by 2033, driven by both burgeoning aircraft production and the perpetual need for meticulously crafted replacement components.

Contemporary aerospace manufacturing is defined by stringent precision requirements, with materials selected for their superior strength-to-weight ratios essential in components demanding both lightness and durability.

Advanced manufacturing processes including Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining, flow forming, and rotary forging are employed to ensure components conform to exacting aerospace standards.

The integration of polymer composites and advanced materials such as carbon-fiber-reinforced polymers (CFRP) is instrumental in reducing aircraft mass while sustaining structural robustness. This adoption of innovative materials and precision-focused manufacturing techniques underlines the industry’s commitment to advancing aviation technology through rigorous engineering practices.

This enhanced focus on precision and technological sophistication underscores the modern aerospace manufacturing landscape, emphasizing the industry’s dedication to pushing the boundaries of aviation through precision engineering and state-of-the-art material science.


Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Processes

In the aerospace parts manufacturing sector, the selection and processing of materials are driven by the industry’s unyielding pursuit of advancements in strength, weight reduction, and resistance to extreme conditions.


High-Performance Alloys:

  • Aerospace-grade aluminum and titanium are valued for their exceptional strength-to-weight ratios, vital for components requiring both light weight and durability.
  • Aluminum is preferred for its combination of lightness, strength, corrosion resistance, and abundance, making it a cornerstone in aerospace manufacturing.
  • Titanium and its alloys, known for their superior strength-to-weight ratio and performance in extreme environments, are extensively utilized in critical aerospace applications.


Polymer Composites and Advanced Materials:

  • Polymer composites, including carbon-fiber-reinforced-polymers (CFRP), offer a blend of lightweight characteristics and structural integrity, crucial for reducing aircraft and spacecraft weight while maintaining performance.
  • Graphene, a novel carbon-based material, is under exploration for its potential in creating high-capacity, lightweight batteries, embodying the aerospace industry’s forward-looking approach to materials innovation.


Manufacturing Processes and Technological Advancements:

  • Techniques such as powder bed fusion and direct energy deposition stand at the forefront of material processing, ensuring components meet the aerospace industry’s stringent standards.
  • The development of machinable alloys and advanced structural technologies like flow forming and rotary forging exemplifies the industry’s commitment to efficiency and precision in manufacturing processes.



Advanced Composites in Aerospace

Advanced composites, characterized by their hybrid nature, combine two or more distinct materials to enhance overall properties, making them indispensable in modern aerospace parts manufacturing. One prominent example is Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer (CFRP), widely utilized for its exceptional strength-to-weight ratio, durability, and resistance to corrosion.

Notably, Boeing, a leader in aerospace innovation, has filed a significant number of patents related to CFRP, underscoring its commitment to advancing composite technology.

These materials are pivotal in the production of critical aircraft components such as fuselages, wings, and tail sections. Their application results in substantial weight reduction, which in turn contributes to enhanced fuel efficiency—a key advantage seen in models like Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, which boasts a 20% improvement in fuel economy over its predecessors.

However, the high cost of production, driven by labor-intensive processes and the need for specialized equipment, has historically limited their widespread adoption.

Despite these challenges, ongoing advancements in precision manufacturing techniques are enhancing the utility and application of these materials.

AIP Precision Machining stands at the forefront, innovating strategies that ensure the highest quality and precision standards while extending the use of advanced composites in aerospace and related industries.

These efforts not only optimize the functionality of advanced composites but also secure their essential role in the evolution of aerospace engineering, meeting the industry’s stringent demands for accuracy and reliability.



Smart Materials: Shaping the Future of Aerospace

The utilization of smart materials is transforming aerospace parts manufacturing by enabling aircraft components to intelligently adapt and respond to dynamic environmental conditions. Shape Memory Alloys (SMAs) and Piezoelectric Materials are at the forefront of this revolution, significantly boosting the performance and operational efficiency of aerospace systems.

Precision in the application of these materials is critical, as the slightest deviations can impact the functionality and safety of the aerospace components.

AIP Precision Machining is uniquely equipped to meet these challenges. With cutting-edge technology and extensive expertise in precision engineering, AIP ensures that the transformative potential of smart materials is fully realized in aerospace applications, setting new standards in performance and reliability.


Shape Memory Alloys and Piezoelectric Materials

  1. Shape Memory Alloys (SMAs): SMAs are utilized in critical aerospace applications such as wing flaps and landing gear. They contribute significantly to aerodynamics and fuel efficiency by reverting to a pre-determined shape in response to temperature changes.
  2. Piezoelectric Materials: These materials are essential in the development of sensors and actuators for aircraft. By generating an electric charge in response to mechanical stress, they help monitor and control the structural health of the aircraft, particularly in the wings and fuselage.


Innovations in Morphing Wings and Self-Healing Materials

  • Morphing Wings: Smart materials facilitate the development of morphing wings, which adjust their shape during flight to optimize performance. This adaptability is crucial for reducing drag and improving fuel efficiency.
  • Self-Healing Materials: Capable of autonomously repairing minor damages and cracks, these materials extend the lifespan of aerospace components, thereby reducing maintenance costs and enhancing safety.



Advanced Sensing and Thermal Control

Smart materials are integral to the development of sophisticated sensing and monitoring systems that detect environmental changes such as temperature and stress, essential for real-time aerospace decision-making.

Additionally, materials with adaptive thermal control properties play a crucial role in managing heat distribution, protecting critical components, and ensuring the optimal performance of onboard electronic systems. The deployment of these advanced materials in aerospace manufacturing not only requires high precision but also compliance with rigorous industry standards such as AS 9100 certification.

This standard is critical as it ensures quality assurance and reliability in all aspects of aerospace manufacturing, from material selection to final product testing. AIP Precision Machining, with its AS 9100 certification, exemplifies adherence to these high standards, guaranteeing that every component manufactured meets the strict requirements for aerospace applications. This commitment to certified quality enhances the potential of smart materials to advance aerospace technology, focusing on sustainability and operational efficiency.



The Impact of Nanocomposites

Nanocomposites are emerging as a transformative force in aerospace parts manufacturing, blending nanoparticles with traditional composite materials to achieve superior properties. These materials are engineered by incorporating nanoscale fillers into resins or polymers, resulting in composites that are lightweight yet extremely strong and durable. The integration of nanotechnology within composites leads to enhancements in mechanical strength, thermal stability, and electrical conductivity, which are critical for aerospace applications where performance and reliability are paramount.


Enhanced Mechanical Properties

Nanocomposites significantly improve the mechanical properties of aerospace materials, including tensile strength, stiffness, and impact resistance.

For instance, the addition of nano-sized carbon fibers or silica particles to polymer matrices has shown to increase the load-bearing capacity of aircraft components while maintaining a low weight. This enhancement is crucial in the design of more efficient and higher-performing aircraft structures that can withstand the demanding conditions of aerospace environments.


Thermal and Electrical Conductivity Improvements

By integrating nanomaterials like graphene or metal oxides, nanocomposites gain improved thermal and electrical conductivities. This is particularly advantageous for aerospace parts that require efficient heat dissipation or electrical grounding.

Enhanced thermal stability ensures that components can perform reliably under the extreme temperature variations experienced during flight and re-entry phases, while improved electrical properties are essential for protecting sensitive electronic equipment from static and electromagnetic interference.

These advancements in nanocomposite technology not only drive the performance and efficiency of aerospace systems but also contribute to the overall safety and longevity of aircraft. The strategic incorporation of nanotechnology in composite materials is setting new benchmarks in aerospace engineering, aligning with the industry’s goals of innovation and sustainability.



The Promise of Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing, often synonymous with 3D printing, is transforming aerospace parts manufacturing by enabling the creation of complex, lightweight designs that traditional methods cannot achieve. This innovative approach allows for the production of parts with intricate geometries such as lattice structures and conformal cooling channels, which significantly enhance the performance and efficiency of aerospace components.



Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing) in Aerospace

In the aerospace parts manufacturing sector, additive manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing, has emerged as a revolutionary technology, offering unprecedented flexibility and efficiency. The adoption of AM across various applications illustrates its transformative impact:


Innovative Applications and Prototyping:

  • Nano Dimension utilizes AME and DragonFly IV technology for aerospace and defense, showcasing advanced 3D printing capabilities.
  • Masten Space Systems leverage 3D printing for rapid prototyping of functional rocket components, including complex parts like the 25,000-pound thrust broadsword engine.
  • Lufthansa Technik demonstrate the cost and time efficiency of 3D printing in aerospace tooling and part production, such as the extrusion nozzle for self-luminous escape route markings.


Enhanced Manufacturing Efficiency:

  • The Integrated Manufacturing Group at AMRC illustrates time savings in high-tolerance drilling and machining through 3D printed masking jigs.
  • NASA and educational institutions like the United States Naval Academy employ 3D printing for space testing and educational purposes, respectively, highlighting the technology’s broad applicability and potential for innovation.


Design and Material Innovations:

  • Aerospace companies are increasingly favoring 3D printing for its ability to produce and evaluate multiple design variations quickly, including the production of high-pressure turbine discs from challenging materials like nickel-based superalloys.
  • The technology enables the reduction of aircraft mass by experimenting with lightweight, high-strength materials and consolidating multiple parts into a single, more efficient component.

These examples underscore the pivotal role of additive manufacturing in propelling the aerospace parts manufacturing industry forward, driven by its capacity for innovation, efficiency, and material optimization.



The Role of Digital Twin Technology

In the aerospace parts manufacturing arena, digital twin technology has become an indispensible tool, enhancing the precision and reliability of complex systems. This technology offers a comprehensive virtual representation of physical components, including aircraft and satellites, allowing for meticulous testing and validation in simulated environments.


Key aspects include:

  • Functionality Across Environments: Digital twins ensure the reliable operation of electronic systems, critical in varying operational conditions.
  • Prototyping and Deployment: By mimicking both hardware and software functionalities, digital twins facilitate early modeling and analysis, significantly reducing costs and accelerating deployment rates.
  • Real-World Testing: Essential for aerospace and government sectors, this technology enables rigorous testing, validation, and verification processes, enhancing hardware and software compatibility in actual conditions.

Moreover, digital twin technology stands at the forefront of Industry 4.0, integrating data analytics and machine learning to create dynamic, evolving models.


Notable applications include:

  • Rolls-Royce’s UltraFan Engine: Utilizing digital twins for creating precise virtual replicas, enabling virtual testing as if the engine were operating in real-world conditions.
  • Operational Performance Optimization: Through advanced diagnostics and comprehensive lifecycle management, digital twins offer unparalleled forecasting capabilities, leading to optimized fleet management and superior overall operational efficiency.

This integration of digital twin technology within aerospace manufacturing underscores a significant shift towards smarter, more efficient production methodologies. By harnessing the power of virtual simulations, aerospace engineers can predict maintenance needs, improve equipment development, and streamline the validation of complex systems, marking a pivotal advancement in aerospace parts manufacturing.



Future Trends in Aerospace Parts Manufacturing

Several key trends are poised to redefine the aerospace parts manufacturing landscape, driven by technological advancements and the drive for sustainability:


Technological Innovations:

  • Autonomous Flight Systems are on the brink of revolutionizing air travel, with single-pilot commercial aircraft and the potential for pilotless passenger flights, enhancing efficiency and safety.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) are streamlining operations from material analysis to predictive maintenance, ensuring a smarter, more responsive supply chain.
  • Additive Manufacturing continues to advance, with GE Additive leading in Direct Metal Laser Melting (DMLM) and Electron Beam Melting (EBM) technologies, enabling the production of complex aerospace components with unprecedented precision.


Sustainability and Efficiency:

  • The industry’s commitment to sustainability is evident in the exploration of alternative fuels and the adoption of electric propulsion systems, aiming to reduce carbon footprints and operational costs.
  • Robotics and Automation are increasingly embraced to enhance production efficiency, while sustainable manufacturing practices focus on cleaner production, waste reduction, and recycling.


Market Dynamics:

  • With an anticipated growth to $1.51 trillion by 2032, the aerospace parts manufacturing market is buoyed by the demand for fuel-efficient, lighter aircraft and advanced aeronautical equipment.
  • Challenges such as supply chain disruptions and material price volatility are being addressed through diversification and digital transformation, ensuring resilience and security.


These trends underscore a future where aerospace parts manufacturing is more efficient, sustainable, and technologically advanced, promising an exciting era of innovation and growth.



In Conclusion

The aerospace parts manufacturing industry is at the forefront of technological advancement, integrating revolutionary materials, precision engineering techniques, and digital innovations.

As the industry advances, it is poised for significant growth, setting new standards in aerospace capabilities and efficiency.

AIP Precision Machining is at the heart of these developments, bolstered by our AS 9100 and ISO 13485:2016 certifications. The AS 9100 certification is crucial, ensuring that our aerospace manufacturing processes and products consistently meet the highest safety and quality standards. This certification is vital for maintaining the rigorous demands of aerospace component precision and reliability, which are vital in the highly regulated aerospace sector.

Additionally, our ISO 13485:2016 certification, while primarily recognized in the medical devices industry, complements our aerospace capabilities by enforcing stringent quality management practices. This dual certification allows us to handle complex aerospace projects that may involve advanced materials and technologies, providing a cross-industry perspective that enhances innovation and meticulous attention to detail.

These certifications affirm AIP Precision Machining’s commitment to excellence and our capability to meet diverse industry requirements, reinforcing our position as a leader in aerospace parts manufacturing. They underscore our ability to deliver components that not only meet but exceed the evolving expectations of the aerospace industry.

We encourage aerospace entities seeking a manufacturing partner that exemplifies integrity, precision, and advanced technological compliance to consider AIP Precision Machining. Let us collaborate to drive the future of aerospace, where cutting-edge technology and rigorous standards propel us towards unparalleled achievements in aviation excellence.

Contact us at:

Phone: +1 386-274-5335





What are the main obstacles faced in the aerospace sector?

 The aerospace industry encounters several significant challenges, including:

  • Digital Transformation of Manufacturing: While digital transformation streamlines industries, the aerospace sector struggles to keep pace with this change.
  • Cybersecurity Threat: The growing concern of cyber attacks.
  • Supply Chain Weaknesses: Vulnerabilities in the supply chain affecting production and distribution.
  • Increasing Passenger Numbers: Managing the rising demand for air travel.
  • Skills Shortage: The industry faces a shortage of skilled professionals to tackle its growing needs.


How are aerospace parts typically manufactured?

 Milling stands out as a prevalent manufacturing technique in the aerospace industry, primarily used for making various cuts and shapes in work pieces. This can range from simple cuts to intricate designs and detailed layers. The most widely used milling processes include vertical milling, which is essential for creating precise components in aerospace manufacturing.


Can you explain what aerospace product and parts manufacturing involves?

 The aerospace products and parts manufacturing sector is dedicated to the development and production of aircraft, aircraft components, missiles, and space vehicles. This industry encompasses a wide range of products essential for aviation and space exploration.


What does the NAICS code 33641 represent?

 The NAICS code 33641 is designated for Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing. This code is used to classify businesses involved in the development and manufacturing of aerospace products, including aircraft and spacecraft components, among others.

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An Informational Brief on Polymer Machining


AIP Precision Machining has worked with many thermoplastics over the past three decades, including TORLON: a PAI, or polyamide-imide, engineered by Solvay Specialty Polymers.


Due to its reliable performance at severe levels of temperature and stress, TORLON is ideal for critical mechanical and structural components of jet engines, automotive transmissions, oil recovery, off-road vehicles and heavy-duty equipment.


AIP has over 35 years of experience machining complex components from TORLON and various other thermoplastic materials. We are providing this Machining TORLON Guide as yet another insightful technical brief about our polymer component manufacturing process, and how it differs from that of metal machining, injection molding, or 3D printing.


Plastic CNC Machining

Before discussing the process of machining TORLON, it’s important to understand exactly what plastic machining is.


CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machining is a process in the manufacturing sector that involves the use of computers to control machine tools. In the case of plastic machining, this involves the precise removal of layers from a plastic sheet, rod, tube or near net molded blank.


The early history of CNC machining is almost as complex as a modern CNC system. The earliest version of computer numerical control (CNC) technology was developed shortly after World War II as a reliable, repeatable way to manufacture more accurate and complex parts for the aircraft industry. Numerical control—the precursor to CNC—was developed by John Parsons as a method of producing integrally stiffened aircraft skins.


Parsons, while working at his father’s Traverse City, Michigan-based Parsons Corp., had previously collaborated on the development of a system for producing helicopter rotor blade templates. Using an IBM 602A multiplier to calculate airfoil coordinates, and inputting this data to a Swiss jig borer, it was possible to produce templates from data on punched cards.


Parsons’ work lead to numerous Air Force research projects at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) starting in 1949. Following extensive research and development, an experimental milling machine was constructed at MIT’s Servomechanisms Laboratory.


Due to the many different kinds of polymers and composites, it’s important to have strong technical expertise of polymer materials when machining plastic components; some plastics are brittle, for example, while others cut similarly to metal. The challenge of plastics is their wide range of mechanical and thermal properties which result in varying behavior when machined. Therefore, it’s important to understand the polymer structure and properties of TORLON if you’re machining it.


Thermoplastics vs Thermosets

When it comes to polymers, you have two basic types: thermoplastics and thermosets. It’s crucial to know which one you’re working with due to distinct differences between how these two main polymer categories react to chemicals and temperature.


Thermoplastics soften when heated and become more fluid as additional heat is applied. The curing process is completely reversible as no chemical bonding takes place. This characteristic allows thermoplastics to be remolded and recycled without negatively affecting the material’s physical properties.


They possess the following properties:

• Good Resistance to Creep

• Soluble in Certain Solvents

• Swell in Presence of Certain Solvents

• Allows for Plastic Deformation when Heated


Thermosets plastics contain polymers that cross-link together during the curing process to form an irreversible chemical bond. The cross-linking process eliminates the risk of the product re-melting when heat is applied, making thermosets ideal for high-heat applications such as electronics and appliances.


They possess the following properties:

• High Resistance to Creep

• Cannot Melt

• Insoluble

• Rarely Swell in Presence of Solvents


Phenolic, Bakelite, Vinyl Ester and Epoxy materials would be considered examples of a thermoset, while ULTEM, PEEK, DELRIN and Polycarbonate materials are examples of thermoplastics.

The thermoplastic category of polymers is further categorized into Amorphous and Crystalline polymers per the figure below:


Machining Ultem

TORLON is considered an amorphous, high-performance thermoplastic. Most amorphous polymers are thermoform capable, translucent and easily bonded with adhesives or solvents.



Various Grades of Machined TORLON


What makes TORLON unique is how it possesses both the incredible performance of thermoset polyimides and the melt-processing advantages of thermoplastics. The compressive strength of (unfilled) TORLON PAI is double that of PEEK and 30% higher than that of ULTEM PEI. In fact, TORLON is considered the highest performing, melt-processible plastic.


High-strength grades of TORLON retain their toughness, high strength and high stiffness up to 275°C. This and its impressive wear resistance allow TORLON to endure in hostile thermal, chemical and stress conditions considered too severe for other thermoplastics. TORLON is also resistant to automotive and aviation fluids, making it a favorite of aerospace and automotive engineers.


One concern of using TORLON is that its moisture absorption rate is not as low as other high-performance plastics, so special care should be taken when designing components for wet environments.


There’s more than one particular type of TORLON PAI you can machine, and each has slightly different properties for perfecting this material’s use in different applications.


Here are several grades of TORLON PAI we machine regularly at AIP Precision Machining.



TORLON 4203 is the unfilled or natural grade of TORLON PAI that outperforms other grades with the best impact resistance and the most elongation. TORLON 4203 PAI can be used for a variety of applications but due to its good electrical properties, it is commonly machined for electronic equipment manufacturing, valve seals, bearings and temperature test sockets.



TORLON 4301 is a wear-resistant grade of TORLON PAI containing PTFE and graphite. It has high flexural and compressive strength with a low coefficient of friction, as well as good mechanical properties. Typical applications of 4301 are anything that requires strength at high temperature with wear resistance and low friction. This material is useful for parts such as thrust washers, spline liners, valve seats, bushings, bearings and wear rings.



TORLON 4XG is a 30% glass-reinforced extruded grade of PAI well suited to higher load structural or electronic applications. When you need a high degree of dimensional control, this grade offers the high-performance you need. Various uses of TORLON 4XG include burn-in sockets, gears, valve plates, impellers, rotors, terminal strips and insulators, among others.



TORLON 4XCF is a 30% carbon-reinforced extruded grade of PAI that has the lowest coefficient of thermal expansion and the most impressive fatigue resistance of all plastic materials. This uncommon grade works well as a replacement for metal applications as well as mission-critical aerospace components, in addition to impellers, shrouds and pistons.



Machining TORLON


Annealing TORLON
TORLON PAI can be received in the form of rods, sheets, tube or film. Stress-relieving before machining through an annealing process is crucial, as it reduces the likelihood that surface cracks and internal stresses will occur from the heat generated. This also helps prevent any warping or distortion of your plastic materials.


TORLON additionally benefits from post-machining annealing to reduce any stress that could contribute to premature failure. Extruded TORLON parts, such as those machined from TORLON 4XCF and TORLON 4XG, benefit from an additional cure after machining to further enhance wear resistance; this is unique to PAI. Proper annealing of Torlon can require more than seven days in special ovens at AIP.


If the machine shop you are working with does not have a computer controlled annealing oven for plastics, then “head for dee hills” as they are obviously not TORLON machining experts.


Machining TORLON

An important consideration to have when machining TORLON PAI is how abrasive it is on tooling. If you’re machining on a short run, carbide tooling can be used, but polycrystalline (PCD) tooling should be considered for lengthier runs, machining for tight tolerance and any time you are working with reinforced grades.


Another thing to keep in mind when machining extruded TORLON shapes is that they have a cured outer skin, which is harder than interior sections. The outer skin offers the best wear and chemical resistance. If wear resistance and chemical resistance needs to be optimized, extruded TORLON should be re-cured.


TORLON PAI will nearly always require the use of coolants due to its stiffness and hardness. Non-aromatic, water-soluble coolants are most suitable for ideal surface finishes and close tolerances. These include pressurized air and spray mists. Coolants have the additional benefit of extending tool life as well.


Many metal shops use petroleum-based coolants, but these types of fluids attack TORLON. Many past experiences have shown parts going to customer without cracks, only to develop cracks over time due to exposure to metal machine shop fluids. Be sure to use a facility like AIP who machines polymers and only polymers.


Preventing Contamination

Contamination is a serious concern when machining polymer components for technically demanding industries such as aerospace and medical. To ensure the highest level of sanitation down to the sub-molecular level, AIP Precision Machining designs, heat-treats and machines only plastics, with any sub-manufactured metalwork processed outside our facility.



TORLON Machining Guide: Supportive Information

Medical Sector Biomaterials Guide

Energy Sector Materials Guide

Aerospace Sector Materials Guide

Amorphous Materials



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3D Additive Manufacturing vs CNC MachiningThere’s no doubt that plastics have become more and more popular in modern medicine. Short lead times are essential in this industry, and both 3D additive manufacturing and CNC machining provide fast production times. When is your medical application better suited for 3D printing, though, and when does precision plastic machining have the upper hand in plastic manufacturing?


There are a few key differences and similarities between these types of plastic manufacturing that you should keep in mind for your medical applications. It helps to have a basic understanding of each manufacturing process, first.


Subtractive vs Additive Manufacturing

Subtractive Manufacturing

CNC machining is a type of “subtractive manufacturing.” This means that the process generally begins with a solid block of plastic material which is cut or shaped into the desired product through “removing” excess material.


While CNC machining requires more initial setup than 3D printing, it offers repeatability, accuracy for both large and small parts, and a wide range of polymers and composites to choose from, as well as a variety of surface finishes. It scales easily between one-time jobs and high-volume production.


Additive Manufacturing

3D printing is “additive manufacturing,” which means the initial material is built layer by layer, rather than removed as in subtractive manufacturing. 3D printing creates three-dimensional objects from reading a digital file’s blueprint. When working with plastics, you’re primarily talking about FDM 3D printing. While FDM is widely considered the most quick and cost-effective way of producing custom thermoplastic parts and prototypes, it also has the lowest dimensional accuracy and resolution of any other 3D printing technology.


Another option for additive manufacturing is SLS 3D printing, which fuses together the particles of thermoplastic polymer powders. This version of 3D printing has higher accuracy than FDM; however, it comes at the cost of longer lead times, which can be expensive in the medical industry.


Choosing the Right Technology for Your Medical Application

As always, choosing the correct technology is dependent on your particular medical application. What you value in your completed product can help determine which style of plastics manufacturing works best for your needs. Some of your considerations should be:


Material Consultancy

Both CNC machining and additive manufacturing work with a wide variety of thermoplastics, but those plastics react to manufacturing in different ways. Some materials machine more easily than others, while certain thermoplastic materials are more prone to warping in 3D printing.


Your manufacturer should be familiar with your chosen material and be able to discuss the process of machining or 3D printing it with you. At AIP Precision Machining, we have 35+ years of material and machining expertise and we include consultancy as an integral part of our manufacturing process.


Mechanical Properties

CNC machining ultimately provides greater dimensional accuracy and better performing properties than additive manufacturing. Machined thermoplastics possess both great mechanical and thermal properties with fully isotropic behavior. If your product requires unique, strong design with critical tolerances, then FDM 3D printing may not be not ideal; this type of printing is inherently anisotropic, meaning it isn’t the best option for mechanically critical components.


Medical applications, in particular, have unique considerations that ought to be taken into account, both for choosing your initial material and determining how it ought to be manufactured.


Precision Tolerances

Precision CNC machining provides close tolerances for your applications with a fine, burr-free finish. In fact, 3D printed products for the medical field regularly go into CNC machining post-processing as a secondary step in order to accomplish better tolerances or a finishing cut, as FDM parts tend to have visible layer lines.


Extreme tolerances up to 0.002mm can be produced by AIP Precision Machining, which can be necessary in demanding industries such as the medical, aerospace and energy markets.


Quick Turnaround

Both CNC machining and 3D printing have quick turnarounds, especially when compared to injection molding. Machining designs are crafted on the same computer applications used by 3D printers, so there is no cost associated with design changes for either type of plastics manufacturing. However, when time is truly critical, 3D printed parts can be delivered in 24 hours. Quality and functional usefulness, in this case, may be sacrificed for expediency.


AIP Precision Machining can guarantee your complex polymers machined in as little as 10 business days, with quality assured from concept to completion.


Volume of Production

Smaller batches, such as 1-10 plastic components, can be more cost-effective if produced with additive manufacturing. This is because using a non-standard blank size increases the cost of machining. Plastic machining, however, easily scales between small and large outputs.


If you require a high-quality product that possesses extreme mechanical and thermal strength, it is worth precision machining for that reason alone.


The Final Consideration? Experience.

The medical field often has no room for error when it comes to implants, spinal devices and orthopedic equipment. This is why—no matter what type of plastic manufacturing you choose—you want to be sure you’re working with an expert who understands the importance of sterilization, biocompatibility, and other traits that may be necessary for your application.


AIP is FDA and ISO 13485:2016 registered and has been audited by some of the most stringent OEMs in the orthopedic and medical device industries. We process our plastics with strict hygienic procedures.


Whoever you work with, be sure they understand the needs of your industry and have the experience to prove it.


Click here to learn more about the utility of each technology with regard to precision efficiency, materials and more.

Or, request a quote with AIP Precision Machining here.

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To a certain degree, 3D printing, injection molding, and plastic machining technology overlap in their capabilities and offerings. But which fabrication process is most appropriate for your project? What are their key differentiators? The following article assesses the utility of each technology with regard to precision, efficiency, materials and more.




An example of 3d printing example of Yoda

3D printing is an additive manufacturing process that prints layers of plastic substance in three dimensions onto a single point. The popularity of 3D has grown significantly over the past few years, and it can easily be used for rapid prototyping, DIY production and manufacturing by small-scale engineers or designers. Many of the advances in 3D printing have been focused on bringing down prices, rather than technological advancement so that it can be more accessible to “mom-and-pop” users who are otherwise not eligible for the more expensive and advanced manufacturing processes.


An example of injection molding


Another additive technology, injection molding is a manufacturing process in which parts are produced by injecting materials in liquid form into a mold. Commonly performed with thermoplastic polymers, it can be used with a variety of other metal and glass materials. Small pellets of material are heated into a molten liquid which is then injected into a mold at high pressures and rapidly cooled—causing it to harden—and then ejected from the mold, exposing the part to air. Two of its key benefits include a fully automated process—permitting very high rates of production—and also that its molds allow for highly detailed and intricate parts.


An example of plastic molding


Finally, plastic machining, or CNC (Computer Numerical Control) plastic machining or CNC milling, involves the precise removal of layers from a material. Typically beginning with a block of the desired plastic material, plastic machining involves removing material layers at a time and allows for many different materials to be used. Introduced by MIT during the 1950s, this technique utilizing drilling tools to carve plastics—and because it’s computer-controlled, extremely precise and tolerant products are achieved.




Comparing the Options



3D Printing Injection Molding Plastic Machining
Cost Very low cost when you need 1-10 rapid design iterations on a prototype part. Because creating (or updating) a mold can end up being much more expensive than the actual order itself, this is only cost-effective with very large-scale projects. Significantly cost-effective when you need a few parts up to a few thousand.
Design Designs can be highly personalized and unique—this technology is often used by artists and creative professionals. Allows for deep features, square holes and living hinges to be produced easily. High design flexibility at lower costs are allowed.
Material Very limited in comparison to other plastic fabrication and unable to achieve the same smooth surfaces as the other technologies. Injection molding has a much wider range of materials available for use compared to 3D printing but is more limited than CNC machining. Broadest range of materials are allowed—CNC plastic machining also achieves the smoothest finish with the fewest imperfections.
Production Fast and extremely convenient—small products can be machined in seconds. Requires time to make the mold but once the mold is finalized, production moves quickly. One of the fastest forms of fabrication and can easily scale between small and large outputs.
Tolerance 3D printed prototypes are not typically finished parts and are much more likely to delaminate. Best for home and personal consumer-grade products. Parts are molded at tighter tolerances than 3D printed parts but are not as tolerant as plastic machined parts. Highest tolerances available—parts are able to reach +/- 0.002 mm and are best for demanding industries like aerospace and defense, medical and life sciences and power generation.


Why Plastics Machining Ranks Best


From the above chart, you can see the differentiators of each fabrication process. However, we’ve found that CNC plastic machining is by far the most precise and beneficial process for custom applications.


Cost-wise, plastics machining is the most effective for any project that requires unique, strong designs. 3D printing is the cheapest form of fabrication but you get what you pay for with that medium… and the quality typically just isn’t there. Injection molding, meanwhile, offers much stronger products than those that are 3D printed, but modifications to a mold are extremely expensive and injection molded products are not as tolerant as plastic machined parts.


Looking at design abilities, each medium offers a wide range of capabilities but again, if it’s quality that your project needs, CNC machining is the way to go—3D printed materials are really only suited to personal or home use and injection molded products cannot hold up to the rigors of the aerospace and defense, medical or power and energy industries (among others). Further, machining designs are crafted on the same computer applications that 3D printing uses so there’s no cost associated with changing the design of the product (unlike injection molding, where a new mold would then need to be created).


It is important to note that CNC plastic machining is a specialized craft… not just anyone interested in 3D modeling can create the design for a plastic machined product. Here at AIP Precision Machining, we have over 35 years of technical design expertise and we work diligently with our clients to craft products that exactly meet their project requirements.


If you’re looking to decide on a fabrication process via the material selection available to you, plastics machining offers the widest range of diverse thermoplastics for your project. 3D printing has not advanced its material range in many years and because injection molding requires liquidating its materials, you won’t be able to use the stronger, heat-resistant plastics that might be best for your needs. CNC machining is the only process that allows you to choose from the full assortment of material selections.


3D printing and CNC machining tie for the fastest production times, as both take minutes to complete. Injection molding, however, requires more time to make the mold (which can take weeks to finalize).


Finally, if your project requires the highest levels of tolerance, precision machining produces the most precise and extremely tolerant products. It’s the only fabrication process suited for critical pieces.


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Of 3D printing, injection molding and CNC plastic machining, one process is not necessarily better than the other—it’s dependent on your project requirements. However, plastics machining is by far the most specialized and precise option for high-quality, critical parts needed in industries like aerospace and defense, medical and life sciences and power and energy.


Here at AIP Precision Machining, we commonly craft pieces that are able to survive the rigors of space, the inside of a human body or the corrosive chemicals used on an oil rig. We offer state-of-the-art technology and extensive expertise to provide you with the highest quality products. Contact us to learn more about our process and what CNC plastics machining could do for you.

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