An Informational Brief on Polymer Machining

 

Among the many polymer materials we machine at AIP, High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) is a common material choice for commercial polymer applications.  HDPE is part of the Polyethylene (PE) family of thermoplastic polymers with variable crystalline structure.

 

First developed in the 1950s by German and Italian scientists Karl Ziegler and Giulio Natta, PE has become one of the most widely produced plastics in the world.  Polyethylene comes in several compounds each with various applications: Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE), High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) and Ultrahigh Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMW) are some of the most well-known.

 

For example, you will find LDPE most likely in the grocery store as plastic wrap or grocery bags.  In contrast, HDPE, due to its high density, is much better suited for construction components like a drain pipe.  And UHMW can be machined into high performance applications for medical devices, bulletproof vests and industrial wear components.

 

In this machining guide, we will discuss what goes into machining HDPE and how its considerations differ from other manufacturing options such as metal machining, injection molding, and 3D printing.

 

A Brief History of Plastic CNC Machining

 

How does AIP approach HDPE and its machining process? To start, let’s explore what plastic machining is, specifically CNC machining.

 

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.

 

Shortly after World War II, the earliest version of CNC technology was developed as a dependable, repeatable way to manufacture more accurate and complex parts for the aircraft industry.  John Parsons is credited with developing numerical control – a method of producing integrally stiffened aircraft skins.

 

While working at the family-owned, Michigan-based business – Parsons Corp., John 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.

 

In 1949 Parson’s templates were applied to Air Force research projects at MIT.  Following extensive research and development, an experimental milling machine was constructed at MIT’s Servomechanisms Laboratory.

 

Machining polymers and composites is a precise science that requires strong technical expertise.  For instance, some plastics are brittle, while others melt at a specific temperature.  These diverse mechanical and thermal properties result in varying behaviors when CNC machined.  Thus, it is imperative to understand the polymer structure and qualities of HDPE if you’re machining it.

 

Ever wonder about the differences in cost and process among 3D Printing, Injection Molding or Plastic Machining?

 

Check out our blog:
“Settling the Debate”

 

 

Properties of HDPE

 

HDPE is a high impact, high density crystalline thermoplastic.  It also has a low moisture absorption rate and good chemical and corrosion resistance.  Compared to its sister polymer LDPE, HDPE offers much greater impact resistance and tensile strength.  This polymer has a melt temperature of 266 F (130 C).  Its tensile strength is 20 MPa (2,900 PSI); to put this number into perspective, a slab of concrete may be able to withstand 3,000 PSI.

 

Oftentimes, people use HDPE in everyday home appliances and commercial containers.  Due to its strength and corrosion resistance, it’s a common candidate for garbage bins, laundry detergent cartons and cutting boards.  It is also safe to use for food contact such as milk cartons.

 

PE is available in sheet stock, rods, and even specialty shapes in a multitude of variants (LDPE, HDPE etc.), making it a good candidate for subtractive machining processes on a mill or lathe. However, colors are usually limited to white and black.

 

Machining HDPE

 

Annealing HDPE

Annealing greatly reduces the chance that surface cracks and deformation due to internal stresses will occur from the heat generated during machining HDPE. AIP uses computer controlled annealing ovens for the highest quality precision machining of all thermoplastics.  Talk to our engineers about any questions you have about the annealing of a specific polymer.

 

Machining HDPE

As a crystalline thermoplastic, HDPE can be machined at tight tolerances; remember dimensional stability and strength!  AIP recommends non-aromatic, water-soluble coolants because they are most suitable for ideal surface finishes and close tolerances. Keep in mind however that HDPE has a very low CTLE and therefore will move quite a bit with slight temperature changes.  Some examples are pressurized air and spray mists. Coolants have the additional benefit of extending tool life as well.

 

Some companies machine both metals and plastics, which has detrimental outcomes for clients. 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 that only machines polymers.

 

Preventing Contamination

 

Contamination is a serious concern when machining polymer components for technically demanding industries such as aerospace sciences. 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.  This allows us to de-risk the process from metallic cross contamination.

 

HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) Machining Guide: Supportive Information

 

Miscellaneous Materials Guide

ISO 13485:2016 Certification

ISO 9001:2015 Certification

Learn more about HDPE and its applications in other industries

 

Discover what HDPE can do

 

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An Informational Brief on Polymer Machining

 

Among the many plastics AIP precision machines, PSU (Polysulfone) is a high-performance thermoplastic made from UDEL Resin.  This particular thermoplastic is able to retain its properties in temperatures ranging from -150°F (-100°C) to 300°F (150°C).  This precision machined plastic also has excellent radiation stability, chemical resistance as well as hydrolysis resistance for continuous use in hot water and steam.

 

In many applications, PSU is used over stainless steel parts or aluminum as the material is seven times lighter than stainless steel and can also be steam-cleaned in areas like chemical labs.  For this reason, it has a wide range of uses in the following industries:  aerospace and defense, medical and life sciences as well as specialized industrial applications.

 

Our latest machining guide discusses what goes into machining PSU and how its considerations differ from other manufacturing options such as metal machining, injection molding, and 3D printing.

 

How does AIP approach PSU and its machining process? To start, we’ll explain the difference between machining PSU, a thermoplastic, and machining thermosets.

 

Machining Thermoplastics vs Thermosets

 

We’ve already said that PSU is a thermoplastic, but what does that mean exactly?

 

All polymers can more or less be divided into two categories: thermoplastics and thermosets. The main difference between them is how they react to heat. Thermoplastics like PSU, for example, melt in heat, while thermosets remain “set” once they’re formed. Understanding the technical distinction between these types of materials is essential to CNC machining them properly.

 

The table below outlines the main properties of thermoplastics versus thermosets:

 

Thermoplastics

Thermosets

  • Good Resistance to Creep
  • Soluble in Certain Solvents
  • Swell in Presence of Certain Solvents
  • Allows for Plastic Deformation when Heated
  • High Resistance to Creep
  • Insoluble
  • Rarely Swell in Presence of Solvents
  • Cannot Melt

 

From there, thermoplastics are categorized into amorphous or crystalline polymers per the figure below:

 

Source: https://www.ejbplastics.com/page/24/Material_Selector
 

Based off of the chart, PSU is an amorphous, high performance engineering thermoplastic, meaning its molecular structure is randomly formed.  The result is that amorphous materials soften gradually with temperature increase, making them easy to thermoform.

 

Properties of PSU (Polysulfone)

 

Amorphous thermoplastics are usually translucent in color, but the gradients vary.  PSU, for instance, is amber semi-transparent.

 

Since they are isotropic in flow, they have better dimensional stability than semi-crystalline plastics and are less likely to warp.  Thermoplastics like PSU offer superior impact strength and are best used for structural applications.

 

The materials bond well using adhesives. They also tend to offer excellent resistance to hot water and steam, good chemical resistance, stiffness and strength. PSU and PEI are especially good examples of amorphous thermoplastics offering these qualities.

 

Machining PSU (Polysulfone)

 

Annealing PSU

 

Like many amorphous thermoplastics, PSU is especially sensitive to stress-cracking, so stress-relieving through an annealing process is highly recommended before machining.  Annealing PSU greatly reduces the likelihood that surface cracks and internal stresses will occur from the heat generated. Post-machining annealing also helps to reduce stresses that could potentially contribute to premature failure.  AIP uses computer controlled annealing ovens for the highest quality precision machining of PSU and other thermoplastics.

 

Machining PSU

 

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 amorphous thermoplastics like PSU. 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 only machines polymers.

 

Preventing Contamination

 

Contamination is a serious concern when machining polymer components for technically demanding industries such as aerospace sciences. 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.  This allows us to de-risk the process from metallic cross contamination.

 

PSU (Polysulfone) Machining Guide Supportive Information

Amorphous Materials Guide

 

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An Informational Brief on Polymer Machining

 

One of the high-performance thermoplastics that AIP works with is NYLON:  a PA, or polyamide.  It is known for high strength, maintaining mechanical properties at elevated temperatures and chemical resistance.  This polymer was first introduced by DuPont in the 1930s following extensive research on polyesters and polyamides.  For this reason, polyamides comprise the largest family of engineering plastics with a wide range of applications.  Typical applications of nylon include, but are not limited to:  gears, industrial bearings, nozzles, sheaves and wear pads.  Oftentimes, it replaces metal because it is very lightweight, weighing 1/7th as much as bronze.

 

Our latest machining guide discusses what goes into machining Nylon and how its considerations differ from other manufacturing options such as metal machining, injection molding, and 3D printing.

 

How does AIP approach nylon (PA) and its machining process? To start, we’ll explain the difference between machining nylon, a thermoplastic, and machining thermosets.

 

Machining Thermoplastics vs Thermosets

 

We’ve already said that nylon (PA) is a thermoplastic, but what does that mean exactly?

All polymers can more or less be divided into two categories: thermoplastics and thermosets. The main difference between them is how they react to heat. Thermoplastics like nylon, for example, melt in heat, while thermosets remain “set” once they’re formed. Understanding the technical distinction between these types of materials is essential to CNC machining them properly.

 

The table below outlines the main properties of thermoplastics versus thermosets:

 

Thermoplastics

Thermosets

  • Good Resistance to Creep
  • Soluble in Certain Solvents
  • Swell in Presence of Certain Solvents
  • Allows for Plastic Deformation when Heated
  • High Resistance to Creep
  • Cannot Melt
  • Insoluble
  • Rarely Swell in Presence of Solvents

 

From there, thermoplastics are categorized into amorphous or crystalline polymers per the figure below:

 

 

Based off of the chart, nylon is a semi-crystalline, high purity engineering thermoplastic, meaning its molecular structure is highly ordered.  The highly ordered structure of a crystalline structure is what lends the polymer to strength and rigidity.  Generally speaking, crystalline structures are opaque since the structure tends to reflect light.  Here at AIP, we machine several different grades of nylon for multiple industrial applications.

 

Properties & Grades of Machined Nylon (PA)

 

As a thermoplastic, nylon offers industrial-grade resistance to pH changes due to varying thermal conditions, as well as solvent-resisting capabilities. This can be an advantage in petrochemical industries where fluoropolymer parts are in contact with or exposed to bursts of gases, oil or detergents.

 

It should also be noted that nylon (PA) is known for its high degree of crystallinity, which results in a stronger and strain-resisting component. Furthermore, applying nylon reduces the need for heavy lubrication, and dampens sound and eliminates galling, corrosion and pilferage problems.

 

There are two common grades of nylon that should be mentioned for their properties and applications, Nylon 6 and Nylon 6/6.  They can be used interchangeably for various applications, but there are some property differences to note:

 

Nylon 6:

 

Nylon 6 is usually produced in two forms:  for textile use and high-strength types for industrial uses.  It is usually formed into filament yarns and staple fiber.  Most of the time this nylon can be found in tire cords, parachutes, ropes or industrial cords.  In comparison to Nylon 66, Nylon 6 has these benefits:

 

  • A lower density
  • Better toughness
  • Better surface appearance
  • Lower processing temperature

 

In times of war, there are often significant advancements in material usage, weaponry, and machinery. World War II was no different. Plastics entered the scene during World War II, starting with the replacement of metal parts for rubber parts in U.S. aircraft after Japan limited metal trade with the United States. Following that, plastics of higher grades began to replace electrical insulators and mechanical components such as gears, pulleys, and fasteners. Aircraft manufacturers began to replace aluminum parts with plastics as they were lighter and thus more fuel efficient than aluminum.

 

Nylon 6/6:

 

Much like Nylon 6, Nylon 6/6 has many industrial applications, from thin walled components to large thick-walled bearings.  It is also an outstanding candidate for metal replacements. Compared to Nylon 6, Nylon 6/6 has the following advantages:

 

  • Higher temperature resistance
  • Higher strength
  • Higher stiffness
  • Lower moisture absorption
  • Better abrasion resistance

 

Besides Nylon 6 and Nylon 6/6, AIP offers wide-ranging machining expertise of Nylon® and Polyamide grades that provide different strength, thermal stability, and corrosion resistance. Our decades of experience with high-performance specialty plastics and thermoplastics can help you select the best grade of nylon for your application.

 

Machining Nylon (PA)

 

Annealing is a heat treatment that changes the properties of a material to make it easier to machine by increasing ductility and reducing hardness in the material.  The process of annealing and stress-relieving nylon reduces the likelihood of surface cracks and internal stresses occurring in the material.  For more information on AIP’s annealing processes for nylon and other materials, reference our annealing guide.

 

Annealing Nylon

Annealing is a heat treatment that changes the properties of a material to make it easier to machine by increasing ductility and reducing hardness in the material.  The process of annealing and stress-relieving nylon reduces the likelihood of surface cracks and internal stresses occurring in the material.  For more information on AIP’s annealing processes for nylon and other materials, reference our annealing guide.

 

Machining Nylon

Nylon offers ease of machining and tight tolerances due to its inherent strength, toughness and dimensional stability. Machining Nylon isn’t too different from machining metals as a result of this; pretend you’re machining brass. Unlike metal, though, nylon (like all thermoplastics) will deform if you hold it too tightly as it yields easily. We generally recommend Tungsten Carbide Alloy Tooling. Also, keep the part very cool and support it well. We also suggest non-aromatic, air-based coolants to achieve optimum surface finishes and close tolerances. Coolants have the additional benefit of extending tool life as well.

 

Case in point, Nylon (PA) can be manufactured into industrial equipment components that may include piping and tubing, valves, gears, nozzles, and wear pads—among many other formats. It can also be combined with other materials, helping customers innovate and create new product classes with utility that exceeds its original applications.

 

Preventing Contamination

Contamination is a serious concern when machining polymer components for technically demanding industries such as aerospace sciences. 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.  This allows us to de-risk the process from metallic cross contamination.


Nylon (PA) Polyamide Machining Guide: Supportive Information

AIP Nylon Variants Guide

 

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An Informational Brief on Polymer Machining

 

Kynar®, Polyvinylidene Difluoride (PVDF) is a specialty fluoropolymer thermoplastic known for its ease of processing and its versatility in a variety of applications.  PVDF’s manufacturing not only ensures durability in its utility, but also delivers an innate resistance to acids, bases, high temperatures, and solvents.  Harsh industrial environments are no match for PVDF parts, which is why it is commonly used in environments requiring extreme resistance to a broad range of chemicals.

 

Additional demand for fluoropolymers like Kynar® PVDF is driven by the increasing trend of specialized, small-batch production for customized parts and components. Companies developing prototypes find it extremely convenient to have access to a fluoropolymer part manufacturer such as AIP.  Furthermore, AIP’s experience with custom-engineering plastics ensures our customers’ evolving needs are always met with the same level of innovation and excitement for creating new ways to deliver value in fluoropolymer applications.

 

Our latest machining guide discusses what goes into machining PVDF and how its considerations differ from other manufacturing options such as metal machining, injection molding, and 3D printing.

 

How does AIP approach PVDF and its machining process? To start, we’ll explain the difference between machining PVDF, a thermoplastic, and machining thermosets.

 

Machining Thermoplastics vs Thermosets

 

We’ve already said that PVDF is a thermoplastic, but what does that mean exactly?

 

All polymers can more or less be divided into two categories: thermoplastics and thermosets. The main difference between them is how they react to heat. Thermoplastics like PVDF, for example, melt in heat, while thermosets remain “set” once they’re formed. Understanding the technical distinction between these types of materials is essential to CNC machining them properly.

 

What type of thermoplastic is PVDF in particular? PVDF is a semi-crystalline, high purity engineering thermoplastic, meaning its molecular structure is highly ordered.

 

Properties & Grades of Machined Kynar® (PVDF)

 

As a thermoplastic, Kynar® PVDF offers industrial-grade resistance to pH changes due to varying thermal conditions, as well as solvent-resisting capabilities. This can be an advantage in petrochemical industries where fluoropolymer parts are in contact with or exposed to bursts of gases, oil or detergents.

 

It should also be noted that Kynar® PVDF is known for its high degree of crystallinity, which results in a stronger and strain-resisting component. Add to that a natural resistance to fungus, ozone and weather, which makes Kynar® PVDF a great fluoropolymer for coatings and manufactured parts exposed to the elements.

 

Finally, adding to its versatile performance in industrial environments, Kynar® PVDF provides excellent resistance to nuclear radiation, allowing it to be used in both Power Generation and military applications.

 

AIP offers a range of Kynar® and PVDF grades that provide different strength, thermal stability, and corrosion resistance and can help you select the best grade of PVDF for your application..

 

Machining Kynar® (PVDF)

 

Annealing PVDF

 

The process of annealing and stress-relieving PVDF reduces the likelihood of surface cracks and internal stresses occurring in the material. Post-machining annealing also helps to reduce stresses that could potentially contribute to premature failure.

 

Machining Kynar

 

PVDF offers ease of machining and tight tolerances due to its inherent strength, toughness and dimensional stability. Machining PVDF isn’t too different from machining metals as a result of this; pretend you’re machining brass. Unlike metal, though, PVDF (like all thermoplastics) will deform if you hold it too tightly as it yields easily.

 

We generally recommend Tungsten Carbide Alloy Tooling. Also, keep the part very cool and support it well.

 

We also suggest non-aromatic, air-based coolants to achieve optimum surface finishes and close tolerances. Coolants have the additional benefit of extending tool life as well.

 

Case in point, Kynar® PVDF can be manufactured into industrial equipment components that may include piping and tubing, valves, tanks, nozzles, and fittings—among many other formats. It can also be combined with other materials, helping customers innovate and create new product classes with utility that exceeds its original applications.

 

Preventing Contamination

 

Contamination is a serious concern when machining polymer components for technically demanding industries such as aerospace sciences. 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.  This allows us to de-risk the process from metallic cross contamination.

 

Kynar® (PVDF) Machining Guide: Supportive Information

 

Chemical Resistant Materials

 

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