In the manufacturing sector, two of the most commonly used types of materials are metals and plastics. These material groups can be further divided into numerous subcategories, each of which offers distinct characteristics that make it suitable for particular applications. For example, metal can be classified into ferrous and non-ferrous materials, while plastic can be classified into thermoset and thermoplastic materials.
Thermoplastics are plastic materials that can be ground and mixed with virgin resin to be reused repeatedly, while thermosets cannot be reworked once they’ve been cured. The latter is commonly used as an alternative to various metals in manufacturing projects due to their lower production costs, lighter weight, better vibration resistance, and greater corrosion resistance.
Below, we provide a more in-depth discussion of metal, including what properties it exhibits and how it compares to thermoset plastics.
What Is Metal?
Metals are a broad classification of materials. Examples include aluminum, copper, brass, bronze, stainless steel, steel, and titanium. They vary regarding physical, mechanical, chemical, thermal, and electrical properties depending on their composition. However, in general, they offer good thermal and electrical conductivity, malleability, and ductility.
Compared to thermoplastics, metals offer a variety of advantages, such as:
- Higher heat resistance. Metals have a high melting point, which makes them less likely to experience damage or degradation when exposed to high temperatures.
- Greater strength. Metals generally have greater strength than plastics.
- Broader versatility. Metal can be used in various manufacturing processes, enabling manufacturers to produce a range of metal parts and products.
- Better cost-effectiveness. Metals generally serve as a cost-efficient option for high-volume or long-term production operations.
However, they also come with a few disadvantages that have led manufacturers to turn to thermoset plastics as an alternative material choice.
Advantages of Thermoset Plastics Over Metal
While metal is used to create a wide range of components, products, and structures, it is not suitable for every manufacturing project. Some of the issues manufacturers have with metals include:
- May require post-fabrication processes. Many fabricated metal components need to undergo finishing operations (e.g., painting, polishing, and deburring) which can increase production time and costs.
- May have design limitations. Certain metals have a viscosity and molten flow behavior that are not conducive to creating complex shapes.
- May have higher tooling costs. The cost of tooling for metal fabrication operations is often more expensive than comparable tooling for plastic fabrication operations.
Thermoset plastics overcome these limitations, making them a commonly used alternative material. Some of the other advantages thermosets have over metals include:
- Lower cost. In addition to lower tooling costs, thermoset plastics often come with a lower price point than metals, especially aluminum and steel. Additionally, since they can be formulated into a variety of colors, they generally do not have to undergo painting or coating operations to meet aesthetic requirements.
- Lighter material weight. Plastics can offer comparable strength at a fraction of the weight of metals. This quality makes them ideal for use in applications where low weight is critical.
- Better vibration resistance. Plastics reduce vibrations, resulting in parts that generate less noise and produce less damage.
- Greater corrosion resistance. Certain metals are susceptible to corrosion and oxidation. Most plastics, including thermosets, demonstrate an inherent resistance to both.
- Easier compliance with industry regulations. Thermoset plastics are available in numerous formulations. This broad selection makes it easy for manufacturers to choose a material that meets product specifications and industry standards (e.g., FDA or RoHS).
Working With MCM Composites’ Thermoset Plastics
Need a manufacturing partner with experience working with thermoset plastics? The experts at MCM Composites have got you covered! We specialize in thermoset plastic molding. Whether you need help completing a metal-to-plastic conversion, developing components for high-temperature applications (up to 500° F), or turning multi-piece assemblies into a single molded piece, our team will help you manufacture your thermoset plastic parts.
To learn more about our thermoset manufacturing capabilities and how they can benefit your project, contact us today. To discuss your thermoset molding needs with one of our team members, request a quote.