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Plastic vs Metal: Which is Best for Your Project?

In the world of manufactured parts, when comparing plastic vs. metal, it seems that there are new advances made by plastic and metal companies to make their materials superior every year.

But if you need parts made now, you may not be interested in the battle of plastic vs. metal, just in which one is best for you and your project.

Here, we want to help you quickly understand these materials so you can complete your project successfully and understand plastics vs. metal. Read on to discover our guide to the pros and cons of plastics and metals.

Plastic Pros

When it comes to plastic vs. metal, one of the most significant advantages of using plastic is cost. Compared to metal, the price of materials and manufacturing for plastic are lower, making the end product cost lower.

Another significant advantage of using plastic is weight. Plastics are generally much lighter than metals and are more easily designed for compactness. Weight is beneficial in industries like transportation that require lighter parts for increased efficiency.

Also, depending on your needs, another benefit to using plastic is its lack of thermal and electrical conductivity. The conductivity means that most plastics will not transfer heat and electricity than metals and are an insulator, not a conductor. This is an important feature that can be accessible to both heat and human touch and prevent electrical shock.

Last, plastic’s ability to be formed in almost any configuration imaginable with proper mold design.

Plastic VS Sheet metal enclosures
Plastic Enclosure

Plastic Cons

The main disadvantages of plastic vs. metal parts when plastic is compared to metal are their strength, higher manufacturing quantity requirements, and NRE/Molds cost.

First, this is not to say that plastics are weak. Plastics are still strong and exhibit incredible strength with the proper engineering. However, many plastics cannot withstand physical demand in the same way that metals can at the same price point.

Second, the MOQ required to justify the mold’s set-up cost is at least 250 compared to some metal processes that can do just one or two parts.

Last, it would be best if you had a mold to manufacture even the most straightforward plastic part unless you utilize 3D printing. Therefore you must justify the mold cost for the lifetime quantity required to produce the plastic parts.

1U Sheet metal chassis CATV Sheet metal VS Plastic
1U CATV Sheet Meat Chassis

Metal Pros

When considering plastic vs. metal, for metal, with proper selection:

First, its ability to resist heat; some metals can withstand the heat of 1000°F.

Second, with proper selection, its resistance to chemicals is one of its defining features. While plastics can also be made to resist, to a certain degree and many chemicals with the proper selection, metal components will last longer over time.

Third, a significant advantage of metals is their ability to conduct heat and electricity. Metal is naturally a more efficient option for any part that needs to transfer heat or electricity.

Fourth. Metal can withstand tremendous amounts of pressure, like in piping and valves, and force, like in building structures and machines.

Last, many metal fabrication processes lend themselves economically for small production as low as 1one or two and even 100-500 with no or little NRE cost to discuss plastics vs. metal.

Metal Cons

In discussing plastics vs. metal, while metal is known for its strength, metals like carbon steel and aluminum are also known for their susceptibility to oxidation. This leads to rust in carbon steel and oxidation on aluminum. Rusting and oxidation are not a concern for plastics.

Also, as a heavier material, metal does not just bring down the efficiency of some machines. More weight makes products made of metals harder for some people to move around and use.

The added strength may not be enough to offset the added weight in a product meant to be carried by a person or transported.

Last, for high production quantities, high NRE/Mold costs are required to reduce the part cost, whether it is a sheet metal fabrication, forging, structural fabrication, or casting, which could exceed the cost of most plastic molds.

Plastic vs Metal: What's Best for You?

When it comes to deciding on plastic vs. metal, it really depends on your project’s needs. You will need to consider your budget, what or how your parts will be used for, and how people will interact with those parts.

Once you have those answers, it can be easier to figure out which material you need for the job. Whatever you decide to go with, we can help make your project a success.

Whether you’re ready to get started or still have more questions, you can reach out to us by clicking here to discuss plastics vs. metal.

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