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Plastics is playing a critical role in creating lightweight and fuel-efficient vehicles. It helps the companies to remain competitive in the market. This is leading to an increased demand for plastics in automobile sector.

We have discussed the reasons for using plastics in manufacturing in greater details in our blog  Read Part -1

 Here we will discuss on type of plastic and some key manufacturing processes.

Plastic, Plastic and More Plastic

There are 39 different types of plastic used in automobiles. Much of the plastic is used in several systems in the car like safety components, including Airbags and restraints, Electrical systems, Chassis design, Powertrains, Fuel systems, Engine components. Here is the table from the report of SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association.

Doors & Trim Systems Instrument Panels, Consoles & Cockpits Flooring & Acoustic Systems Headliner & Overhead Systems Other Interior & Exterior Components
Door panels Instrument panels Floor carpets Overhead systems Interior
Acoustic Insulators Acoustic insulators Acoustic insulators Air distribution ducts Cargo management
Armrests Air duct systems Engine insulators Assist handles Load floors
Decorative appliqués Air registers Expandable sealing Coat hooks Seat components
Garnish trim Center consoles Floor mats Garnish trim Exterior
Hard & soft panels Cockpits Heat shields Headliner substrates Fascias
Map pockets Cupholders Package trays Interior lighting Garnish trim
Safety components Decorative appliqués Trunk trim Overhead consoles Rec. vehicle trim
Speaker grills Glove box assemblies Utility flooring Safety components Reservoir systems
Switch bezels Hard & soft panels Wheel arch liners Visors Rocker panels

Plastics and its Main Types

Plastics are organic materials and hydrocarbons. They are obtained out of a process chemically called as polymerization where chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms are formed due to application of heat, pressure or due to some chemical reaction. The physical formation of any plastic component is due to direct linkage or cross linkage of the chains of polymers. Plastic raw material is available in form of granules or viscous liquid.

The plastic materials can be broadly classified in two groups.


These materials are available in solid form. They soften due to application of heat at temperature around 150°- 300°. At their softened (viscous liquid) state, they can be given a desired shape. They can solidify after subsequent cooling to room temperature. The process of softening (liquification) and solidifying can be carried out number of times.

Common types are Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Nylon, Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), Polyestyrene, Acrylic.

Thermosetting plastics

These materials are available in solid form or thick viscous liquid form. If solids, they soften at lower temperatures and get solidified at higher temperature (around 250° C) or at higher pressures. For the materials in thick viscous liquid form, some chemical reaction can lead to their solidification. However, after such solidification, no softening due to heating again is possible. Application of heat may only burn the material.

The common types are Phenol Formaldehyde, Melamine Formaldehyde, Epoxy resins, Hard PVC, Bakelite, Urea formaldehyde, etc.

Thermosetting plastic components are harder, rigid and can withstand comparatively high temperatures. For engineering applications, use of thermoplastics is more common as compared to the thermosetting plastics.

Choosing Right Manufacturing process

Wide variety of plastic manufacturing processes are available based upon type of plastic, its application and geometries needed. Here are some of the factors which play a key role in choosing the manufacturing process.

Form Complex structure of partsVery tight tolerancesComplex geometrical shapes
Volume High volume or Low volumeVolume would decide the cost.
Cost/Budget Total cost = Cost of tooling + Cost of partHigh volume will have expensive set up
Cost/Budget Total cost = Cost of tooling + Cost of partHigh volume will have expensive set up
Cost/Budget Total cost = Cost of tooling + Cost of partHigh volume will have expensive set up

Now let us touch upon some of the most widely used manufacturing processes for plastic components.

Blow moulding

Blow moulding is method of blowing heated plastic. It is used to create the plastic parts which are hollow by blowing a heated plastic tube inside a mould. Heated plastic tube takes the desired shape of the mould. This method is used for production of plastic bottles, cans, containers, etc.


Extrusion is used to manufacture objects of fixed cross-sectional profile. In this method, plastic is pushed through a die. This method is useful for production of plastic pipes, tubes, bags, conduits.


Thermoforming is a manufacturing process where a plastic sheet is heated to soften and then put inside a mould to give it a desired shape. It is then trimmed if needed and the final product is created. This method is used for transparent film packaging of consumer products like toothbrushes, shaving blades, soaps, toys, dry articles, capsules, etc.

Injection moulding

Injection molding (IM) is a manufacturing process which creates objects by injecting molten thermoplastic into a mould. It is the most widely used process for mass manufacturing of plastic parts. This is very useful for complex shaped products as car interiors, suitcases, baskets, furniture spares, utensils, cell phone and calculator bodies, presentation articles, knobs, handles etc.

Why care about plastic design?

As more and more parts in the automotive are manufactured using plastics, it is obvious that knowledge of these processes will become crucial for a design engineer. He /She must know what the best manufacturing option is available today and in near future. You would develop a good understanding of plastic components from design perspective with a professional training course Product and Tool Design Engineer from CADCAMGuru.

We will touch upon design considerations for manufacturing of plastic components in our next blog.  Read Part-3

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