The creation of a complex molded housing for a telephone, for example, is more complicated than the creation of a simple extruded plastic tube. Each plastic product formation process, however, has at least a few steps in common with every other process. All plastics come from a stock of raw or recycled plastic material.
Plastic fabrication operations vary in terms of the extent of their involvement in the early phases of plastic product development. For example, a company that offers plastic machining services might not be involved in plastic forming processes like extrusion or molding. Conversely, a fabricator that is involved in early-stage plastic manufacturing processes like extrusion might not be involved in later mechanical processes like cutting or stamping. Different fabricators offer different services.
Because there exists such a wide variety of plastic products, an equally wide variety of plastic fabrication methods is necessary to create them. Some of the early-stage plastic thermoforming and shaping processes include extrusion, injection molding and blow molding. Extrusion involves heating and pressurizing a stock of raw plastic and forcing it through a specially shaped shaping tool called a die. When the heated plastic emerges from the die, it is newly extruded plastic.
When it cools it hardens, it can then be cut to length with a plastic cutter and either shipped to a customer or sent for additional processing like machining or labeling. Injection and blow molding also involve heating and pressurizing raw plastic, but they shape the plastic in a mold cavity instead of with an extrusion die. Complex shapes like remote controls, bottles, electronics housings and many other products are created by molding processes.
Many plastic products, once formed by extrusion, molding or another process, are subject to additional processes. Machining and grinding are two common post-formation processes that are employed to make changes that cannot be made during thermoforming processes. Because of the versatility of plastic materials and the wide variety of shaping and forming processes available, there is virtually no limit to the number of possible plastic products.