Advanced Thermoforming Solutions

Designing Plastic Parts: 5 Questions You Should Ask Before You Open AutoCAD

Plastics Part

It’s a sad truth that often, plastics parts are the last thing to be planned as part of a project.  Somewhere (usually late) in the engineering process, you realize that your project needs something on the outside, and you sigh and decide it’s time to design a plastic enclosure.

We understand.  Not everyone gets as excited about building custom plastic parts as we do.  But, if you’ll ask yourself these five questions after you sigh but before you open up AutoCAD, you’ll help your whole project go more smoothly.

Plus, remember this: even though the enclosure is the last thing you might think of, it’s the first thing the people buying and using your products will see, and it’ll make a big impression on them.

#1 – What’s It For?

Ok – this might seem obvious.  But the very first question to answer when you’re setting out to design a custom plastic part is, what is this thing supposed to do?  Is it simply aesthetic?  Is it structural?  Is it supposed to protect sensitive electronics inside whatever you’re building, or protect people from whatever’s inside what you’re building?  Is it for use in thermoforming a medical device?  The answers to this first question will set you on the path to a design that works.

#2 – Where Will It Be Used?

You’re going to need a very different part for an outdoor weatherproof enclosure that’s supposed to protect sensitive electronics on a pier at the edge of a stormy ocean, than for a part that’s going to sit on a desk in a conference room.  Exposure to chemicals, temperatures, vibration, pressure, ultraviolet light, loading, and people should be considerations you take into designing your plastic part.

#3 – How Important Is The Part’s Structural Integrity?

Or, to put it simply, what happens if the part should fail?  If you’re designing a part with mostly aesthetic functionality, the answer might be “not much,” and you can safely focus on aesthetics, without investing too much in structural stability and longevity.  If you’re designing a part where failure could result in expensive damage to equipment or a safety hazard, it’s worth investing in building a truly robust and durable part.

#4 – How Should It Look?

Like we mentioned before, plastic enclosures often have a huge impact on the overall aesthetics of a piece of equipment.  So, it’s worth asking yourself what the aesthetics you want to communicate are.  Should it be unobtrusive?  Mimic other similar equipment? Make a visual statement?

#5 – What Standards Does The Part Need To Meet?

If the part you’re designing will come into contact with food, it likely needs to conform to the FDA’s Title 21 CFR regulations.  If the part you’re designing will be used in aircraft, it likely needs to comply with the FAA’s FAR 25 flammability requirements.  And there are a whole host of other requirements relevant to specific industries and uses.  It’s worth considering these at the beginning of the design process since they can affect your choice of material, as well as other considerations.

Wrapping It All Up

This may seem like quite a bit to consider before you even open up AutoCAD and begin designing a custom plastic part, but if you start with good answers to these questions, you’ll likely avoid having to backtrack later on.  And of course, if you ever need help with the design or engineering of a custom plastic part, contact our experts via phone or email.


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