The Complete Guide to Materials Used for Plastic Extrusion Profiles

Ranging from basic shapes to intricate custom profiles, plastic extrusion profiles are popular for a variety of applications across industries. Plastic extrusion is a process of melting a polymer and forming it into a continuous profile by forcing it through a die. The extruded piece can then be cut into smaller pieces and have other operations performed (such as punching holes or tape application).

There are hundreds of grades of polymers, each with specific properties, which can make choosing the right one overwhelming. When deciding, it is important to consider how the profile is used (or misused if expected). What environments will it be exposed to – UV light, fluctuating temperatures, high humidity? Does it need to be strong or withstand impacts? Is flexibility important? Does it need to be transparent, opaque, colored, or tinted? Does it need to comply with FDA regulations for food contact or medical device use?

Common Materials for Plastic Extrusion Profiles

While it is impossible to list every possible plastic used to create extrusion profiles in this blog post, below, we highlight some common materials and example applications. If a polymer doesn’t have all the properties you need, you can often get improved performance using additives or by blending different polymers.

PVC (Rigid & Flexible)

PVC is a popular choice for plastic extrusion profiles because of its versatility. This cost-effective material offers good resistance to chemicals, weather, and UV light. It is rigid, lightweight, and can be made flexible by adding plasticizers. Because it can be made rigid or flexible, it is found in various applications. Some common applications include window and door frames, outdoor furniture, cable insulation, decking, flooring, and fencing.

ASA (Acrylonitrile Styrene Acrylate)

ASA extrusion profiles benefit from the material’s strength and toughness. It offers high impact strength and wear and UV resistance. It can withstand extreme temperature ranges and has chemical resistance to hydrocarbons, aqueous salts, and weak acids and bases. ASA is often used in commercial siding, electrical housings, outdoor furniture, and lawn and garden equipment applications.

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)

ABS is an engineering-grade thermoplastic that offers superior rigidity, impact resistance, and good dimensional stability. It also has a strong resistance to corrosive chemicals. ABS can be combined with other materials to enhance its properties, such as Polycarbonate/ABS Alloy (PC-ABS), which offers impact resistance and high strength from both polymers but adds increased ductility and scratch resistance from ABS and heat resistance and toughness from PC. ABS resists warping across temperatures, making it ideal for automotive applications. ABS extrusion profiles are also used in pipes and fittings, trim, tools, medical product components, displays and shelving, and protective housings and guards.

Polycarbonate (PC)

PC extrusions offer high impact resistance, dimensional stability, excellent optical and electrical insulating properties, good UV resistance, and the ability to withstand extreme temperatures. Standard grades can maintain rigidity up to 140°C (248°F) and can go down to -20°C (-4°) without becoming brittle. Polycarbonate is an excellent choice for many applications, including molding, railings, wall guards, light diffusers, light covers and fixtures, and electrical insulators.

Acrylic

Acrylic is known for its optical clarity and durability. It offers outstanding light transmission and weatherability. It can retain its properties at high temperatures and is resistant to many common chemicals, detergents, and cleaners; however, it is not recommended for contact with chlorinated or aromatic hydrocarbons, esters, or ketones. Acrylic’s refractive properties create a prismatic effect, making extrusion profiles popular in a wide range of applications for design, display, and décor markets. Common uses are lighting lenses and diffusers, display shelves and trims, glass replacement applications, towel bars, and kitchen fixtures.

HIPS (High Impact Polystyrene)

HIPS is a tough and ridged polymer with good impact resistance. Additives can be used to enhance its properties, such as UV resistance, electrical properties, and flame retardancy. It is an affordable material that is often used to make prototypes. Other typical applications for HIPS profiles include merchandising props, luggage parts, automotive components, machine guards and guides, edging, and trim.

Polyethylene (PE)

PE is one of the most widely used plastics in the world. PE can be high density, medium density, or low density. In general, PE is a lightweight plastic that offers excellent chemical, weathering, and impact resistance, excellent electrical insulating properties, and a low coefficient of friction. High-density polyethylene (HDPE) combines the benefit of being lightweight with strength and durability. It offers greater chemical and impact resistance than low-density polyethylene (LDPE). LDPE is softer and more flexible. Medium-density polyethylene (MDPE) has properties between HDPE and LDPE. It is helpful for applications that need to be stronger than LDPE but not as strong as HDPE. PE is often used for U-channels, pipes and conduits, cable ducts, weather strips, tubing, cords, flexible tubes and hoses, furniture components, and sliding track profiles.

Polypropylene (PP)

PP is another strong and durable plastic with properties similar to PE. It is a lightweight, semi-rigid material with good resistance to chemicals, fatigue, and impact. It offers greater rigidity and hardness than PE and excellent electrical and heat resistance. The FDA considers polypropylene to be safe for food contact. Extruded PP profiles have many uses but are often found in automotive, food & beverage, and healthcare applications. Common applications include channels, handles, trim, edge corners, food-grade tubing, disposable syringes, and medical tubing.

Custom Profile Excels at Plastic Extrusion Profiles

With so many options available, it can get confusing rather quickly as to what material is best for your product. You don’t want to find out once your profile is in use that it doesn’t meet your customer expectations. Don’t worry. We can help you decide. We process over 400 different grades of polymers and are backed by 30 years of experience. With three robust locations, state-of-the-art equipment, and an ISO certified class 8 clean room, we’re ready to take on everything from a small prototype trial to a large production run. Reach out to us today, and let’s get started!