The Ultimate Guide to Polypropylene: Properties, Machining, and Applications

About Polypropylene

Polypropylene is a versatile and commonly used thermoplastic material in the manufacturing industry. It is a lightweight, durable, and chemically resistant material, which makes it an ideal choice for various applications such as packaging, automotive parts, and medical devices.

Polypropylene is easy to machine using CNC technology, and its low coefficient of friction makes it a suitable material for producing gears, bearings, and other parts that require high wear resistance. Additionally, polypropylene can be easily welded, making it an excellent choice for manufacturing parts that require sealing or bonding.

One of the benefits of polypropylene is that it is a recyclable material, which makes it an environmentally friendly option. It is also resistant to moisture, which makes it an excellent choice for producing components that need to be used in wet environments.

Overall, polypropylene is a versatile material that offers numerous benefits, including high strength, durability, and chemical resistance. Its properties make it a popular choice for a wide range of manufacturing applications, and its ease of machining makes it a cost-effective option for producing high-quality components using CNC technology.


Generic Polypropylene

CNC machining in polypropylene can be difficult due to its tendency for galling and melting. However, homopolymer Polypropylene has many benefits for CNC machined parts. Because of its smooth surface, it is ideal for mechanical items such as gears. Its fatigue resistance makes it easy to include thin features like living hinges into designs.

Surface Finishes

Polypropylene parts can be finished in two ways: as-machined and bead blast. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages, depending on the specific application and the desired outcome.

As-machined surface finish refers to the surface of a polypropylene part after it has been machined using CNC equipment. This finish is typically smooth and may have visible tool marks or slight surface irregularities. As-machined parts have a clean and professional appearance and are suitable for a wide range of applications, including functional and decorative components.

The advantages of as-machined surface finish include:

  1. Cost-effective: As-machined finish does not require additional processing, which can save time and money in the production process.
  2. Precision: As-machined parts can achieve high levels of precision and accuracy, making them ideal for parts that require tight tolerances.
  3. Smooth appearance: As-machined finish provides a smooth and clean appearance, which can be aesthetically pleasing in certain applications.

However, the disadvantages of as-machined surface finish include:

  1. Surface irregularities: As-machined parts may have slight surface irregularities or tool marks, which may be undesirable in some applications.
  2. Limited options: As-machined parts offer limited options for surface texture or appearance, which may not be suitable for applications that require a specific texture or finish.

On the other hand, bead blast surface finish is achieved by blasting small particles, such as glass beads or ceramic beads, onto the surface of the polypropylene part. This finish creates a uniform matte texture on the surface of the part and can improve its overall appearance and functionality.

The advantages of bead blast surface finish include:

  1. Improved functionality: Bead blast finish can improve the part’s surface texture, making it more resistant to wear and tear, and increasing its ability to hold paint or other coatings.
  2. Aesthetically pleasing: Bead blast finish can provide a uniform and matte texture on the surface of the part, which can be aesthetically pleasing in certain applications.

However, the disadvantages of bead blast surface finish include:

  1. Increased cost: Bead blasting requires additional processing, which can increase the overall cost of production.
  2. Surface damage: If the bead blasting is not done correctly, it can cause surface damage or scratches on the part, which can affect its functionality or appearance.

In summary, both as-machined and bead blast surface finishes have their own advantages and disadvantages, and the choice between them will depend on the specific requirements of the application.

Design Tips

  1. Consider the properties of polypropylene: Polypropylene has unique properties, such as high stiffness, low density, and excellent chemical resistance. These properties should be considered when designing parts to ensure they are suitable for the intended application.
  2. Avoid sharp corners: Polypropylene is prone to stress cracking, especially around sharp corners. To avoid this, designers should avoid designing sharp corners and instead use rounded edges or fillets.
  3. Ensure proper wall thickness: Polypropylene parts should have uniform wall thickness to prevent warping and distortion during the manufacturing process. Uneven wall thickness can also affect the part’s functionality and strength.
  4. Consider the part’s geometry: The geometry of the part can affect its manufacturability and functionality. Designers should ensure that the part is easy to machine, assemble, and disassemble, and that it can withstand the intended loads and stresses.
  5. Design for moldability: Polypropylene parts are often manufactured using injection molding, which requires specific design considerations. Designers should ensure that the part is easy to mold, with uniform wall thickness, and appropriate draft angles to facilitate ejection from the mold.
  6. Use ribs and gussets for additional strength: Polypropylene parts can be strengthened by adding ribs or gussets to the design. These features can provide additional rigidity and reduce the risk of warping or distortion.
  7. Consider post-processing requirements: Polypropylene parts may require additional post-processing, such as surface finishing or welding. Designers should consider these requirements when designing the part to ensure it can be easily finished or welded.


Can polypropylene be CNC machined?

Yes, polypropylene can be CNC machined. It is a commonly machined thermoplastic material and can be easily machined using standard CNC machining equipment.

What are the feeds and speeds for machining polypropylene?

The feeds and speeds for machining polypropylene will depend on various factors such as the type of cutting tool, the depth of cut, the cutting speed, and the desired surface finish. In general, a cutting speed of 800-1,200 feet per minute (FPM) and a feed rate of 0.005-0.020 inches per tooth (IPT) can be used as a starting point. However, it is always recommended to consult the manufacturer’s recommendations for the specific cutting tool being used.

Can you use polypropylene in a laser cutter?

Yes, polypropylene can be used in a laser cutter. It is a thermoplastic material that can be cut using a laser cutter. However, it is important to note that the laser settings will depend on the thickness and density of the polypropylene sheet being cut.

Can you vacuum form polypropylene?

Yes, polypropylene can be vacuum formed. It is a popular material for vacuum forming due to its low cost, high strength, and excellent chemical resistance. It can be easily formed into various shapes using vacuum forming techniques, making it an ideal material for a wide range of applications such as packaging, automotive parts, and medical devices.

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