Navigating Material Selection: Alternatives for Injection-Molded Thermoplastics

Table of Contents

Plastic material Alternatives
Plastic material Alternatives


A common dent to manufacturing efficiency and productivity is the limitation caused by material unavailability. The reason this limitation exists is due to supply chain constraints, and these constraints interrupt production flow or a complete disruption of a manufacturer’s production timelines.

Although these bottlenecks hinder the manufacturer’s timeline agreed with clients in supplying their desired consignments, manufacturers have been compelled to find material alternatives that can seamlessly replace the material chosen for production. However, one crucial factor is to ensure the substitute material properties align with the project requirements. Let’s dive deeper into the mystery of this conundrum, unraveling solutions available to manufacturers as alternatives.

Injection molding alternative material selection
Injection molding alternative material selection

Section 1: The Importance of Alternative Material Selection

As briefly mentioned, the impact of material shortages on production has an extensive repercussion. These consequences begin from the complete disorganization of production schedules to an increase in production cost. Let’s not forget that the longer the production timeline, the lesser the profitability of the components supply.

Meanwhile, the product’s quality is likewise at stake. For these reasons, whether challenges stemming from material supply logistics or economic and global factors, manufacturers are not afforded the lag in material shortages. This therefore leads them to source for alternatives to keep the production running and to meet assented timelines.

On that note, when sourcing alternative materials for production continuity, specific factors are necessary before selecting a substitute material. It is common knowledge that numerous materials are available for selection, especially for injection molded materials. Product performance is one such factor. The exploration of alternative materials can lead manufacturers to unlock the potential of an alternative material in performance.

The quality of the intended product is also likely to be improved if the appropriate material alternative is found. In addition, the strength, cost, and availability of an alternative material could be the competitive advantage the manufacturer has when supply is made. What’s more?

Alternative materials with the right properties can spur innovation in designing better products and simultaneously optimizing the production process.

HDPE Plastics
HDPE Plastics

Section 2: Common Thermoplastics and Their Alternatives

As we dive deeper, our discussion on alternative materials proceeds to the commonly applied thermoplastics in injection molding and their respective alternatives. Without further ado, it is important to note that components manufactured employing injection molding are applicable in various industries, hence the plethora of materials to choose from. These materials include

  • Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS): known for its strength and impact resistance, ABS stands tall amongst other thermoplastics used in injection molding. A suitable replacement is Acrylonitrile Styrene Acrylate (ASA).
  • High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE): This is another injection molding material that possesses high chemical resistance, strength, and recyclability. In the case of alternatives, Polypropylene or Linear Low-Density Polyethylene should be the game changer.
  • High Impact Polystyrene (HIPS): The malleability of this material helps it find usefulness in the manufacturing of packaging and consumer products. Its high impact resistance is also an added advantage. ABS and Polypropylene are welcome substitutes because they have similar qualities.

Now these itemized materials are a few of the numerous materials available for injection molding. Nonetheless, our attention is slightly shifting to specific alternatives different from the ones mentioned above. These are

  • Polybutylene Terephthalate (PBT): The electronics manufacturer employs this material owing to its insulation qualities. But when a shortage in supply arises, Polyethylene Terephthalate easily steps in to finish the job.
  • Polypropylene (PP): This is a popular material among manufacturers and that’s highly due to its extensive qualities that find purpose in numerous industries. PP is known for its strength and chemical-resistant properties. During injection molding, a shortage of PP can be replaced with polyethylene (PE) or thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO).
  • Polycarbonate (PC): Fundamental features of PC include its clarity and heat resistance. This makes it suitable for producing safety goggles, and electrical casings to mention a few. A limited supply of this material can be replaced with polymethyl methacrylate (PPMA) or cyclic olefin copolymer (COC).
PCT Automotive application
PCT Automotive application

Section 3: Understanding Alternative Materials

  • ASA (Acrylonitrile Styrene Acrylate)

Acrylonitrile Styrene Acrylate with the acronym ASA is a suitable alternative for the popular injection molding material ABS, and that is a result of the following reasons. Firstly the chemical construction of ASA puts it at the forefront of close substitutes. ASA consists of acrylonitrile, styrene, and acrylate.

These compounds are excellent in withstanding extreme weather conditions, especially in outdoor applications. Furthermore, it possesses a unique stability when exposed to UV radiation over an extended period without deteriorating. To top it off, its impact strength is impressive, which is why it’s mostly used publicly for signage, automotive parts, and construction tools.

Secondly, in comparison with its sister material, when ABS loses composition and faces depreciation in its properties, ASA continues to thrive standing the test of time.

With impressive impact strength, ASA presents as an appropriate alternative to ABS. these qualities enable manufacturers to satisfy clients’ wishes and comply with strict industry standards.

  • COC (Cyclic Olefin Copolymer)

Cyclic olefin copolymer is a unique material that consists of cyclic olefins and ethylene. This exceptional material compound creates an amorphous polymer with transparent qualities. These features are the ideal properties employed in manufacturing many medical devices and optical gadgets.

The clarity in this material makes COC an excellent alternative to other transparent thermoplastic materials such as polycarbonate. Its reflective capacities can be compared to that of water, and its light distribution is outstanding. Hence, its application in crafting optical devices such as lenses and light guides.

Moreover, the quality control standards on medical devices are of the highest order. For this reason, biocompatibility is no joke in the medical device manufacturing spectrum. On top of that, it also offers excellent chemical resistance which makes it a viable material for pharmaceutical storage and dispensing containers. With COC, you can be assured of no drug contamination from material degradation.

What’s more? COC is a biocompatible material with exceptional sterilizability. This is why COC is a worthy replacement material for drug delivery devices and surgical instruments.

  • PCT (Polycyclohexylenedimethylene Terephthalate)

Polycyclohexylenedimethylene Terephthalate commonly referred to as PCT is another material alternative, but this time it’s an excellent alternative to Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) material. Now what type of material is this you may ask? PCT is a thermoplastic material that performs excellently in injection molding owing to its extreme heat-resistant capacities.

PCT is a combined solution of terephthalic acid and cyclohexanedimethanol, and what you have is a mechanically outstanding material with chemical resistance, thermal strength, and minimal moisture-absorbing material. In comparison to its traditional counterpart PET, PCT also offers incredible dimensional stability.

If you’re wondering where this material is typically applied just check under the hood of your vehicles. The connection plugs and distribution boxes are perfect examples where they withstand extreme heat conditions. It likewise finds purpose in electronic devices owing to its thermal stability properties. It has been proven to be an alternative material not just for PET but also for PBT for increased temperature resistance duties.

A noteworthy factor to consider before selecting an alternative material is the exhaustive understanding of the alternative material and its capacity to align with the existing material. In addition, its cost and availability, including its ability to meet the intended application conditions are vital.

3D Printing Materials
3D Printing Material alternatives

Section 4: 3D Printing Materials as Alternatives

3D printing in manufacturing has constantly presented manufacturers with innovative ways of manufacturing products and components. In this case, can 3D printing materials replace or be substituted with injection-molded thermoplastics is a million-dollar question.

3D printing materials indeed give manufacturers the ability to create complex dimensional components with undercuts and internal designs that injection molding cannot. In fact, 3D printing makes room for rapid prototyping, customized design, and cost-effective methods of manufacturing. 3D printing materials also go beyond the use of thermoplastics but include metals, photopolymers, and composite materials. But they are not without their challenges.

These challenges and considerations encountered by 3D printing materials are what keep injection-molded thermoplastics in the game. These limitations include mechanical properties of the materials such as strength, heat resistance, and longevity. Additionally, the printing method adopted may require post-processing for an excellent surface finish and geometrical precision.

Furthermore, when employing 3D printing, parameters such as printing speed, layer height, and print bed temperature are factors that can influence the qualities of the desired outcome. To crown it all, 3D printing only suits small-volume production. For mass production, injection molding still takes the cake.

Section 5: Supply Chain Considerations for Material Selection

As important as material selection is to manufacturing, so is the supply chain to material selection. However, supply chain hurdles can be production halting, and how to navigate these murky waters becomes the next hurdle. It starts with manufacturers sourcing from multiple suppliers. This ensures production is not halted as multiple suppliers will ensure a constant supply of materials. What’s more?

When materials are scarce, manufacturers can be certain one or more suppliers can be trusted to source and deliver materials. In addition, manufacturers must consider the proximity of suppliers to minimize transportation challenges. The closer the supplier, the more beneficial it is to the manufacturer and the production line.

The strategies identified previously may seem like textbook solutions, but switching them up a bit entails manufacturers having constant supply chain data. This is reliant on the manufacturer-supplier relationship which should be cordial. That way, manufacturers are in on every market information including price variations, material regulation, and material availability.

The collaboration between manufacturers and suppliers becomes beneficial to both parties as communication and transparency are encouraged. Oftentimes innovation is spurred by this collaboration because when there’s a guarantee to access required materials for new product ideas, the manufacturing and design team can function effectively to birth these ideas.


In a nutshell, in the event of a supply chain breakdown, manufacturers must source alternative materials to mitigate the effects of production disruptions. However, in doing so, numerous considerations are attached. Majorly, understanding the material properties of available alternatives takes preeminence. Then, selecting the appropriate substitute that aligns with the existing material follows closely.

For continuity in production, manufacturers are always open to evaluating material alternatives and testing for material properties that are in tandem with their project objectives. This also enables them to meet client demands, deadlines, and satisfaction. Conclusively, a partnership with suppliers exposes manufacturers to supply chain dynamics and presents them with numerous benefits. 


Gary Liao

Gary Liao

Gary Liao is the Engineering Manager of TDL Company and has more than 20 years of mold design experience.

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