Integrating Smart Technologies in Plastic Part Design: IoT and Beyond

Plastic has been a mainstay in manufacturing since the dawn of the industrial age. However, we are now seeing some radical new developments in the field as smart technology is making it possible to automate and scale up processes such as plastic fabrication, design, manufacturing, and other essential tasks. 

Smart Technology in the Plastics Industry

Smart technology, which refers to software and devices that communicate with one another using emerging technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data analytics, is best known in consumer applications such as Amazon Echo and various security systems, entertainment centers, and thermostats. However, smart technology is also being widely used by industry, including plastics. The following are some of the most promising applications of smart technology for plastic production and design. 


The Internet of Things (IoT) is becoming essential to many industries, including plastics. The following are some of the most common applications. 

  • Data management. Collecting, storing, and analyzing data can be a time-consuming task. IoT speeds up these processes, allowing for much faster and more accurate management of data. Devices that may be located in distant locations can communicate almost instantly. 
  • Design and Production. Smart technology can make plastic fabrication, design, and manufacturing faster and more efficient. Using strategic integration of machines and software can speed up production, reducing mistakes and downtime.
  • Maintenance. Maintaining parts and machines is essential for manufacturing  plastic parts and products. IoT can help to prevent breakdowns and reduce the cost of maintenance. Appropriate maintenance schedules can be set up so that parts are replaced and serviced before problems occur. 
  • Communication and collaboration. As business gets more global and more employees work remotely, there is a greater need for efficient systems that allow people to collaborate from different locations. Smart technology allows for better collaboration as people can easily share information and operate machines remotely. 


Robots are emerging as a valuable tool for plastic fabrication and other processes, such as the following. 

  • Welding. Industrial robots are already helping with plastic welding. They can help to improve the quality and accuracy of welding. 
  • Assembling and sorting products. SCARA (Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm) is especially good for assembling and sorting plastic products. These robots offer high speed performance that can improve efficiency and increase output. 
  • Injection molding. Robots can help in areas such as loading machines and cleaning up pieces following fabrication. 
  • Blow molding, which is used for many common tasks, including the plastic fabrication of bottles. Robots can perform repetitive tasks faster and more efficiently than human workers in many instances.
  • Finishing and painting. Many plastic products and parts need to be painted or that require finishes. Several types of industrial robots specialize in painting and surface finishing. 

3D Printing

3D printing has a large part to play in smart manufacturing. Because of its lightness and flexibility, plastic is one of the most versatile materials used by 3D printers. Compared to traditional plastic fabrication methods, 3D printing allows for faster production and more customization of many types of products. Among the most commonly used types of plastic in 3D printing are polylactic acid (PLA), polyvinyl alcohol plastic (PVA), and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). 

CAD/CAM Software

Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) software is another technology with great potential to automate tasks such as designing, testing, and manufacturing plastic products. Advances in this type of software make it easier for engineers and designers to experiment with shaping and designing plastics quickly and at a low cost.

Benefits of Smart Technology in Plastic Part Design

There are quite a few benefits to leveraging smart technology in plastic design and production

  • Efficiency and consistency. Smart and automated systems work quickly and accurately. They can create uniform products with minimal errors.  They can also operate around the clock with minimal supervision. 
  • Cost savings. While new technology is an expense when starting out, it can provide long term cost reductions with less waste, higher quality, and reduced labor costs. 
  • Safety. Workers in plastic fabrication and other aspects of plastic production are prone to injuries and possibly long-term illnesses. Robots can safely perform many physical tasks. 
  • Environmentally-friendly. Greater efficiency results in less waste. Robots may also be helpful for sorting and recycling.

Guidelines For Integrating Smart Technology in Plastic Part Design

With so many new products and services on the market, there can be a steep learning curve. Making the best use of technology requires research and planning. Before deciding to use IoT or other smart technology for plastic fabrication and other processes, keep these points in mind. 

  • Identify your goals. Depending on what you are producing and the scale of your operation, you can decide what tools will be most practical for your needs.
  • Evaluate the costs of new technology against the potential ROI. Initial costs of purchasing new equipment or services may be offset by long term increases in productivity and quality. 
  • Consider compatibility. Make sure that any new systems you introduce are compatible with machines or systems you are already using. 
  • Provide adequate training. It’s often challenging for employees to adapt to new technology. Make sure you offer sufficient training to ensure that your employees can implement any new tools.

Smart technology such as IoT, robotics, 3D printing, and CAD/CAM are transforming many industries, including plastics. Innovative tools and processes can speed up and improve techniques in plastic fabrication, design, recycling, and other areas. Business owners, managers, engineers, and technicians should keep up with the latest developments so they can reap the benefits.