Polyethylene (PE) Plastic Machining

Your guide to Polyethylene Plastic Machining


One of the most popular plastics globally

High levels of toughness with low strength and hardness

Excellent machinability

Polyethylene (PE) also known as Polythene (IUPAC name polyethene) is a semi-crystalline thermoplastic. It is highly machinable, making it possible to keep tight tolerances.

This guide will take you through the main attributes, common applications, notes for designers and suitable finishing and treatments, as well as UK stock sizes and property tables. Don't forget to bookmark the page so you can refer back later.

If you are interested in Polyethylene machined parts, please scroll to the bottom of the page for more information about our service and to request a quote.

Polyethylene Guide: Properties, Applications and Design Considerations


What is Polyethylene plastic?
Polyethylene (PE) also known as Polythene (IUPAC name polyethene) is a semi-crystalline thermoplastic. PE offers high levels of toughness with low strength and hardness. Its versatility has made it one of the most popular plastics globally.

There are many variants of Polyethylene plastic – the most well-known being HDPE, LDPE, UHMWPE and HMWPE. A breakdown of these can be found in the ‘notes for designers’ tab below. 

Polyethylene is a highly machinable thermoplastic from which close tolerances can be easily achieved.

You may also see Polyethylene referred to as:

  • PE
  • Polythene
  • Polyethene
  • HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) / PE300
  • LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene)
  • UHMWPE (Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene) / PE1000
  • HMWPE (High Molecular Weight Polyethylene) / PE500
  • LLDPE (Linear Low Density Polyethylene)
  • MDPE (Medium Density Polyethylene)

Industry Examples: Agriculture | Automotive | Food technology | Medical | Chemical Technology | Mining | Construction


Typical Components & Applications: Packaging | Medical equipment | Pump parts | Valve parts | Gaskets | Hinges | Die pads | Orthotics and prosthetics | Tanks | Rollers | Bearings | Bushings | Washers | Sprockets

Main Attributes:
  • High toughness
  • Excellent chemical resistance
  • High impact strength
  • Low moisture absorption
  • Very good electrical insulation
  • Excellent machinability
  • Most grades suitable for food contact
  • Lightweight
  • Good resistance to high energy radiation
  • Good stability to temperature
  • Lower thermal and mechanical properties (tensile stress, flexural and compressive strength) than engineering plastics
  • Relatively low cost

Note For Designers:

There are a number of different types of polyethylene, each with its own characteristics and properties.

An overview of each of the main 4 types:


HDPE (high-density-polyethylene) also known as PE300 has a high strength-to-density ratio though its density is only marginally higher than LDPE (low-density-polyethylene). HDPE has stronger intermolecular forces due to minimal branching within the material and higher tensile strength than LDPE. The difference in strength exceeds the difference in density giving HDPE a higher specific strength. HDPE in natural also meets FDA/USDA food handling guidelines.


LDPE (low-density-polyethylene) is defined as a density range of 0.910-0.940 g/cm3. LDPE has a lower tensile strength and density than HDPE. It is a cheaper alternative should the higher tensile strength and density not be required.


UHMWPE (ultra-high-molecular-weight-polyethylene) also known as PE1000 is a very tough engineering plastic with the highest impact strength of any thermoplastic currently available. UHMWPE is highly resistant to chemicals, has a low moisture absorption and very low coefficient of friction. It is self-lubricating and extremely resistant to abrasion.


HMWPE (high-molecular-weight-polyethylene) also known as PE500 is used for wear parts in conveyors and in food preparation as it is slightly softer then UHMWPE.

Can we meet your polyethylene machining needs? Contact us now
Get a Quote