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Lean Culture, Process Control, & Improvement

You may have heard the saying “If you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Well, at Productive Plastics, we take this saying literally, and since we are always striving for innovation, efficiency, and a superior quality thermoforming, we are constantly evolving our business practices and processes to achieve these goals. Since 1998, Productive Plastics has adopted a lean culture approach to our business both on and off the manufacturing floor and, in recent years, we have integrated TPS (Toyota Production System) as the means to implement lean tools and practices.

What is lean?

“The core idea is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. Simply, lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources.

A lean organization understands customer value and focuses its key processes to continuously increase it. The ultimate goal is to provide perfect value to the customer through a perfect value creation process that has zero waste.” Lean Enterprise Institute

So what does this mean for your project?

From experience, we have learned that the benefits of this approach are, in fact, tangible for both the customer and the manufacturer. Substantial reduction of lead time, associated costs, and attaining a consistently high part quality are just a few of the advantages resulting from a truly lean approach to manufacturing and business.

Look for further content in the near future exploring in greater detail some of the features and benefits of working with a manufacturer that utilizes lean techniques in the design and manufacturing process. You can also visit our lean plastics manufacturing page for more information.

Thermoforming Can Help Shape Your Product & Brand – Geometry and Mating Points

Product designs come in all shapes and sizes as savvy and experienced executives, engineers, and designers strive to differentiate their product or part. If you are one of these individuals, you know that whether your target audience is a consumer, a passenger, a patient, or an operator, that the look and feel of your product or part shapes the perception and experience of the end user.

Why is Part Geometry and Mating So Important to a Design?

A study done by the Chalmers University of Technology and published in the International Journal of Design in 2013 showed that:

Roughly 2 out of 3 people will select a product with good geometry over a product with geometric deviations, such as gaps between assembled parts.

The study also stated that people may associate products with geometric deviations, such as gaps in a product’s design, with poor quality, durability, reliability, and performance. (Click to read the full study for more details.)

Geometric design flexibility with plastic thermoforming
Precision mating points on multiple part assembly with complex geometry using plastic thermoforming

Creating a product design with excellent and highly appealing part geometry may only be limited by creativity and inspiration. However, it is one thing to render an image of a flawlessly designed part or product, it can be quite another to manufacture such a design with the same elegant geometry, continuity of parts, and seamless assembly.

Producing this design physically will be dependent on the capabilities of the medium and manufacturing process selected. This is especially true of projects comprised of multiple parts requiring assembly, as achieving a seamless mating of parts with geometry can be difficult if not impossible with some manufacturing processes. Material characteristics, manufacturing tolerances, mold and processor capabilities, and many other variables will ultimately influence the ability turn your ideal design into an achievable finished product.

Part Geometry and Mating Points with the Heavy Gauge Thermoforming Process

complex part geometryand mating points with plastic thermoforming
Complex part geometry, undercuts, and mating points with plastic thermoforming

If aesthetic design, high quality part geometry, or brand differentiation are important to your project, you should consider the benefits of the heavy gauge thermoforming process. The thermoforming process has a number of advantages in achieving high quality finished parts with unique styling and design more economically than other processes.

Consider some of the advantages:

  • Complex geometry achieved economically
    • extensive styling can be achieved with much lower tooling costs than matched mold processes in either metal, composites or other plastic molding methods
    • includes very large parts
  • Styling and design geometry flexibility
    • design can include aerodynamics, a rugged look, logo and other features
    • parts are not limited to a boxy look or enclosure as with certain processes such as sheet metal
    • make a product recognizable from a distance no matter the color
  • Part design continuity, tight tolerance capability, and mating points
    • can provide design continuity over multiple part assemblies, even with complex design geometry
    • creation of “lap joints” for mating parts is much easier with thermoforming and can be more stylish than with metal
    • one advantage of this type of assembly mating is to avoid gaps created by varying materials expansion/contraction allowance
    • thermoforming design flexibility allows for more stylish mating edges and surfaces
    • a “returned edge” on a thermoformed part can provide a clean sharp edge and will provide greater part rigidity
  • Tactile geometry
    • soft touch and feel thermoformed plastic materials can convey features of safety or add to styling by varying surface look and feel throughout the geometry of the component
    • thermoforming assemblies can include varying geometry parts with surface decoration to simulate the look of carbon fiber, camouflage, brushed metal, and many more

Looking for more information on how the heavy gauge thermoforming process can help shape your product or brand? Please explore our website or contact us.

Texture and In-Mold Design with Plastic Thermoforming

Fascia with In Mold Design and Texture

Surface texturing and in mold design features can be an integral component of your project and offer potential enhancements in design, branding, aesthetics, and functionality.

The thermoforming process, through pressure and vacuum forming techniques, has a wide range of surface texture and in mold design capabilities. Reference the table below for brief overview of some the options, features, and benefits available.

Options Features Benefits
Forming parts with in mold textured surface
  • Texture can be etched into the mold in defined patterns and areas
  • A shot peen or grit blast mold surface finish provides a more cost effective in mold option
  • Greater texture detail and depth than rotational or FRP molding
  • Contrasting surface finishes
  • Best results obtained with pressure forming
  • Texture formed directly into finished part
  • Non slip surface
  • Styling with surface variation
  • Enhanced product cosmetic and aesthetic detail
  • High level of detail capable
  • Multiple texture options are available
Forming parts with pre textured plastic sheet
  • Pre textured plastic material is available from many thermoplastic suppliers
  • Less detail than in mold texturing
  • Minimal texture pattern options
  • Depending on the draw depth there can be “texture wash” and a texture depth variation over the part surface
  • Lower tooling cost than in mold texturing
  • Similar benefits to in mold texturing
Multiple texture choices
  • Increased styling opportunities
  • Custom branding
Forming parts with in mold cosmetic or functional features
  • Design features such as vents and louvers
  • Embossed logos, style lines, or custom brand patterns
  • Greater design flexibility
  • Results comparable with injection molding
  • Enhanced product branding

How Can Texture Enhance My Product’s Design, Look, and Brand?

Textures and tactile responses are the feel or appearance of a surface. The use of physical and visual textures in a product’s design can convey a variety of messages and emotional responses. Just as people react in an emotional way to colors, tints, and shades, they also react equally to textures in a psychological or emotional way.

Physical and visual textures may stimulate feelings of elegance and class with smooth, high gloss finishes, or strength and industrial responses from rough or hard finishes. Visual textures can also give the illusion of having a real, physical texture, such as wood grain, sand, canvas, metal, glass, and leather.

Every texture has its corresponding personality trait and must be taken into consideration before considering it for your brand. Whatever message your Brand is looking to express, textures allow you the opportunity to further reinforce the “feel” of your brand.

Check out this video from one of our thermoplastic sheet suppliers – SEKISUI-KYDEX (formerly KYDEX) Thermoplastics: Texture Is The New Colour

How the Thermoforming Process Can Enhance Product Design and Branding with Color and Gloss

Why are Color and Gloss Important to Product Design & Branding?

Research has shown that the very first thing your brain registers when looking at a product is its color and whether you consciously realize it or not, that color communicates meaning and evokes an emotional response that is, more or less, universal to all of us. Green is associated with health and growth, brown symbolizes dependability and solidity, etc.

Here is what the studies say:

  • 84.7% of consumers cite color as the primary reason they buy a particular product
  • Color increases brand recognition by up to 80%

(Sources: Secretariat of the Seoul International Color Expo 2004, University of Loyola, Maryland study respectively)

These statistics make it easy to see that color can be of vital importance in product design and product branding.

How can the thermoforming process help enhance product design and branding through color and gloss?

The thermoforming process has some unique capabilities when it comes to color and gloss that other processes such as metal, fiberglass, or alternative plastic processes may lack. With the heavy gauge thermoforming process, you can take advantage of any combination of the following color and gloss capabilities to enhance the design and branding of your next project.


Kiosk enclosure utilizing a non painted integral colored plastic
Kiosk enclosure utilizing a non painted integral colored plastic

Integral Plastic Colors (Plastic with Coloration)

  • Eliminates increased COST and TIME associated with the additional process of painting
  • Custom brand and color matching capabilities
  • Resistance to UV discoloration
  • Cosmetic and environmental value of no rusting or oxidization

View some integral color options and patterns from one of our thermoplastic sheet suppliers.


Medical device enclosure high gloss painted and buffed
Medical device enclosure high gloss painted and buffed

High gloss or low gloss surface finishing

  • Creates a look of depth to part’s surface
  • Multiple options available to achieve the level of gloss desired
  • High gloss color acrylic film capped material
  • UV resistant
  • High chemical resistance
  • Eliminates orange peel surface texture inherent to standard sheet plastic
Custom painted thermoplastic
Custom painted thermoplastic

Painting and Silk Screening

  • Most thermoplastic material can accommodate paint or silk screening to produce complex imagery or surface paint patterns and tones
  • Custom brand and color matching capabilities
  • Cosmetic and environmental value of no rusting or oxidization
Distortion printed kiosk enclosure
Distortion printed kiosk

Distortion Printing

Distortion printing is the cutting edge process of printing a distorted two dimensional version of an image onto a sheet of plastic that, once thermoformed, results in the desired finished image perfectly proportioned on the now three dimensional part. This process has virtually limitless imagery and branding possibilities.

View more info and a video on distortion printing.


Some additional and interesting articles on the effect of color on design and branding:

How Thermoforming Can Enhance Your Product’s Brand and Look

In a world where customers demand performance and look, your product design needs to not only function flawlessly, but also be aesthetically pleasing and representative of your brand. In industries such as rail, transportation, kiosk, and medical device, the outer covering or casing of your product is often the only part your customer interacts with and therefore is paramount to how your product is perceived.

Look at the recent actions of many iconic corporations to see how product design impacts business. Companies such as Apple, PepsiCo, Philips, and Hyundai have all recently appointed Chief Design Officers to their boards (view article).

So, how can thermoforming help enhance my product’s look, design, and brand?

The thermoforming process offers some unique design capabilities and complex design solutions at competitive costs. Color options via painted or tinted plastic, high gloss surface finishing, complex shape geometry, surface texturing, distortion printing, and design continuity over multiple part assemblies are just a few of the enhancements available with heavy gauge thermoforming that can be costly or even unattainable with other manufacturing processes.

Look for more content in the coming months as we explore how thermoforming can enhance your product’s brand and look.

Regards,

Evan Gilham - Productive Plastics COO

Evan Gilham | Productive Plastics Chief Operating Officer

Tooling Selection Guide for Thermoforming

Finding the right tool for your thermoformed part can be a complex decision with potentially large implications on the quality, cost, geometry, and surface finish of your project. Please use the following information to help guide you through the process of matching the appropriate tooling design to the needs of your next thermoforming project.

Tooling Selection Guide for Thermoforming

Some Common Features of Modern Tooling:

Dimensional performance: With temperature control we control a variable that would otherwise affect material shrinkage. If the tool changes temperature the resulting part will not shrink the same and therefore be inconsistent dimensionally.

Heat conduction: The movement of heat from one solid to another. In order to properly cool the formed part we want to move heat evenly from both sides. The side against the tool depends on conduction to remove the heat from the part, transfer through the mold material, and then through the temperature control system.

Ability to withstand pressure: Some materials have less resistance to deformation under pressure.

Tool surface quality: This would be the gloss, texture and presence of surface imperfections. Some tool materials have the ability to be polished or textured depending on the requirements.

Loose piece fitment and performance: In order to form parts with undercuts movable or loose sections are needed in the tool design. (This allows part removal from the tool) These “loose pieces”need to maintain an accurate fit in the mold to minimize the mark-off around the mounting area. They also will move or slide within the mold fit surface. Therefore mold surface and loose piece ware will relate to an increased mark-off or witness line. Some materials ware better and have a longer performance life.

Texture: Texture relating to mold surface is the ability of that surface to be altered with a grain or custom pattern.

Tooling features comparison chart

What are the Benefits of Temperature Controlled Aluminum Tooling?

While not always the case, you don’t have to look at the information above for long to realize a temperature controlled aluminum tool, whether machined, cast, or both, is most often the ideal tool for a thermoforming application. The reason is that the thermoforming process uses heated plastic and airflow to create the parts for your project and the proper management of that heat and airflow through every stage of production is pivotal in creating a high quality part and efficient process. Simply put, a properly designed aluminum tool with temperature control accomplishes this extremely well.

temp_controlled_aluminum_tooling_features_and_benefits_chart

6 Common Thermoforming Quality Issues Actually Caused by Improper Tooling

Many manufacturers utilizing heavy gauge thermoformed components for their projects often view tooling as no more than a cost variable on the quotes that they receive. Consequently, favorable purchase decisions are often given to the thermoformer that can quote the lowest tooling cost. Many thermoformers will in turn strive to present the lowest tooling cost capable by commissioning inadequate tooling design, material, and mold manufacturing quality. The result is certainly a lower tooling quote. CFOs and Purchasers rejoice! However, it may ultimately cost you more than you bargained for in the end.

Here are 6 common thermoforming quality issues that are actually caused by improper and inadequate tooling:

  Quality Issue Cause Effect
1 Warpage Improper temperature controlled tool design and manufacture Unequal heating and cooling of plastic material surface area
2 Dimensional Inconsistencies Improper temperature controlled tool design and manufacture When the mold is in continuing production the temp will not be consistent over a batch of parts, resulting in inconsistent shrinkage
3 Part Thickness Inconsistencies Inadequate and/or improper vacuum venting in tool design and manufacture As the part is  formed over the mold, inconsistent or inadequate venting leads to thickness inconsistencies
4 Lack of Detail in Part Geometry and Aesthetics Inadequate and/or improper vacuum venting in tool design and manufacture As the part is  formed over the mold, inconsistent or inadequate venting in areas of geometry or aesthetic design fail to produce the desired result
5 Quality of Surface Finish (texture and gloss variation) Improper tooling material selection and/or inadequate tool surface finishing Tool surface porosity and/or surface finishing may result in unwanted surface texture, dimpling, or gloss reduction
6 Chill marks Inadequate and/or improper vacuum venting and temperature control in tool design and manufacture Wavy undulations in plastic surface occur due to trapped air and unequal material cooling

How do I avoid these quality issues?

Most of the issues stated above can be avoided and overcome with an experienced plastic thermoforming manufacturer committed to high integrity processing that utilizes proper tooling design, tooling material selection, and a high quality tooling manufacturer. This will raise your initial tooling investment, but the resulting savings and benefits associated with reduced lead times, reduced part defects, increased aesthetics, and a higher quality part are tangible. See our Tooling Engineering page for more information on tooling.

Did you know that using or converting to thermoformed plastic from fiberglass (FRP/GRP) can save you approximately 26% on tooling cost depending on your estimated annual usage (volume)?

 

Click here for more info on the benefits of thermoplastic vs. fiberglass.

 

5 Reasons to Upgrade Fiberglass Interior Parts to Thermoplastic

Railcar, mass transit, and aircraft operators and manufacturers face a multitude of challenges when considering new designs or fleet modernization plans for the interiors of their equipment. Cost reductions, stricter industry regulations, decreasing vehicle weight, and maintenance costs are just a few of the top concerns that must be addressed to ensure a successful project.

If any of this sounds familiar and your new design or existing interior parts are comprised of fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP/GRP), Productive Plastics believes that you may want to consider the advantages of converting to thermoformed blended polycarbonate plastic parts.

Both plastic thermoforming and fiberglass molding can be used to make applications for the transportation interior industry. However, blended polycarbonate and the thermoforming process used to manufacture parts from this material have some very distinct advantages over fiberglass that should and do motivate railcar and mass transit operators and manufacturers to convert.

1. Lightweight

Heavy weight is high cost. This has been a tenant in the aviation industry for a long time and is slowly being adopted by the rest of the transportation industry as factors affecting operating costs and environmental impact are examined. Lighter weight offers savings in both fuel and energy consumption, and decreases carbon footprint and operating costs. For example, a reduction of 800 lbs (~360 kg) to an average city transit bus can equate to a 2-3% savings in fuel consumption, according to a 2010 study conducted by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Additional benefits are a tangible increase in the life of vehicle components, such as brakes and propulsion systems.

Thermoformed plastic is lightweight and can offer a substantially reduced part weight when compared to fiberglass. Depending on the type of thermoplastic polycarbonate blended material used and a few other factors, the average thermoformed part is 30% lighter than their fiberglass equivalents. A fact reinforced by comparing specific gravity weights of raw material product on industry material provider websites from companies such as Bayer MaterialScience or KYDEX,LLC.

 2. Overall Manufacturing Cost is Lower and Lead Times Faster

The manufacturing process of a fiberglass reinforced plastic part is relatively complex and labor intensive. Production often requires multiple tools to complete a single part. This increases both tooling and labor costs, and results in a relatively lengthy production time required to generate a finished piece.

The thermoforming process, on the other hand, is highly automated, relatively simple, and typically requires less labor. Most applications utilize only a single tool per part. Consequently, lead times tend to be shorter, and the tooling and labor costs reduced when compared to the fiberglass molding process. From a purely process perspective, thermoforming is often both faster and cheaper than the fiberglass counterpart in smaller production volumes of 250-3000 parts annually, a volume conducive to the transit industry and an advantage that is attractive to most decision makers.

3. Greater Design Freedom and Aesthetic Flexibility

One of the unique characteristics of the thermoforming process and material is its ability to produce extremely detailed and complex parts. Diverse surface texturing options, precise tolerances for mated parts, and complex geometry design are just a few of the possible applications that are otherwise difficult or costly to fabricate with fiberglass.  The availability of colored plastic raw material can, in most cases,  also remove the additional cost and time associated with the secondary process of part painting. These advantages give designers the freedom to create complex modern designs that are more aesthetically pleasing and functional.

4. Environmentally Friendly and Industry Compliant

As companies and passengers become more eco conscious and industry standards and government regulations increase, material providers have responded by creating products able to meet the challenging demands of the mass transit market. Thermoplastic raw material providers, such as Bayer MaterialScience and KYDEX,LLC, have a variety of blended polycarbonate and other thermoplastic materials options that are not only compliant with U.S. and European industry standards, but are also recyclable and VOC free, a trait not shared by most transit industry fiberglass.

5. Extremely Durable

Thermoplastic polycarbonate blends are, on average, 4 times more impact resistant than traditional fiberglass. The flexible and durable nature of thermoformed plastic material allows impact forces to be deflected over the materials surface, allowing the material to recover from impacts that would otherwise crack the more rigid and unyielding material of a fiberglass part. The benefits are an increase in part life and a reduction in part replacement and maintenance costs. Most transit thermoplastic is also highly resistance to stains, chemical cleaners, and graffiti.

A few considerations if you are planning to convert to thermoformed polycarbonate plastic:

This is easily a topic that could populate an entirely separate article. However, there are some important points, worth mentioning here, that should be taken into consideration to help ensure the success of your thermoplastic project.

Choosing the right thermoforming company

Custom thermoforming plastic part manufacturers are plentiful and often specialize in specific thermoforming techniques, so it is important to choose a company that posses expertise and experience in the markets and processes that coincide with your project’s needs. Ideally, for interior vehicle parts you should be seeking a custom thermoforming company that has extensive mass transit experience, top notch quality control, and in house design and reverse engineering capabilities (if you are converting from an existing part). A company that also incorporates lean manufacturing techniques and secondary assembly operations is often able to deliver the most cost effective and shortest lead time solutions.

Raw material selection

The polycarbonate blended thermoplastic that is used for mass transit applications is typically blended with a number of other materials and additives to achieve the desired properties required to meet the demands of the mass transit industry. This has resulted in a wide selection of available raw material products from providers, each with varying performance characteristics in tensile strength, flammability, chemical resistance, and weight to name just a few and engineered to meet industry standards such as EN 45545, DIN 5510-2, NF P 92-501 ( -504, – 505), NF F 16-101/102, FRA Type I, FRA Type II, ASTM E162, ASTM E662, SMP-800C, or BSS 7239. Partnering with a thermoforming manufacturer experienced in mass transit applications can be an invaluable asset in assisting with the proper material selection.

(For more information on the proper selection of industry compliant raw thermoplastic material for you project, please contact us)

With many part material options and manufacturing processes available, each with their own set of pros and cons, there is no shortage of choice for the transportation interior industry. While thermoformed polycarbonate blends may not be the answer for every application, it quite clearly provides solutions for the mass transit interior market that other materials and manufacturing processes are hard pressed to match.

Visit our Fiberglass vs. Thermoforming webpage for additional information and comparisons.

Choosing the Right Plastic Thermoforming Company Top 5 Qualifications – Part 3 The Importance of Tooling

In the world of custom plastic thermoforming, the needs of each customer, project, and process are unique. Deadlines, material requirements, cost, and quality are just a few of the variables that development teams face when choosing a plastic thermoforming manufacturer.

Just as each project is unique, each plastic thermoforming company is unique and it is essential to find one that specializes and excels in the areas that are key to your particular project’s success. Choosing the right company for the job is a vital link in your project development chain that can either streamline and strengthen it, or breakdown the process entirely.

With over 30 years in the industry, we at Productive Plastics understand the challenges that you face when shopping for a thermoforming company that will be an asset to your project rather than a liability. So, we have put together a number of qualifications and questions for you to reference then next time you are looking for a company to fill your thermoforming needs. This 5 part series will feature 5 qualifications that we feel are vitally important factors in choosing the right plastic thermoforming manufacturer.

We hope that you find this material informative and helpful in the search for your thermoforming solutions.


Qualification #3: The Importance of Tooling

Qualifying questions:
  1. What type of material is used in your tooling construction?
  2. Are your tools temperature controlled?
  3. Does your company utilize low cost prototype tooling for creating prototypes?
  4. Does your company use CNC trim fixtures?

Tooling is a critical component in the successful manufacturing of a high quality plastic thermoformed part. It is an often an underestimated link in the manufacturing process chain and customers have a tendency to view tooling as a solely peripheral expense that should be minimized. However, while cost is always an important factor, quality tooling does have value and should be treated as an investment in your part’s successful production. Beware of the pitfalls of selecting a thermoforming manufacturer that quotes drastically reduced tooling costs. This option may initially be fiscally appealing, but can be an ingredient for disaster when production begins.

Poorly engineered and constructed tooling can result in:

  • Drastically increased probability of defects
  • Increased costs
  • Increased lead times

Tooling design considerations:

1. Tooling Material

The material used to construct a tool has a direct impact on the quality of a thermoformed part. In almost all cases, the ideal material of choice is aluminum. This material is cost effective, responsive to temperature control, and capable being machined to exact design specifications.

2. Temperature control

Since thermoforming requires the application of heat in the production process, tools must be temperature controlled to eliminate heat related defects and assure the production of a tight tolerance part.

3. Trimming

Once a part is formed, excess material is trimmed with the aid of a trimming fixture created from the original tooling design file and trimmed using computer controlled routers to meet exact design requirements.

More precise part requirements can be met by utilizing a CNC machined trim fixture created from the part/tool original CAD file. This process also reduces setup time and lead time.

4. Bonding/Assembly

If your project requires sheet metal bonding or other secondary assembly, then engineered fixture tooling will be required to ensure location accuracy and tolerance adherence.

Click here for more information on tooling details and considerations.

In our next issue we will review our fourth qualification, the correlation between lean manufacturing and choosing the right thermoforming company.

Productive Plastics Qualifications:

 

  • Productive Plastics utilizes fully engineered, temperature controlled, and aluminum tooling. (learn more)
  • Productive Plastics offers prototype tooling  (learn more)
  • Productive Plastics employs the use of CNC machined trim fixtures to produce extremely tight tolerance parts (learn more)

Contact us and let Productive Plastics apply some innovation and thermoforming expertise to your next project.

 

Choosing the Right Plastic Thermoforming Company Top 5 Qualifications – Part 2 Engineering, Design, and Material Expertise

In the world of custom plastic thermoforming, the needs of each customer, project, and process are unique. Deadlines, material requirements, cost, and quality are just a few of the variables that development teams face when choosing a plastic thermoforming manufacturer.

Just as each project is unique, each plastic thermoforming company is unique and it is essential to find one that specializes and excels in the areas that are key to your particular project’s success. Choosing the right company for the job is a vital link in your project development chain that can either streamline and strengthen it, or breakdown the process entirely.

With over 30 years in the industry, we at Productive Plastics understand the challenges that you face when shopping for a thermoforming company that will be an asset to your project rather than a liability. So, we have put together a number of qualifications and questions for you to reference then next time you are looking for a company to fill your thermoforming needs. This 5 part series will feature 5 qualifications that we feel are vitally important factors in choosing the right plastic thermoforming manufacturer.

We hope that you find this material informative and helpful in the search for your thermoforming solutions.


Qualification #2: Engineering, design, and material expertise

Qualifiying questions:
  1. Can your company work with me from design concept to completion?
  2. Do you have in-house engineering and design capabilities?
  3. What material is best suited for my application?
  4. Can you manufacture parts that will meet my industry standards? (ex. flammability, conductivity, etc)
Once you have determined that a potential thermoforming company has the industry experience (See Part 1 – Qualification #1)  to meet your project’s needs, it is then important to determine if the company has the engineering, design, and material expertise capabilities to take your concept or existing design to the point of production. Each piece of the design puzzle must be engineered correctly to produce a high quality, tight tolerance, and cost effective part.
The mark of a very capable engineering and design oriented thermoforming company is the ability to take a project from basic concept (the napkin drawing) through completion (part prototype). This encompasses the creation of CAD drawings, tooling design and construction, material selection, and secondary assembly requirements.
Companies that can accomplish this typically have in-house engineering and design staff, but many plastic thermoforming companies do outsourcetheir engineering and design services to third parties. While this is not necessarily a deal breaker, it can have an impact on your project. Companies that outsource rather than in-house these services can experience delays in lead times due to lack of logistical control and carry an increased cost structure which can equate to a longer time to market and higher cost per part for your project. Careful consideration should be used when selecting a company without in-house engineering and design capabilities.
Another important consideration in choosing the right plastic thermoforming company is the correct selection of raw plastic material that will be used in your part’s production. There are a multitude of different types of plastic materials, each with their own specificcharacteristics, properties, strengths, and weaknesses. Proper selection of the appropriate plastic material for a specific application is an essential component in creating a successful plastic part. 
Design tolerances, environmental durability, flammability, conductivity, and many other specifications that may be required or mandated to fit the needs of your project and industry are all affected by the selection of the correct raw material.  Therefore, it is extremely important to determine that your thermoforming company is well versed in material selection and that they have established strong relationships with their raw material suppliers.
In our next issue, we will explore the third qualification, the importance of tooling.

Productive Plastics Qualifications:

  • Productive Plastics has a dedicated and in-house design and engineering staff with decades of industry experience, including reverse engineering, tooling design, and secondary assembly capabilities (learn more)
  • Productive Plastics has the material selection expertise to meet even the most restrictive standards of the transportation, industrial, and medical diagnostic industries. (learn more)

Contact us and let Productive Plastics apply some innovation and thermoforming expertise to your next project.

Terminology Note

Productive Plastics and the plastics industry typically use the terms "vacuum forming" and "vacuum thermoforming" interchangeably. Misspellings include "vacuumforming" and "vacuumthermoforming".

Looking for more technical information?

Download the Thermoforming Design Guide, Process Comparisons, Conversion Guides, and other useful thermoforming information from our technical resource library.

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Ready to explore how Productive Plastics can add to the success of your project?