Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors

Lean Principles in Plastic Thermoforming Design

Most people familiar with the manufacturing industry associate the words “Lean” and “Process Improvement” with operations directly on the manufacturing floor. However, a manufacturer that strives to be a Lean Enterprise incorporates the practice of perpetual improvement and reducing waste (resources or time spent on non-value added functions) to every facet of their business.

One of the processes that is both critical to a project’s success and an ideal candidate for lean practices is the design engineering process. This is where customer designs are matched and adapted to the appropriate thermoforming technique, material selections are made, and proper tooling is assessed or engineered, setting the stage for a successful part run. This is a process with many variables that can have a large impact on quality, lead time, and cost.

What are the benefits of working with a manufacturer that utilizes Lean practices in the design process?

  • Working with a manufacturer that has standard operating procedures and practices documented and employed to take your project from design to production as quick as possible while avoiding common pitfalls and any non-value added endeavors
  • Design assistance for a seamless transition from the client’s required design specifications to a thermoforming process ready design
  • Savings in cost and time
  • Increased part quality and lower part defect rate

How does Productive Plastics apply lean principles to the design process?

As an example of how lean principles and process improvements can be applied to design practices in the thermoforming process, reference the chart below for functions we have identified as actual or potential waste, the actions we have implemented to eliminate or mitigate waste, and the results.

Identified Waste Process Improvement Result


• Late tooling and assembly component quotes and delivery from suppliers

• Incomplete/inaccurate data

• Concurrent Engineering


• Gantt Chart Development

• Standard Operating Procedures & Guidelines

• Reduced lead time


• Reduction in resource utilization

Unnecessary/Incorrect Processing


• Incorrect material or process selection

• Incorrect manufacturing technique

• Early involvement and collaboration with client in part design


• Value Engineering Review

• Reduced lead time


• Maximize part consolidation and weight reduction

• Reduced defect rate

• Potential cost savings

Unnecessary Movement


• Development and design process requires revision due to inaccurate information

• Standardized Contract and Scope Review


• Standardized Design Review and collaboration with client engineering

• Define & discover collaboration

• Reduced lead time


• Reduction in resource utilization

Defects • Standardized Design Review and collaboration with client engineering


• ISO Certification

• Reduced lead time


• Reduced defect rate

• Potential cost savings

Unused Team Resources


• Losing time, ideas, skills, and improvements by not engaging employees

• Investment in people and company culture


• Company core values

• Collaborative planning, goals, and accountability

• Maximize employee engagement


• Reduced lead time

• Expertise and professional development within employee group

Productive Plastics is top contract manufacturer for heavy gauge thermoforming, including vacuum forming and pressure forming. Contact us or request our complimentary thermoforming design guide for more information.

Please contact Productive Plastics for more information on the thermoforming process
Please download our complimentary thermoforming design guide for more information on the thermoforming process

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.


Evan Gilham - Productive Plastics COO

Evan Gilham | Productive Plastics Chief Operating Officer

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.

Looking for more technical information?

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

Contact Us

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