Archive for Technical

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.

Process control and improvement - lean manufacturing at Productive Plastics

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 manufacturing page for more information.

 Regards,

Evan Gilham - Productive Plastics COO

Productive Plastics Presenting at SPE European Thermoforming Conference March 2016

Productive Plastics will be presenting at the Society of Plastics Engineers European Thermforming Division Conference on March 11, 2016 at 8:45am in Sitges (Barcelona), Spain.

Productive Plastics presenting SPE Europe

Lean Manufacturing – Proof that the ‘Old Way’ isn’t always the best Way!

If you will be attending the conference, please join Evan Gilham, Productive Plastics COO, as he shares the benefits and advantages to both the customer and the manufacturer in embracing a lean and smart manufacturing culture.

Evan will examine a number of case studies, tools, and techniques that have proved successful in producing a very efficient and streamlined design and manufacturing process at Productive Plastics. View the conference program and schedule for program information.

EVAN GILHAM

Not attending the show this year?

Stay tuned to the Productive Ideas blog as we release highlights of Evan’s presentation on the benefits of lean manufacturing and smart production techniques.

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. 6 common quality issues with tooling

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

 Quality IssueCauseEffect
1WarpageImproper temperature controlled tool design and manufactureUnequal heating and cooling of plastic material surface area
2Dimensional InconsistenciesImproper temperature controlled tool design and manufactureWhen the mold is in continuing production the temp will not be consistent over a batch of parts, resulting in inconsistent shrinkage
3Part Thickness InconsistenciesInadequate and/or improper vacuum venting in tool design and manufactureAs the part is  formed over the mold, inconsistent or inadequate venting leads to thickness inconsistencies
4Lack of Detail in Part Geometry and AestheticsInadequate and/or improper vacuum venting in tool design and manufactureAs the part is  formed over the mold, inconsistent or inadequate venting in areas of geometry or aesthetic design fail to produce the desired result
5Quality of Surface Finish (texture and gloss variation)Improper tooling material selection and/or inadequate tool surface finishingTool surface porosity and/or surface finishing may result in unwanted surface texture, dimpling, or gloss reduction
6Chill marksInadequate and/or improper vacuum venting and temperature control in tool design and manufactureWavy 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.

 

The Right Tooling for the Right Plastic Thermoformed Part

If you have ever worked in the construction industry, turned a wrench under the hood of your car, or tackled a DIY project around the house,  you know that having the right tool for the job can save you a great deal of time and grief and also be the key to getting the professional results you were expecting. Well, as it turns out, the same truth applies to thermoformed plastic parts.

right tool2

This quarter, our Productive Ideas blog will focus on why tooling is such an important and often overlooked piece of the equation for creating a top notch thermoformed component. Whether it is a window mask, medical device enclosure, or kiosk assembly, the right tool can make all the difference. We will explore some of the features of modern day tooling and how they can benefit you, the cost of improper tooling, and more in the months to come.

I invite you to reach out to any member of the team at Productive Plastics, myself included, with questions or comments on tooling or any other part of the heavy gauge thermoforming process. Our commitment is to provide you with solutions to make your next project a success.

Regards,

Evan Gilham - Productive Plastics COO

Evan Gilham | Productive Plastics COO

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.

Transportation thermoformed interior 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.

(Click here for more information on choosing the right plastic manufacturer for your project)

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.

Productive Plastics Releases New Thermoforming Design Guide for Download

Heavy Gauge Plastic – Pressure and Vacuum- Thermoforming Process and Design Guide

 

Productive Plastics is proud to release for download our new Heavy Gauge Plastic Thermoforming Process and Design Guide for Pressure and Vacuum forming applications. This guide was developed to provide thermoforming design and process information that is valuable not only to design engineers, but every member of your project’s team.

Thermoforming Design Guide

 

What Design Considerations and Plastic Thermoforming Advantages are Essential to the Success of your Next Project?

 

Thermoforming Process and Design Guide contains:

  • Details of Heavy Gauge Plastic Vacuum and Pressure Thermoforming processes (with links to process videos)
  • Guidelines for determining if Heavy Gauge Plastic Thermoforming is the right process for your application
  • Advantages and limitations of Heavy Gauge Plastic thermoformed components and parts
  • Forming Tolerances and tooling specifications
  • Design, technical, and cost considerations
  • Basics of material selection
  • Considerations for choosing the right thermoforming company

Please visit our download page and fill out the form to instantly receive a PDF copy of the Design Guide. We hope that you find the guide informative and helpful.

Download our Design Guide

Is Heavy Gauge Thermoforming the Right Process for your Next Project?

When the time comes to pick a plastic production process for your next mass transit interior component, medical device enclosure, kiosk housing, or other plastic component project, there are a number of process options available.

Which plastic process is right for your project?

 

At Productive Plastics, we realize that each plastic production process has its advantages and disadvantages and that the demands of each project are unique, which can make choosing the ideal process a challenge.

Visit our “Are we the right fit” webpage and review our Process Selection Chart, industry examples, case studies, and other information to see which process is best suited for your project and discover if heavy gauge thermoforming is the right fit.

Find out if Heavy Gauge Plastic Thermoforming is the right fit for your 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.
 design engineer
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.

Choosing the Right Plastic Thermoforming Company – Top 5 Qualifications – Part 1 – Industry Qualifications

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 #1: Industry Experience

Qualifiying questions:
  1. How long have you been in business?
  2. Do you have experience in my industry?
  3. Do you have case studies or examples of products that are similar to mine?
  4. Have you been published or recognized in the industry?
When searching for the right plastic thermoforming company, it is important to zero in on a company that has experience in plastic thermoforming. An obvious point we know, however it is important in respect to the fact that you should be looking for a company that has been thermoforming plastic for at least a decade. This uncovers a few key traits about the company.

 

  1. They are, most likely, a stable company that will be in business for the duration of your project and hopefully long after. Think of the monumental waste of time, effort, and resources expended if the company you select closes its doors half way through the production of your product.
  2. You can reasonably assume that if the company has been thermoforming plastic for over 10 years, they have developed a high level of expertise. A company’s “about us” page on their website, in addition to external references (if you can obtain them), is usually a good starting point for gathering this information.

In addition to establishing a prospective company’s reliability and longevity, the next step is to determine if the company has experience thermoforming parts for products in or related to your specific industry.  There are pitfalls and challenges to manufacturing plastic parts for different industry applications, such as required tolerances, and environmental factors that effect and dictate the thermoforming company’s manufacturing process that must be used, tooling considerations, material selection, and many other production critical factors.  An industry experienced thermoformer will be aware of, prepared for, and capable of handling these project nuances, which will ultimately minimize costly and time consuming mistakes.
Once you have qualified a potential thermoforming company as an experienced industry manufacturer, it is helpful to obtain some supporting evidence. Most reputable companies can provide case studies or part examples that showcase their ability to produce high quality parts relevant to your application. Also, look for companies that have been recognized by the industry, whether it be through publications, awards, or other industry resources.
In our next issue, we will explore the second qualification, the value of engineering, design, and material expertise.

Productive Plastics Qualifications:

  • Productive Plastics has been in business since 1955 (learn more)
  • Productive Plastics has extensive experience thermoforming parts for these industries: Medical diagnostic, industrial, transportation, plastic enclosures, self-service kiosks (learn more)
  • Productive Plastics was recently awarded the parts competition Judges Choice and People’s Choice awards at this year’s SPE thermoforming conference and has been featured in Plastics News (industry publication)

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