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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.


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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