Plastics is a huge industry that employs hundreds of thousands of people and generates billions of dollars of revenue each year. According to recent statistics compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Plastic Industry Trade Association, plastics employed over 900,000 Americans in 2012 alone, has over 16,000 facilities in the United States (with that number growing each year), and manufactured over 107 billion pounds of plastics and resins in 2013.

For these and many other reasons, it’s imperative that plastics companies stay on the cutting edge of technology to manufacture high quality products in less time and, ideally, for less money. In order to do that, managers and executives have to make crucial decisions about which manufacturing processes are most efficient for producing the goods its company makes, and the only way to make the right decisions is to have all of the facts necessary to make informed choices.

Thermoforming or Injection Molding?

Weighing the advantages and disadvantages of thermoforming and injection molding is something all plastics companies must do to maximize productivity and minimize cost. The thermoforming process (also referred to as “vacuum processing”) has many advantages including:

  • Fast prototyping and production times
  • Allows for the creation of large pieces up to 48’ x 96’
  • Ideal for repetitive jobs
  • Small and medium runs offer good price point

There are disadvantages, however, to the thermoforming process including:

  • Parts cannot have the extent of intricate details as injection molded products
  • Clear pieces may exhibit mark-off
  • Consistent wall thickness is not possible
  • Cannot handle large production quantities like injection molding can
  • Only one piece of material can be made at a time
  • Costly and labor intensive to finish many products

Injection molding, while a much more expensive process, has many advantages:

  • High production rates
  • Able to produce intricacies and details that thermoforming cannot
  • Requires very little post-production work-parts come out of molding looking “finished”
  • No waste because all scrap can be re-used
  • Lower cost per part
  • Full automation is possible

Some of the disadvantages of injection molding:

  • Very expensive to start up
  • Requires a large amount of engineering time (more costs)
  • Much lengthier amount of time required to produce

As with all industries, when deciding which production method is best for your product, you have a lot to take into consideration. Start-up costs and other budgetary concerns, design and engineering requirements, production speed and manpower needs are just a few of the factors you’ll need to consider before deciding whether to use the thermoforming process or injection molding.

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