When people think of plastics manufacturing, they often jump straight to injection molding. This highly customizable process is high in start up cost but provides a low unit price. That can make it difficult for start up companies to make the capital expense leap into manufacturing.
Vacuum forming, also known as thermoforming, can be a good alternative for large parts and simple shells. This process works by heating up a large sheet of plastic and then drawing down around a form. It delivers a shelled part and can be post processed on a CNC machine to add holes or other features.
What are the tradeoffs?
When it comes to large parts, vacuum form tooling is significantly less expensive than injection mold tooling. A plastic storage bin might cost $80,000 - $120,000 to create injection mold tooling, but only $15,000 - $30,000 to create vacuum form tooling. You will definitely pay a higher unit price for a large vacuum formed part, anywhere from 4 to 10 times the cost. But if you’re just getting started testing your market and need a small run of units, this may help you significantly with cash flow.
Vacuum forming can also be done on smaller parts with similar cost relationships to injection molding.