Inventors and Injection Molding

Part 2 of 4: Exploring Processing Options for Your New Product

So, you’ve come up with a million-dollar product? In Part 1 of this blog series, we discussed the importance of clearly defining your ideal customer, what price point will cause consumers to choose your new product over other solutions, and how much market share your new product can secure. We explained how to ensure you have a business – not just a good idea – before investing substantial sums of money. In Part 2, we will discuss the most popular processing options available to convert your dream into reality so that inventors can make wise decisions regarding design and the impacts on cost.

The processes we will cover include injection molding, blow molding, thermoforming and vacuum forming, extrusion, rotomolding, 3D printing, and CNC machining. Most inventors immediately think of injection molding as the correct processing method for their new plastic parts; however, if you have followed the process of precisely defining your customer as recommended in Part 1, you may have discovered sales volumes will not support the upfront cost of the injection molding process. In the past, whenever inventors have contacted GreenLeaf Industries to discuss a new project, they hit a wall when a mold price in the range of $25,000 to $50,000 is mentioned.

Reviewing the chart below will help the inventor decide the best path forward to bring their product to life and prove the market viability, all while managing financial risk. These processes all require the use of thermoplastics such as polypropylene, ABS, and nylon, which are all materials that can be re-melted and reused after molding. Begin with the “common example” column to narrow down potential processes for your design: if you are not happy with what you see, explore the possibility of changing your design to fit a different process. For the columns “Design Freedom,” “Up-front Costs,” and “Cost per Part,” a “5” means the maximum and a “1” is the minimum. For example, 3D printing has low up-front costs and moderate per-part cost, while injection molding has very high up-front costs but very low part cost.

To help point you in the right direction, a brief description of each process is below. After reviewing the chart above and the descriptions below, the inventor should dive deep into these processes by reviewing YouTube videos and other internet resources to develop a good understanding of the processes.

  • 3D Printing – This process is generally used for prototyping since it has limited material choices and product strength. However, in recent years, 3D printing has been used to produce sellable finished goods in some limited applications. The part size is limited to about 12” x 12” x 12” and printing in nylon may provide an acceptable production part with extremely low up-front costs.
  • Machining – If low production volume is adequate and product strength is essential, machining may be a good option. The downside is that this process is the most expensive on a per-part basis.
  • Injection Molding – This process is for high volume production since very high up-front costs must be spread over a large number of parts to make it an economical solution. An injection mold is highly specialized and custom-designed, meaning it can be expensive. A mold can have multiple “cavities,” which determines how many parts are produced each cycle.
  • Blow Molding – This high-volume process requires a custom-designed mold. While the mold is not as precise or complex as an injection mold, the up-front costs for the process are high. Air is blown into a hot “tube” of plastic which presses the plastic material against the side of the mold, where it then cools. This process is excellent for high volume production of hollow parts, especially liquid containers.
  • Thermoforming and Vacuum Forming – Both of these processes start with a hot sheet of plastic which is then formed into a three-dimensional shape. Because the tooling associated with vacuum forming is fairly inexpensive, this process is often utilized for low production, and the tooling can be upgraded for higher production volumes later on. Design complexity is low, but the process lends itself to both low and high (e.g., Solo cup) production volumes. Large panels and machine covers are also frequently made by thermoforming.
  • Extrusion – This process involves pressing molten plastic through a die to form a continuous profile. The profile is determined by the die, which is moderately expensive. Design flexibility is very low for this process, but so is the production cost.
  • Rotomolding – This process works well for large, hollow products. The molds are custom for the product it makes, but the precision and cost is low. This process is moderately slow, thereby working well with lower production volumes.

Although standard injection molding may not make sense in the short term due to up-front costs, there are injection molding companies that specialize in low volume production. In this scenario, the molder charges an up-front fee for the mold, but the inventor does not own the mold. Part prices are also higher than typical injection molding by 2-to-4 times, but they still may be affordable. These companies are easy to find with a quick internet search, and they may be a good bridge from low volume to high volume production.

Looking to find the right injection molder for your project? Contact GreenLeaf Industries today to get started!