What kind of plastic is this and what are the cost?

I currently use a cardboard insert to hold product in my packaging. I would like to replace it with a plastic tray like the one pictured below.

Obviously it would have to be molded to my exact size and specs but this tray is approximately the size I would need and possibly a little more complex than I would require.

Can anyone let me know exactly what this material and process is called? As well as an idea of what I can expect to pay for mold and production cost in Asia? I would only need about 2000 pieces as well.

The process is thermoforming/vaccum forming.

The material could be a variety of things…PET, PVC, HDPE. Any sheet material that is thin, cheap and flexible works good.

Search for chinese thermoforming vendors and call/email around. You should be able to get a quote pretty easily. Prices should be very cheap as the process/tooling is rather straightforward.

I just have one question, why are you interested in switching to petroleum based packaging from cardboard? Many companies are going in the opposite direction and are choosing post consumer and recyclable paper and pulp based packages instead of plastics. Is it a cost or aesthetics issue?

I worked as an intern for a semester at a prototyping shop in R.I. and a lot of what I did was thermoformed packaging work for Packaging Graphics. They are on the east coast but they do a lot of that type of work. Also check out www.thedieline.com it is a good resource for packaging design.

If you only need a few thousand made I would find a small domestic shop and have them make a cheap Ren Shape mold, and run a short manual production. 2k units is kind of small to go overseas. The headaches of working in China and shipping are not worth the cost savings for such a small amount. Since you are close to the west coast I would search for a thermoforming/vacuforming shop in the Seattle or Portland areas.

Looks like polystyrene to me.

Are you packing these in Asia or in the US? If in the US, I’d try local modelshops or whoever does vacuum forming as mentioned above.

I think the thermo-formed plastic will look better and most importantly do a better job of containing the various parts in this product. The box it will go in will have a clear view window on it so the customer can see the items without opening the box. Right now we have a problem with people opening the boxes to see the product and loosing or stealing pieces. I’m hoping by showing the products through the packaging it eliminates at least the one problem. I think the plastic tray will look better than the cardboard and allow me to snap the parts into place.

I will likely have this part made in China still since my in-laws have an office in Xiamen for their business. That’s when it pays to stay on your mother-in-laws good side!

My main concern was that the MOQ on this type of item would be 10,000+ pieces plus a large mold fee. It sounds like it should be pretty inexpensive per piece though, so even if I have to buy 10,000 I would do OK. I sell about 2,000 of this SKU a quarter so at least I would be set for a year.

Honestly, I’m not concerned about “Green” mfg. The parts I design and distribute are for off-road motorcycles. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in being responsible when riding and keeping environmental impact at a reasonable level but there are almost no standards for claiming “Green”. All you have to do is meet the bare minimum (which is pretty low usually) and you can say your “Green” as much as you want. Ever wonder how some grocery stores sell “organic” produce right next to the regular produce? According to the FDA organic food can’t even be in the same building as those treated with chemicals…but that’s neither here nor there.


Here’s a little visual tutorial on “vacuum-forming”, also known as thermo-forming. It’s the absolute simplest forming process there is and will take you probably twenty or thirty seconds to figure out. Click through a few pages and you’ll be up to speed. You’ll quickly realize that it is a process, and equipment, that you can build yourself. Truth be known, there are tons of used machines available.


Here’s another one:
Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with this company V


Basically sheet material (or roll stock for very high volumes) is clamped in a support frame, heated, and either drawn down into a female (negative) mold cavity or drawn down over a male (positive) mold form. If you required detail on the interior of the part you use the “male”, if the exterior of the part is detailed you use a “female” mold. To hold your components, I would use a male mold.

Vacuum forming is generally used for “low” volume components; less than 10,000 parts. As a result tooling can be cheap as well; while generally aluminum, I’ve successfully used fiberglass and even hardwood (maple (for male shapes and very low volumes)).

There are a few restrictions to simple thermo-forming; 1) the parts need to be cut from the formed sheet; usually requiring a “secondary” process; i.e. cutting out the part with a box knife, or in much higher volumes (much greater than 10,000 pieces) an automated die-cutting station. The trimmed scrap is recyclable. 2) Unlike injection molded parts, the thickness of a part is not as consistent; as the plastic is drawn, it thins. i.e. Draw plastic into a female mold and the material at the bottom of the cavity will be thinner than at the top, and is affected by the ratio of the width of the part to the depth (or height) that the material is pulled. 3) Most plastic molds (vacuum or injection types) require that the “vertical” sides of the mold (male or female) require what is termed “draft”; simply put, it is an angle of a degree or two, that allows that plastic to be pulled out of the mold more easily. Basically, the deeper the part, the greater the draft. These are fine points that take a week of messing with to understand.

Draft; see: http://www.protomold.com/designtips/2003/2003-07_designtips/draft.gif

Styrene is the cheapest material for what you intend to do; spec recycled if you can find it. You’ll feel even more “green” and fuzzy :wink:

Each time a sheet of plastic is formed it is called a “cycle” (of the machine); plastic inserted, heated, formed, cooled, removed, and back to plastic inserted. If your mold will form only one part, you get one part per cycle. With extremely thin (.015- .040" +/- thick) material a “cycle” may take only a minute, or less. Obviously greater the number of parts you can fit onto the mold, the greater the number of parts per cycle, and hence the lower the cost per part.

So, if you need 2,000 parts, and you can form, say 4 parts at a time (cycle); 2,000/4 = 500 (cycles) = 500 minutes/60 = 8.5 hours to form your parts. Trimming the parts from the molded would be extra.

Of course if you had your own machine you could form 50 - 100 parts at a time if you so desired, you would not have to wait, and pay for shipping, you could control your own tooling expenses, and you would more than likely start realizing more things that can be manufactured using the process.