Thermoforming vs Injection Molding

There is a lot of speculation on thermoforming vs injection molding. In this article, we will be going over the difference in process, cost, lead time and all other considerations.

The Process

Thermoforming

process graphic
Process Thermo Machine, Thermoforming, Thermoforming, Thermoforming vs injection molding

Tooling

A single 3D form is created out of aluminum, wood, polyurethane or 3D Print.

Materials

Flat sheets of thermoplastic, available in a wide variety of materials, finishes, colors, and thicknesses.

Production

A flat sheet of plastic is heated to a pliable temperature, then molded to the tool’s shape using either suction from a vacuum or both suction and pressure.

Finishing

The final pieces are trimmed robotically, then can be used uncoated, or painted, silk-screened or have specialty coatings applied.

Injection Molding

Process Graphic, Thermoforming

Tooling

A double-sided 3D mold is created out of steel, aluminum or a beryllium-copper alloy.

Materials

Thermoplastic Pellets, available in a wide variety of materials and colors.

Production

Plastic pellets are heated to a liquid state, then injected into the mold.

Finishing

The final pieces are removed from the mold, then often need to be painted for aesthetic reasons, and can also be silk-screened or have specialty coatings.

Process Injection Machine, Thermoforming, Thermoforming vs injection molding

The Cost

Thermoforming

Tooling Cost

Per-piece Production Cost

Injection Molding

money right

Tooling VS. Production Costs

Single-sided thermoforming tooling is a considerably cheaper process than creating a double-sided mold used in injection molding. But, the cost of each individual part formed by Injection Molding is generally less expensive.

Cost Comparison - Sample 48” x 60” Part

Cost Graph, Thermoforming

The break-even point will vary with every project, typically between 2,000 and 5,000 parts. Smaller parts will have a lower break-even point and vice versa for larger parts.

Lead Time

Thermoforming

14 Weeks, Thermoforming, Thermoforming vs Fiberglass,

8 WEEKS OF TOOLING | 6 WEEKS OF PRODUCTION

Injection Molding

24 Weeks, Thermoforming, Thermoforming vs Fiberglass,

16 WEEKS OF TOOLING | 8 WEEKS OF PRODUCTION

Other Considerations

Thermoforming

Considerations, Thermoforming, Thermoforming vs Fiberglass,

Does it allow variable thickness within a single part?

How does it look unpainted?

How large of a part can it reasonably produce?

Injection Molding

Considerations, Thermoforming, Thermoforming vs Fiberglass,

Needs Comparison

Thermoforming

best for

Part Size

Creating large parts up to 10’ x 18’, and
consolidating multiple parts into a single large part.

Run Size

Creating small to medium (100 - 3,000) runs of parts.

Aesthetics

Aesthetically pleasing parts with minimal secondary operations.

Injection Molding

best for

Part Size

Creating small parts with minimal consolidation

Run Size

Creating large runs (3,000+) of small to medium sized parts.

Aesthetics

Creating parts with variable thickness in a single part.

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