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 Inventing a Retail Product Step # 3c

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PostSubject: Inventing a Retail Product Step # 3c   Inventing a Retail Product Step # 3c EmptyThu Apr 30, 2009 10:42 pm

Manufacturing Research:

With a huge swing in product cost driven by the technique of manufacturing, it would appear intuitive to an inventor they know how things are factory produced for consumers. However, that has not been my experience.

Most inventors trudge right through the ideation and prototype stage with visions of big money dancing around in their heads - little thought ever given to production materials or methods. BIG MISTAKE – You simply must know how things are made if you expect to develop them in such a way they can be manufactured at a price point the market will accept.

As an inventor, you have to spend the time understanding the difference between processes like injection molding and vacuum forming. There are hundreds of methods used in manufacturing. However, because these are the most widely used let’s explore for a moment these two processes - then I think you will see what I mean.

Injection molding: In this approach the manufacturer takes a 3D computer model of the part (important to note that a product can have many parts, so this has to be done for each part needed to make the product) and sends it to a CNC machine to actually cut the stainless steel tool required for the injection process. Once the tooling is cut, it’s installed on a machine called an Injection Molder. In this machine granulated plastic is driven down a long heat induction tube where it melts prior to being injected into the closed tool. Seconds later the tool is opened and the finished part is ejected. In addition to this being the most accurate form of plastic molding, it’s also the most expensive with even simple injection tools costing thousands of dollars. ….the good news – each part is normally just pennies to produce. The link below is a nice little video on the process from start to finish.


Vacuum Forming: A simpler process than it’s cousin Injection Molding, Vacuum Forming takes a less complicated approach to manufacturing…..and the tooling is much less expensive. Starting with a 3D model of the parts, a tool is either CNC cut or molded. The tooling is then transferred to a plenum (table top with holes in it) where a sheet of plastic is suspended above the tool. The sheet is heated until it is soft enough to lower over the tool. When a good seal is made between the plastic and the plenum, a vacuum is released and the air rushes into a large surge tank located adjacent to the machine. This allows the plastic to form over the tool quickly assuming the shape of the too itself. Again I’ve included a link showing the process.


As you can see, Vacuum Forming and Injection Molding are two very different approaches to manufacturing plastic parts. Each process has its Pro’s & Con’s. Injection Molding costs far more to get the first part, but each copy is going to be very accurate and low cost to produce. Where Vacuum Forming has much less cost associated with the tooling, but the cost per part will be higher, the minimum size of the parts you can produce is a little larger, and the detail/accuracy is far less.

Take the time to learn about how things are made. ….An inventor understanding how processes like these work will allow him/her to understand when they should be used – and ultimately invent to a manufacturing method that makes sense.

Research into material costs & manufacturing methods = Priceless
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