Thermoform tooling is the metal tool (and other machined components) that forms heated plastic into clamshells, blisters, and trays. ‘Stock’ tooling means that the tool has already been made, is owned by the thermoformer, and the parts produced are of no customization. Examples of stock packaging include simple plastic blisters and clamshells with basic dimensions and generic cavities. Stock packaging is popular in the food and retail facing markets. There is typically no cost associated with stock tooling, aside from set up charges.
Custom tooling economical benefits
For performance driven packaging, however, custom tooling is required. Custom tooling means that the thermoform tool was made based on the customer’s approved package design. The economical benefits of custom tooling are:
***Each design is right sized to the product, saving on material costs. With right sized packaging, the cost of shipping is cheaper, because there is no dead space within the package.
***The most appropriate material and gauge is selected at the start of the packaging developmental process, ensuring the best compromise between performance and cost.
***The layout of the tool (how many cavities per tool and tool size) is as efficient as possible, reducing scrap and optimizing production cycle times.
*** Custom tooling is dedicated tooling made out of a single block of aluminum, while stock tooling can be a myriad of different 'plug and place' cavities. With a single block of aluminum, all vac holes are determined during the tooling developmental process; this allows for the optimization of air flow through the tool during the thermoforming process to ensure the production of consistently high quality parts. With stock combination tooling, however, the placement and size of vac holes is inconsistent, resulting in less control over the thermoforming process and the potential for inconsistent material distribution throughout the form. Inconsistently-formed parts have the potential to create unforeseen quality control expenses.
***The customer owns the tooling.
CNC machine cuts packaging cavitation out of a single block of aluminum
Custom tooling creates thermoformed packaging that is designed around a specific product/application. Because of this, there is no wasted space or material. In developing custom packaging, engineers have the opportunity to consider the entire supply chain to mitigate any unforeseen costs via continuous risk-based analysis per ISO certification.
Material type and thickness
With custom tooling, you have complete authority over the material type and thickness used. The best material for a thermoformed part needs to be taken into consideration at the start of any new packaging development project. With stock tooling and stock packaging, you’re not given the opportunity to optimize the thermoform design based on the material type selected, nor are you able to understand the cost structure of other potential materials.
End mill cuts aluminum from block to make prototype tool at Dordan
Custom tooling components
When you purchase a custom thermoform tool, it is not just the metal form tool that you’re investing in. There are many components that are developed in tandem with a thermoform tool that are required for quality thermoforming. These include pressure boxes, water plates, dies and die build ups, assist plugs, and sometimes, automated strippers, stackers, and robotic end of arm tooling. The cost of custom tooling therefore includes the package design and development, prototypes, and production tooling with ancillary components.
Dordan GM inspects syntactic foam assist plugs in Dordan's tool and die shop
Cost of tooling
The cost of custom thermoform tooling ranges, depending on the requirements of the job. Custom blister tooling, for instance, can cost a few thousand dollars. Complex tooling, on the other hand, can be upwards of $12K. Most jobs fall somewhere in between, and are largely based on the quality control requirements of the customer. After the initial upfront expense, there are no additional costs associated with tooling maintenance, storage, or future production runs.
When investigating a custom thermoform tool, you most weigh the benefits with the cost. If efficiently-produced, right-sized packaging made from the most economical material is a priority, then the cost of the tool is less than the benefit of custom thermoformed packaging.
Dordan has in house package design, tooling, plastics thermoforming, and cleanroom manufacturing of medical packaging. The same team of packaging engineers who develop the design also produce the thermoform tooling. This allows for no translation errors and better quality control. Dordan is an ISO 9001: 2015 certified plastics thermoforming company located in Woodstock, IL.
Dordan's standard thermoforming operation
Dordan's ISO class 8 cleanroom for manufacturing medical packaging